Sorenstam Shocks Ochoa Wins in Playoff
Sorenstam carded a 2-under 70 in the final round to complete the event tied with Lorena Ochoa at 11-under-par 277. Ochoa struggled to a 2-over 74 on Sunday.
Juli Inkster (72) and Soo-Yun Kang (76) shared third place at 8-under-par 280. Liselotte Neumann, the 1998 champion of this event, posted a 1-under 71 to close the tournament at 7-under-par 281. She shared fifth place with Rosie Jones, who was the 1998 runner-up.
Sorenstam two-putted for birdie from 22 feet out on the 72nd hole to get to 11-under. Ochoa had a 12-foot birdie try at the last to win, but it slid by the right edge.
Ochoa teed off first in the playoff on the par-5 18th. She pulled her tee shot into the water left of the fairway. Sorenstam played her tee ball without issue on the Prospector Course at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club.
Ochoa took her drop, then knocked her third into the right rough. The Mexican hit her fourth shot over the green and missed her par chip.
Sorenstam, meanwhile, knocked a fairway-wood up near the green. She pitched her third shot to 7 feet and two-putted for par and her 58th win on the LPGA Tour. That ties her for fourth on the LPGA's all-time wins list with Louise Suggs.
'I've learned the lesson the hard way not to ever give up, but it wasn't really looking good,' said Sorenstam, who pocketed $210,000 for the win. 'I saw Lorena climbing up the leaderboard with more and more birdies, and I was trying really hard, but I just couldn't make any birdies.
'And it wasn't until the 16th when I heard that she double-bogeyed, and when I was on 18, I realized there's a big chance here.'
Sorenstam began her day four strokes behind Ochoa, who held at least a share of the lead after each of the first three rounds. The Swede opened with five straight pars before stumbling to a bogey at the sixth.
The Swede came right back with a birdie on the seventh. Around the turn, Sorenstam moved to 10 under with a birdie at the 11th. She remained there with six consecutive pars before her two-putt birdie at the last.
'The 4-wood I hit is probably one of the better shots I've hit in a long, long time,' Sorenstam said. 'I was so pumped to come up there and have a great opportunity to win. You know you're not always going to win, but when you do, it just makes it so much sweeter.'
Ochoa led Kang by one stroke entering the round, but was four strokes clear of Sorenstam, who began the round alone in third place. The Mexican struggled to bogies at the third, fifth and sixth to slide back to minus-10.
Ochoa fought back to even par for her round as she birdied Nos. 7, 8 and 10. She looked to be in control when she sank a 12-foot birdie putt at the 15th to again move four shots clear of Sorenstam.
The 23-year-old Ochoa found a fairway bunker off the tee at 16. After a poor second shot, she knocked her third on the green 15 feet from the hole.
However, she faltered to a three-putt, double bogey. Her troubles continued as she bogeyed the next after missing the green to the left.
Playing one group behind Sorenstam, Ochoa watched as Sorenstam birdied the last to tie the two at minus-11. Ochoa could only par the last forcing extra holes.
'It was a really hard day for me,' Ochoa admitted. 'I didn't feel comfortable since the morning. I was out of my rhythm and I was anxious out there and swinging to quick. So, I gave the tournament away. Annika beat me.
'She gave me a good chance to win the tournament, and I just made really big mistakes at the end. I'm pretty upset, but I'm going to try not to be too hard on myself. I'm going to learn from this.'
Michele Redman fired a 5-under 67 to finish the tournament alone in seventh place at 6-under-par 282. Laura Diaz (69), Candie Kung (72), Gloria Park (72) and Natalie Gulbis (68) finished one shot further back at minus-5.
Amateur sensation Michelle Wie closed with a 1-under 71. She shared 12th place at 4-under-par 284 with Siew-Ai Lim and SBS Open winner Jenny Rosales.
Grace Park, the defending champion at next week's Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the season, withdrew prior to the final round with a sore back. She is expected to be ready to defend her title at the Nabisco though.
McIlroy gets back on track
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.
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.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
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.
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.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
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.
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.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
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.
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.