Ernst leads at LPGA finale; Ko three back

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2015, 8:06 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Austin Ernst leads the tournament, Sei Young Kim leads the race for $1 million and Lydia Ko has edged closer to everything else that's at stake this weekend.

So as expected, the LPGA's finale for 2015 is off to a hectic start.

Ernst shot a 6-under 66 Thursday to take a one-shot lead over South Korea's Mi Hyang Lee after the opening round of the CME Group Tour Championship. Kim, part of a group two shots off Ernst's pace, would win the season-ending $1 million bonus if the tournament ended in its current order. Ko shot a 69 to move closer to earning Player of the Year honors, plus the scoring and money titles.

''I've just got to think of it as another tournament,'' said Ko, the 18-year-old from New Zealand who holds the No. 1 ranking. ''That's what I said for all the majors. I've got to focus on one shot at a time and not think like it's a major so it's more special and all that. Obviously, it is, at the end of the day. But it's another tournament. We've got the world's best golfers here, the top players are here, it's a great field, it does feel like a major.

''And with everything that might come along on Sunday, it might be more than that.''

She would know, after sweeping the tournament and the bonus a year ago. Ko opened with a 71 at Tiburon last year and was five back after the first round; she was two shots better, and two shots closer to the lead, after Thursday.

Meanwhile, Ernst – who has struggled mightily in her past trips to Tiburon – took a new and simple approach to the course this time. All she tried to do was stay out of trouble, and she made it look easy.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

''I drove it pretty well today,'' said Ernst, an American who hit 17 greens. ''I've been hitting it well this year. It's really just a matter of I needed to get myself in better positions. I didn't really put too much stock in how I've played here the last two years.''

Lee was alone in second. At 68, Kim was in a six-way tie for third with five Americans -  Jennifer Song, Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lincicome, Jaye Marie Green and Gerina Piller.

''It's great to come in and have a good round on the first day,'' Lincicome said. ''My dad always told me, you can't win it on the first day but you can definitely lose it. So I put myself in contention a little bit.''

Kim, a three-time winner this year, already has wrapped up rookie of the year honors and entered the week as one of the nine players with a shot at winning the 'Race to CME Globe' and the accompanying $1 million bonus. Ko, Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis would all capture that bonus by winning the season finale; Park struggled with the Bermuda greens and shot 71, while Lewis opened her last chance at winning a tournament this year with a 72.

''Just wasn't very good,'' Lewis said. ''Didn't really hit the ball very solid and never gave myself a lot of good birdie chances. Just didn't play very well.''

Ko and Park will decide the world's No. 1 ranking this week, along with the scoring title, player of the year and the money crown. For Ko to ensure she goes into the offseason with all those, she needs to finish two shots ahead of Park.

''I don't know how they are sleeping at night, to be honest with you,'' said Lincicome, who isn't one of the nine with a shot at the $1 million. ''It's a lot of pressure, especially Lydia, she is so young and she handles it so well. To have so many different prizes on the line, I don't think I would sleep.''

DIVOTS: Michelle Wie (75) was tied for 61st and Morgan Pressel (78) was last in the 71-player field. ... Lexi Thompson, Paula Creamer and Julieta Granada (who lost a playoff here last year) were among those who shot 70. ... The LPGA is expected to announce its 2016 schedule on Friday.

Getty Images

Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.

Getty Images

Playoff streaks in jeopardy for Garcia, Haas

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:12 pm

Since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007, only 13 players have managed to make the playoffs each and every year. But two of the PGA Tour's stalwarts head into the regular-season finale with work to do in order to remain a part of that select fraternity.

Sergio Garcia has rarely had to sweat the top-125 bubble, but the Spaniard enters this week's Wyndham Championship 131st in the current standings. Left with even more work to do is former FedExCup winner Bill Haas, who starts the week in Greensboro 150th.

Garcia got off to a strong start in the spring, sandwiching a pair of top-10 finishes in WGC events around a fourth-place showing at the Valspar Championship. But quality results largely dried up after Garcia missed the cut at the Masters; he has made only two cuts in 10 Tour starts since April, including early exits in all four majors.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Garcia has some history at Sedgefield Country Club, having won this event in 2012 to break a lengthy U.S. victory drought. He also finished fourth in 2009 but hasn't played the Donald Ross layout since a T-29 finish as the defending champ in 2013.

It's been a difficult year for Haas both on and off the course, as the veteran was involved as a passenger in a car accident on the eve of the Genesis Open that killed the driver. He returned to action three weeks later in Tampa, and he tied for seventh at the RBC Heritage in April. But that remains his lone top-10 finish of the season. Haas has missed 11 cuts including three in a row.

While the bubble will be a fluid target this week at Sedgefield, Garcia likely needs at least a top-20 finish to move into the top 125 while Haas will likely need to finish inside the top 5.

One of the 13 playoff streaks is assured of ending next week, as Luke Donald has missed most of the year with a back injury. Other players to qualify for every Tour postseason include Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Charles Howell III, Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore.

Getty Images

Airlines lose two sets of Olesen's clubs in 10 days

By Grill Room TeamAugust 15, 2018, 7:50 pm

Commercial airlines losing the golf clubs of a professional golfer is not exactly a groundbreaking story. It happens.

But European Tour pro Thorbjorn Olesen is on quite the roll, losing two sets of clubs and five suitcases in the span of 10 days.

Olesen, the reigning Italian Open champ, claimed his primary set of golf clubs were lost last week. Having little faith they'd be found before this week's Nordea Masters, he decided to bring his backup set for the event in Sweden.

A veteran move by the 28-year-old, unless, of course, those clubs were lost too. And wouldn't you know it:

After pestering the airlines with some A+ GIFs, Olesen was reunited with at least one of his sets and was back in action on Wednesday.

He also still plans on giving his golf bag away to some lucky follower, provided it's not lost again in transit. Something he's no longer taking for granted.

Getty Images

Podcast: Brandel compares Tiger and Hogan's comebacks

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 15, 2018, 6:48 pm

Tiger Woods on Sunday at Bellerive recorded his seventh runner-up finish in a major and his first in nine years.

A favorite guest of the Golf Channel Podcast, Brandel Chamblee joins host Will Gray to compare and contrast Tiger's return to competitive golf with that of Ben Hogan and Babe Didrikson Zaharias in the 1950s.

Chamblee also discusses Brooks Koepka's major dominance, Bellerive as a major venue, Tiger and Phil as Ryder Cup locks, and who else might be in line to receive Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn's remaining captain's picks.

Finally, Brandel shares what it was it was like to qualify for the Senior Open Championship and compete for a major title on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Listen here: