Newsmaker of the Year, No. 9: Chambers Bay

By Will GrayDecember 9, 2015, 1:00 pm

Some likened it to golf on the moon. Others compared the greens to some of their favorite vegetables.

Like it or not, the USGA’s decision to send its most prestigious championship to Chambers Bay was certainly a grand experiment. Forged out of a former rock quarry along the Puget Sound, the course didn’t have the history of most other major venues. It also didn’t have much green grass – or any grass at all in some parts - as more than a few players were quick to point out.

USGA executive director Mike Davis was seen as the visionary behind bringing a U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, and he certainly didn’t release the reins once tournament week arrived. The course offered Davis a malleable setup and he took full advantage, creating a layout that was part golf, part pinball. In his most-discussed setup move of the week, Davis flipped the par on Nos. 1 and 18 from round to round, drawing the ire of many in the field in the process.

Beyond the quirks and the browned-out aesthetic that had viewers adjusting their television sets, the tournament got one thing right: it provided a deserving champion. While we may have been within one errant drive of “Branden Grace, U.S. Open champion,” in the end it was Jordan Spieth who walked away with the hardware, a result that in many ways validated the choice of Chambers as host venue. The best rose to the top, just as it had there in 2010 when top-ranked Peter Uihlein won the U.S. Amateur.

Top 10 Newsmakers of 2015: The full list

But more so than most tournaments, this Open was arguably marked more by who lost than who won. Spieth captured his second straight major, sure, but this will forever be known as Dustin’s Folly. It seemed from his opening-round 65 that this place was ideally suited for Dustin Johnson, a brawny layout that matched his game and accentuated its strengths. He seemed in great position deep into the weekend, well beyond the point at which he had fallen away in previous majors, and carried a share of the lead into the final round.

And it was still his tournament when he strode to the 72nd green, surveying an eagle putt to win and assured of a playoff with Spieth had he simply two-putted from inside 20 feet. But his first putt missed, and the next one did too, and suddenly Johnson hurried off into the sunset, his fiancée and newborn son at his side, without even bothering to collect his runner-up medal.

It all made for a memorable conclusion, but Chambers Bay earned a spot on this list for more than just the tournament’s final stanza. Player criticism over the course layout, somewhat of an annual tradition at the season’s second major, was louder and more pointed than at any venue since the water hoses were spotted at Shinnecock Hills 11 years ago.

Billy Horschel became the poster boy for anti-Chambers vitriol, capping his final-round press conference by proclaiming that he had “lost respect” for the USGA. Those sentiments were also echoed by Chris Kirk, while Henrik Stenson said the splotchy, barren greens were like “putting on broccoli.” Rory McIlroy went one step further, likening them to cauliflower – according to McIlroy, they weren’t green enough to be broccoli.

Even local favorite Michael Putnam – who played the first-ever round at Chambers Bay – derided the putting surfaces, adding that the greens should be switched entirely to poa annua before the tournament ever returns.

And it probably will return, too. Future Open venues are booked through 2024, but all signs point to Chambers Bay being seriously considered as the host in 2025.

Aside from an eventful final round, the course also provided plenty of highlights – and lowlights – throughout the week. There was Louis Oosthuizen’s closing 29, a furious rally that allowed him to earn runner-up honors despite a disastrous opening round. And there was Jason Day, felled by a mid-round bout of vertigo and pushed to his limit while playing some of the best golf of his career.

Day’s watershed moment came months later at the PGA Championship, but it was here – parked for the week in an RV just steps from the driving range – that the Aussie steeled his nerves in the face of an intense physical battle.

And of course there was Tiger Woods, who was the last man on that range Wednesday evening, trying to dig answers from the pseudo-lunar dirt. He found none, bowing out with an opening 80 that was perhaps a worse round than even the score indicated. Woods capped it off by cold-topping a 3-wood into the “Chambers Basement,” a bunker Davis had explained just days earlier would not be in play all week. 

But Woods found it, although he found little else en route to a missed cut that became emblematic of his lost season.

