Frenchwoman Wins the Farm

By Sports NetworkSeptember 1, 2002, 4:00 pm
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Patricia Meunier-Lebouc of France carded a 5-under 67 Sunday to earn her first victory on the LPGA Tour at the State Farm Classic. She posted a tournament total of 18-under-par 270 and finished two shots clear of overnight co-leader Mi Hyun Kim and Se Ri Pak.
'I'm very happy. I just had a wonderful day,' said Meunier-Lebouc, who earned $165,000 for the win. 'I was very confident and I was really feeling inside myself the fact that I was playing well and that I could just rip at it and be confident.'
Beth Bauer held a piece of the lead until dunking her tee ball in the water at 16. She shot a 5-under 67 and tied for fourth with Laura Davies and Emilee Klein at 15-under-par 273.
Klein's fourth-place finish moved her from 12th to ninth on the United States Solheim Cup points list and earned her an automatic berth on the squad. The U.S. will take on the European team when the Solheim Cup tees off at Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota in three weeks.
Kim built a one-shot lead thanks to four birdies on the front nine. Meunier-Lebouc collected three birdies of her own on the front side, then tied Kim at the top with a 30-foot birdie from the fringe at the 13th.
Kim landed in the rough at the 14th hole and knocked her second through the green. She failed to get up and down for par to drop one shot behind Meunier-Lebouc.
The duo both reached the par-5 15th in two. Kim missed her long eagle try, leaving only a tap-in birdie to tie Meunier-Lebouc atop the leaderboard. The tie did not last as Meunier-Lebouc had 18 feet for eagle but she missed that and settled for birdie to reclaim a one-shot advantage.
Meunier-Lebouc played conservatively the rest of the way, playing at the center of the green. Kim needed to go at more flags and landed in bunkers at both 16 and 17. Kim saved par at both holes but Meunier-Lebouc did not give Kim any room, safely parring both holes.
Kim bogeyed 18 when she played a poor bunker shot and Meunier-Lebouc parred from behind the green to preserve the win.
'When I made that birdie and went in front of her, then I put a lot of pressure on her,' said Meunier-Lebouc. 'And I think she didn't handle it that good.'
The victory was Meunier-Lebouc's first on the LPGA Tour but her sixth professional victory. She spent the early part of her career on the Ladies European Tour and represented Europe in the 2000 Solheim Cup.
Kim, a two-time winner this season, now has three runner-up finishes in 2002. She shot a 3-under 69 and once again found trouble closing out a possible win.
'I hit it good but I just didn't feel good,' said Kim, who won her first LPGA title at the 1999 State Farm Classic. 'I just think too much.'
Pak, who has three wins this season including the LPGA Championship, fired a 7-under 65 Sunday and finished runner-up for the first time in 2002.
Cristie Kerr shot a 3-under 69 to finish alone in seventh at 14-under-par. Angela Stanford posted a final-round 70 to take eighth place at minus 13.
Pat Hurst's last attempt at and automatic Solheim Cup bid came up too short. She finished alone in ninth, which was not enough to move her into the top-10 on the points list. However, American captain Patty Sheehan named Hurst and Kelly Robbins as her two captain's picks Sunday afternoon.
Final results from the State Farm Classic
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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.