Ochoa Davies Remain Deadlocked

By Sports NetworkApril 14, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 Ginn OpenREUNION, Fla. -- For three days, Lorena Ochoa and Laura Davies have matched each other shot for shot at the Ginn Open, finishing every round knotted atop the leaderboard.
 
On Sunday, if Ochoa can pull away, she'll take home more than the $390,000 first prize.
 
The reigning LPGA player of the year shot a 2-under 70 on Saturday, remaining tied for the lead with Davies at 14 under through three rounds of the Ginn Open. Both birdied the final hole to move four shots ahead of Brittany Lincicome (67) and Natalie Gulbis (71).
 
If Ochoa gets the win, the 25-year-old Mexican star will pass Annika Sorenstam -- who withdrew from the Ginn because of ruptured and bulging disks in her back, problems that will keep her sidelined for at least a few weeks -- as the world's top-rankedplayer.
 
'It's something I would love to achieve,' Ochoa said. 'But I think it's more important to focus on the tournament, focus on my day, do my own thing, make sure I'm patient and just playing smart golf. And then everything will come with a good day tomorrow.'
 
Any other finish will keep Ochoa at No. 2 when the new list comes out Monday.
 
Sorenstam has been considered the best player in women's golffor several years, but the official ranking system has only been out since February 2006. She had a huge lead when the first list came out, but Ochoa has won seven times since to close the gap.
 
'She's the best player on form at the moment,' Davies said. 'I think even Annika would admit that. Tomorrow's not going to be easy.'
 
Ochoa and Davies flip-flopped on the lead throughout a 90-degree afternoon. Davies was flawless on the front side, using threebirdies to build a one-shot lead at the turn, then faltered on the back and temporarily gave Ochoa the upper hand.
 
Davies, who made two bogeys in her first 48 holes, took a double-bogey at the par-4 13th -- giving Ochoa a two-shot lead. After tapping in for par there, Ochoa walked off the green smiling and twirling her putter like a baton.
 
Then, though, it was Ochoa's turn to blink.
 
Bogeys at the 14th and 16th holes, combined with Davies making birdie at the par-5 17th, knotted them atop the leaderboard again, and they stayed there when both made short birdie putts at the 18th.
 
'I played very consistent all day,' Ochoa said. 'I'm very happy.'
 
There were a few Mexican flags waving in the galleries on Saturday, as is usually the case when Ochoa plays. She's said many times that she plays golf for those people, hoping her success can inspire kids to follow in her footsteps.
 
And while she's downplaying the rankings issue, other players know how much it'd mean to Ochoa.
 
'That's all she wants to do,' Lincicome said. 'She practices, she wants to be No. 1, and she does it for her country. She's got a lot to represent.'
 
Se Ri Pak (a bogey-free 68) is alone in fifth at 9 under, while Nicole Castrale (69) is another stroke back. Defending champion Mi Hyun Kim struggled, shooting 73 to fall into a tie for ninth, eight shots off the lead.
 
Lincicome -- the winner of last season's World Match Play championship -- started the day seven shots back, but used five birdies and an eagle to make a move and earn a spot in Sunday's final threesome with Davies and Ochoa.
 
'I've just got to go out and do the same thing I did today and Thursday,' Lincicome said. 'Hopefully the putter stays hot and I give myself a couple eagle chances. That's always fun.'
 
Based on the way the first three days have gone, she'll need them to catch the leaders.
 
Davies hasn't won an LPGA event in nearly six years. Ochoa hasn't won one in nearly three weeks. Yet here they are, tied entering the final round, one player who was the best in the women's game once and another on the cusp of officially wearing that crown.
 
'I fully expect not feeling too well on the first tee tomorrow,' Davies said. 'But that's what makes it fun.'
 
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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.