International Crowd is Back on Leaderboard

By Associated PressApril 9, 2004, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Friday was English as a Second Language Day at the Masters.
Not quite seven years after Tiger Woods made the locals forget how often players from the rest of the world left town wearing green jackets, there was no mistaking the message posted on the leaderboard at the end of the second round: The international crowd is back.
Four of the first five names atop it belonged, in order, to golfers born in South Africa, the Czech Republic, Spain and South Korea.
'The best players,' said Alex Cejka, whose second straight round of 70 left him trailing leader Justin Rose by two strokes, 'want to be where the best players are.'
And during the first full week in April, they're always at Augusta National.
No tournament places a greater premium on precision, imaginative flair and the short game, and none is as likely to reward the kind of hunger that refuses to settle for second best. Guys like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson fit that bill of particulars. But they grew old and until Woods' emergence in 1997, precious few other Americans on the PGA Tour did.
Tiger has won three of the seven Masters since, and good buddy Mark O'Meara added a fourth, giving the home crowd a 4-3 edge. But go back to 1980, when Spaniard Seve Ballesteros became only the second non-American to win the Masters (and the first since three-time champion Gary Player), and it's 13-11 the other way.
And in the 10 years preceding Woods' breakthrough win, led by a cadre of Europeans known as the 'Big Six,' the out-of-towners posted an even more impressive 7-3 margin, including four straight from 1988-91.
Like a lot of people, Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal believed that run was the result of more creative players being developed on the other side of the Atlantic. Because the weather is rougher during the season over there and the courses not nearly as groomed, Olazabal said most international players were forced to develop better short games. But he doesn't think that explains this latest rush to the top of the board by the overseas contingent.
'In those years, we were really good around the greens and maybe the other players, especially the U.S. players, just catch up to us in that department on this golf course,' said Olazabal, who is tied for second.
Numbers might help explain it, since this year's field of 93 includes the largest international contingent ever -- 43 golfers -- and ties the record for most countries represented -- 19, including the People's Republic of China for the first time.
But that doesn't cover the resurgence completely, either. More likely, it's the same thing that's been drawing people to these shores some 250 years before there was a decent golf course on this side of the pond -- a hunger to succeed.
Rose, the young Englishman who was born in South Africa, was supposed to be the next big thing in the game after finishing fourth in the 1998 British Open as a 17-year-old. Instead, soon after launching his pro career, he missed 21 straight cuts and lost his father.
'Not to say that leading a major is easy,' Rose said, 'but I think I'm lucky in a lot of ways that, at age 23, I feel like I can draw on a couple of things that have happened to me going into the weekend.'
Likewise for Cejka, a German citizen born in what used to be communist Czechoslovakia. At age 9, his father took him on a trip out of the country and at some point they swam across a river and into Germany to gain their freedom. Maybe that's why flying a golf ball across Rae's Creek doesn't seem so daunting.
'I think they would shoot us if they catch us, but I don't know' Cejka recalled. 'It was Communism. Nobody was allowed to get out.'
No such dangers prevented K.J. Choi from seeking his fame and fortune. But as the son of a rice farmer in South Korea, he wasn't exposed to the game until he was 16 or the kind of topflight teaching professionals available at courses all over the United States. But Choi bought a Nicklaus instructional book, strung together hour after hour of practice, traveled to a land where he didn't know the language, customs or food, and somehow won two PGA Tour events.
Already the first South Korean to do so, Choi is tied with Phil Mickelson for fourth place heading into the weekend. His next target is to become the first of his countrymen ever to win a major.
'I can't even imagine what the reaction of the Korean people will be, but it will be great,' he said through an interpreter. 'Some of them, perhaps, will even skip a meal.'
Related links:
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    Watch: Rory finds trouble, and more trouble, and more ...

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 4:33 pm

    Rory McIlroy was in a must-win situation against Brian Harman in order to have a chance to advance to the one-and-done portion of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

    And, as you can see, McIlroy did not get off to an ideal start on Friday.

    McIlroy lost the third, fifth and ninth holes at Austin Country Club. Harman led, 3 up, at the turn.

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    Watch: Stefani makes hole-in-one, has no clue

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 3:18 pm

    Shawn Stefani made a hole-in-one on the par-3 17th in the second round of the Corales Puntacana Resorts and Club Championship.

    However, he never saw it go in.

    Stefani knew he hit a great shot, and this isn't shown in the video below, but he just questioned everyone around him if they saw the ball go into the hole.

    A Golf Channel cameraman finally gave him the news and Stefani responded with an enthusiastic thumbs up.

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    Trio lead Kia Classic; Davies shoots 82

    By Associated PressMarch 23, 2018, 3:01 am

    CARLSBAD, Calif. - Laura Davies had a nightmare round days after contending for a title at age 54, and Caroline Hedwall, Jackie Stoelting and Hee Young Park topped the Kia Classic leaderboard.

