Lewis brings star power to rain-shortened LPGA Bahamas

By Doug FergusonMay 22, 2013, 11:22 pm

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Stacy Lewis brings more value to the LPGA Tour that just her golf.

Along with becoming the first American in 18 years to win LPGA player of the year, and then rising to No. 1 in the world for four weeks, Lewis had a direct hand in bringing two tournaments to the LPGA Tour. One of them is this week, the Bahamas LPGA Classic, which grew out of her partnership with Ohio-based title sponsor Pure Silk.

She also aced what amounted to a pop quiz by the chief executive of Marathon Oil, which now sponsors a tournament in July.

That's what led LPGA Tour Commissioner Mike Whan to jokingly say Wednesday, ''She's better at sales than me.''

''Your stars drive your sport,'' Whan said. ''Your athletes generate the momentum, and your job is to turn that momentum into business.''

Lewis, however, is not good enough to dictate weather.

A storm the locals haven't seen in some 20 years pounded Paradise Island through the night, dumping about a foot of rain in an eight-hour span that flooded the Ocean Club. There was so much water on the course – the entire 18th fairway was covered – that the tournament was reduced to 54 holes.

The first round is to start Friday with a Sunday finish, leaving some flexibility in case more showers cause problems.

''I'm happy I got 18 holes of practice in yesterday,'' Suzann Pettersen said. ''We'll play whenever we can.''

The rain wiped out the pro-am, so the LPGA Tour hastily arranged for players to meet at a restaurant at The Atlantis for question-and-answer sessions with the amateurs. The group of players included the top three in the world ranking – Inbee Park, Lewis and Pettersen, along with Brittany Lincicome and Natalie Gulbis.

It was an example of how the LPGA players try to do a little more, and it goes back to the pop quiz for Lewis.

She had a marketing sponsorship with Marathon, and the company was thinking about sponsoring a tournament. Lewis was playing in a pro-am with the CEO when he turned to her and said, ''Why should I sponsor an LPGA event?''

''It caught me off guard,'' Lewis said. ''I said it was a different experience than the PGA Tour and your customers will love it. I think that's more why they did. They do a big customer outing. You get your name out there, but mostly they take care of their customers. And our pro-ams are better than any out there.''

The LPGA stars all turned out for a pro-am party Tuesday night at The Atlantis, with its massive aquarium as the backdrop.

As for the golf? No chance.

The rain fell so hard and for so long that on Wednesday morning, the tip of a red hazard stake down the right side of the 18th fairway was barely visible. The entire hole was a water hazard except for the tee and the green. On the adjacent ninth hole, water covered a deep bunker on the left side of the green – two turtles were swimming in what had been a bunker – and it was nearly coming onto the green.

Whan asked some officials from The Bahamas if they should have considered an earlier date. The advance staff had not seen much of a cloud of the last week.

''They said they had never seen a storm like this, so we're probably in a good spot,'' Whan said.

Lewis is trying to get back to the top spot after winning the LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix in March to reach No. 1 in the world. Not since Beth Daniel in 1994 had an American won LPGA player of the year, and Lewis was on an upward trend by winning the HSBC Champions in Singapore the following week in Phoenix.

Park won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and replaced Lewis at No. 1. There now is a three-way battle - and it could grow – as the LPGA Tour heads into the heart of its major championship season, including a return to St. Andrews.

Lewis is concerned with the careless mistakes leading to bogeys, though the real struggle is finding a balance with her recent star power. She is one of the more remarkable stories in women's golf, having spent most of her childhood in a back brace because of scoliosis, and then having to go through surgery after high school to install a rod and metal screws. None of that kept her from reaching the top.

As for the attention? She is getting recognized more often. She gets some of the largest galleries, even when playing early in the morning.

''The hardest for me is the extra stuff, being the only American up there,'' she said. ''That adds to the media requirements, sponsor requirements, doing extra things at tournaments. Managing my schedule has been the hardest thing.''

In her first tournament after getting to No. 1, Lewis had interviews in the morning, went to practice, another session of interviews in the afternoon, followed by a video interview, a photo shoot and the pro-am party.

''It was exhausting,'' she said

After a morning practice Tuesday this week, she headed over to Atlantis for a promotional spot – she swam with dolphins. That was fun. And after getting out of the water, it started to rain. If nothing else, Wednesday brought a day of rest.

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Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back

By Associated PressMarch 25, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr blew a five-stroke lead Saturday in the Kia Classic to set up a final-round showdown at Aviara Golf Club.

A day after shooting an 8-under 64 to open the big lead, Kerr had a 75 to drop a stroke behind playing partner Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim. Kerr was tied with Caroline Hedwall, Wei-Ling Hsu and Cindy LaCrosse, and four players were another shot back.

The 40-year-old Kerr had a double bogey on the par-4 15th after snap-hooking a drive into the trees. The 2015 winner at Aviara, she also had two bogeys and two birdies.

Ji had a 67 to match Salas (69) and Kim (69) at 11-under 205. Salas had a chance to pull away, but missed birdie putts of 1 1/2 feet on the short par-4 16th and 2 1/2 feet on the par-5 17th.

Anna Nordqvist had a 66 to top the group at 9 under.

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Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.

Just like that other tournament, right?

Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.

But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.

After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.

Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.

“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”

The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.

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It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.

Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.

Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.

“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”

But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.

While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”

But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.

Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.

Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.

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Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.

First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).

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Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.

In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.

After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”