Entering the week, few knew what to expect from this unseen layout carved far from the sport’s familiar path. By many metrics, it exceeded expectations. According to others, it was woefully underwhelming.

But regardless of personal opinions about Chambers Bay, one thing is certain: the course, and the tournament, were memorable.

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J.Y. Ko wins her first start as an official LPGA member

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 4:09 pm

Make way for Jin Young Ko.

The South Koreans keep delivering one new star after another to the LPGA ranks, and they aren’t going to disappoint this year.

Ko made some history Sunday winning the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, closing with a 3-under-par 69 to claim a wire-to-wire victory. She became the first player in 67 years to win her LPGA debut as a tour member. Beverly Hanson (1951) is the only other player to do so.

Hyejin Choi, an 18-year-old who just turned pro, is yet another emerging South Korean star looking to crack the LPGA ranks. She finished second Sunday, three shots back after closing with a 67. She played on a sponsor exemption. She is already No. 11 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and likely to move up when the newest rankings are released. Had Choi won Sunday, she could have claimed LPGA membership for the rest of this season.

Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open

Ko, 22, moved herself into early position to try to follow in Sung Hyun Park’s footsteps. Park won the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards last year. She joined Nancy Lopez as the only players to do so. Lopez did it in 1978. Park shared the Player of the Year honor with So Yeon Ryu.

Ko said winning the Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year Award is a goal, but she didn’t come into the year setting her sights on Player of the Year.

“I haven’t thought about that yet,” she said.

Ko finished at 14 under overall.

It was a good week for rookies. Australia’s Hannah Green (69) finished third.

Ko claimed LPGA membership this year based on her victory as a non-member at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea last fall. She’s already a star in South Korea, having won 10 times on the Korean LPGA Tour. She is No. 20 in the world and, like Choi, poised to move up when the newest world rankings are released.

Former world No. 1 Lydia Ko closed with an even par 72, finishing tied for 19th in her 2018 debut. She is in next week’s field at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

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Luiten takes title at inaugural Oman Open

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 3:25 pm

MUSCAT, Oman - Joost Luiten of the Netherlands won the inaugural Oman Open on Sunday to break a title drought of nearly 17 months.

The 32-year-old Dutchman shot a 4-under 68 to finish on 16-under 272, two shots ahead of his friend, England's Chris Wood (69).

It was Luiten's sixth European Tour title and the first since the 2016 KLM Open.

Frenchman Julien Guerrier (71) virtually assured that he would not have to go to qualifying school for the 12th time with a third-place finish after a 13-under 275.

Luiten started with three birdies in his first four holes, but bogeys on the seventh and eighth set him back. On the back nine, he made three birdies, including a key one on the 16th, where he made a 30-foot putt.

''It feels great. I didn't know what to expect when I came here but to play a course like this which is in great condition - it's a great technical golf course as well - it was beyond my expectation and to hold the trophy is even better,'' said Luiten, who is expected to rise to No. 65 in the new rankings on Monday.

''I had a great start, that's what I was hoping for. I hit some nice ones in close and rolled in a couple of nice putts and that gets you in the right position, where you want to be.

Full-field scores from the NBO Oman Golf Classic

''Unfortunately, I had a couple of bogeys as well on the front nine, but I recovered from that with a couple of nice birdies on the back nine and it was a good battle with Woody.''

Playing one group ahead, England's Wood was right in the mix and tied with Luiten at 15-under when their fortunes went in opposite directions almost at the same time. On the 17th hole, Wood drove his tee shot into the hazard left and could do no more than chip his ball out for a bogey. Luiten, meanwhile, drained his 30-footer birdie putt on the 16th for a two-shot swing.

Recovering his form after a series of disappointments, Wood was let down by the loss and said: ''It's golf isn't it? You are never happy.

''I played poorly for six or eight months. Would have never thought I would have put myself into contention. And when you do, you feel gutted when you don't win. I am pretty down really, but in the grand scheme of things, when I reflect after a couple of days, I will think it is a big step in the right direction.''