    Davies shot a 10-over 82 on Thursday at rainy Aviara Golf Club - four days after tying for second behind Inbee Park in the Founders Cup, and five days after shooting a 9-under 63 in the Phoenix event.

    Fighting Achilles tendon and calf problems in her left leg, Davies opened double bogey-bogey-par-bogey. She bogeyed Nos. 9, 10 and 12, had another double on 15 and bogeyed 16. The 82 was the World Golf Hall of Famer's highest score on tour since also shooting 82 in the 2013 Marathon Classic. On Monday, she jumped 208 spots to No. 155 in the world.

    Hedwall, Stoelting and Park shot 66 in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills. Ariya Jutanugarn, also coming off a second-place tie in Phoenix, was a stroke back with 2015 champion Cristie Kerr, In-Kyung Kim and Nicole Broch Larsen.

    Hedwall closed her bogey-free round with birdies on the par-5 eighth and par-4 ninth. The Swede played her final 10 holes in 6 under. Players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairways because of the damp conditions.

    ''I hit it really well and started making a couple putts in my back nine,'' Hedwall said. ''I'm really happy with how I'm playing and looking forward to the rest of the days.''

    Stoelting finished with a birdie on the par-4 18th. She had seven birdies and a bogey.

    ''I hit a lot of fairways,'' Stoelting said. ''I don't necessarily hit if far, but keeping it in the fairway is super key this week. The rough is much thicker this year than last year.''

    Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

    Hee Young Park birdied the final three holes, finishing on No. 9.

    ''The greens are really soft,'' Park said. ''So, easier on the second shot.''

    The 40-year-old Kerr had a bogey-free round.

    ''I like this golf course,'' Kerr said. ''I think it's a tough golf course and you can't fall asleep on any shot. I mean, it's just a really great course. The layout. The rough is high. You got to pay attention. I think that's maybe why I play a little better here than some other places.''

    Jutanugarn closed with a 5-under 31 on the front nine.

    ''It's rain today and a little bit windy, but my irons help me a lot,'' Jutanugarn said. ''Just start to make some putts. ... It's pretty tough for me. I always feel like the course here is really hard because the greens really bumpy, and you're not going to hit far here.''

    Lydia Ko and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu topped the group at 68.

    Ko also played her final nine in 31. She missed the cut last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix.

    ''I holed some really good putts on my back nine,'' Ko said. ''I didn't hit the ball fantastic, but just being able to hole some good birdie putts was key.''

    She won the 2016 event at Aviara.

    ''This is a pretty tough golf course,'' Ko said. ''Putting is a huge key around this course where if you do miss a green, making those clutch par putts and then making those birdie opportunities that you get.''

    Jennifer Song and Jeong Eun Lee also shot 68. Brooke Henderson had a 69, and Lexi Thompson a 70.

    Inbee Park was at 71 with Singapore champion Michelle Wie and 2014 Kia winner Anna Nordqvist. Top-ranked Shanshan Feng had a 72, playing alongside Park. Defending champion Mirim Lee shot 74.

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    With old clubs returned, Kim (and new clubs) starts strong at Kia

    By Randall MellMarch 23, 2018, 1:53 am

    Almost two months after her golf clubs went missing, the same clubs she used to win last year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open, In-Kyung Kim was happily reunited with them this week.

    She fetched them and her golf bag two days ago at the Carlsbad, Calif., police department.

    A man bought them as a used set from a sporting goods store in the area, with Kim’s LPGA I.D. still in the golf bag.

    Notably, Kim celebrated with a return to the leaderboard Thursday in the first round of the Kia Classic.

    Kim opened with a 5-under-par 67, though she didn’t use her newly rediscovered clubs. She stayed with the replacement set that she put together after her clubs went missing. Her Women’s British Open clubs never showed up after she got off a plane in Southern California upon her return home from the season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic.

    “It was really difficult at first,” Kim said of getting used to her new set of clubs. “I really worked hard, like worked a lot, went to the factory like a dozen times.”

    Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

    Kim said she made several visits to the factory folks, trying to get the loft and lies of her new clubs just the way she wanted, close to the configuration that helped her win the Women’s British Open.

    “They were like, `I.K., are you ever happy?’” Kim said.

    Actually, only five of Kim’s “lost” clubs turned up with her golf bag at that sporting goods store. Still, Kim was happy to get three wedges, two hybrids and her golf bag back.

    “It’s kind of good to have a conclusion,” Kim said.

    Kim can thank a “What’s in the bag?” segment with Ladies European Tour TV analyst Alison Whitaker for leading to the retrieval of her clubs. Kim explained to Whitaker how her clubs went missing during the telecast of the HSBC Women’s World Championship three weeks ago.

    A golf fan in the San Diego area saw Golf Channel’s telecast of that segment.

    “One of his friends bought the tour bag,” Kim said. “The other friend knew about my story, and he was like, `No, dude, that's not for selling. It's stolen.’”

    Kim was delighted to meet the men who returned her clubs when she picked them up at the Carlsbad Police Department.

    “Just good for me,” Kim said.