Luiten's win also got him into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai, securing him a start at the WGC-Mexico Championship in two weeks.

Frenchman Alexander Levy (70), who was hoping to finish in the top five to push into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai and grab the WGC-Mexico spot himself, did manage a joint fourth place at 11 under, but Luiten's victory kept him 11th.

The European Tour next moves to Doha for the Qatar Masters starting on Thursday.

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J.Y. Ko wins Women's Australian Open by three

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 3:10 pm

ADELAIDE, Australia - South Korea's Jin Young Ko shot a 3-under par 69 Sunday to clinch a 3-shot, start-to-finish win the Women's Australian Open.

Playing in her first tournament as a full LPGA member, Ko shot 65, 69, 71, 69 to lead after all four rounds and to finish with a total of 274, 14-under par at the Kooyonga Golf Club. She is the first player to win her first tournament as an LPGA member in the tour's 67-year history.

Ko started the day four shots clear of 21-year-old Hannah Green, who was bidding to become the first Australian to win her national crown since Karrie Webb won the last of her five titles in 2014.

Green played solidly in the final group with Ko, shooting 69 and missing a birdie on the 18th which cost her a share of second place.

The stiffest challenge Sunday came from Ko's compatriot Hyejin Choi who closed within a shot at the turn, carding four birdies on her first nine holes. Ko began with birdies at the first and second holes, then stumbled with bogeys on the par-3 third and seventh holes.

But just as her lead came under threat, she found another gear, birdying the ninth hole to regain a two-shot lead. She then pulled away with birdies at the 13th and 17th in what seemed a nerveless finish, showing the experience gained as a 10-time winner on the Korean LPGA Tour.

Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open

She ended with a regulation par on the 18th to claim her second LPGA title after previously winning the co-sanctioned KEB-Hana Bank Championship.

Ko said she felt ''lots'' of nerves over the final round. Asked her reaction when she holed out on 18, she said ''relief.''

''I thought I could do it but I felt I had to play my game and enjoy the game,'' Ko said. ''My goal this week was firstly to make the cut and second to enjoy the game.

''But I won this week so I don't know what that might mean. My goal is Rookie of the Year.'' Asked by a reporter whether Player of the Year was a realistic option, Ko replied: ''No, not yet.''

Ko started the tournament ranked 20 but could be close to the top-10 by the start of the next LPGA tour stop in Thailand next weekend.

Choi was relentless in pursuit, the only player other than Ko to beat par in all four rounds. She shot 69, 71, 70, 67 on the par-72 layout, finishing at 277, 11 under par.

Green, in her rookie season, had rounds of 69, 74, 66, 69 to finish third at 10-under, one shot ahead of compatriot Katherine Kirk, who finished with a 7-under 65, the day's best round.

''I started off really well,'' Green said. ''My goal was to get into every major and I know that's quite hard being a rookie this year. So hopefully I've made enough money and keep making money to ensure I'm definitely in.''

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G-Mac has Ryder Cup on mind with Genesis in grasp

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 2:12 am

LOS ANGELES – Graeme McDowell is four years removed from his last start in a Ryder Cup and golf is more than seven months away from this year’s matches, but then it’s never too early to start daydreaming.

Following a third-round 70 that left him tied for third place and just two strokes off the lead at the Genesis Open, McDowell was asked if the matches are on his mind.

“I feel like I've got a lot of things to do between now and getting on that team,” he said. “Standing here right now it's probably not a realistic goal, but if I continue to play the way I'm playing for the next few months, it may start to become a realistic goal.”

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

McDowell began his week at Riviera Country Club fresh off four consecutive missed cuts and has drifted to 219th in the Official World Golf Ranking. But his play this week has been encouraging and the Northern Irishman has always relished the opportunity to play for Europe.

“Deep down I know I'm good enough, but I've got to show, I've got to put some results on the board, I've got to take care of my business,” he said. “The greatest experience of my career bar none, and I would love to play another couple Ryder Cup matches before it's all said and done.”

McDowell does have a potential advantage this year having won the French Open twice at Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches.