Marathon season turns into a sprint for McIlroy

By Doug FergusonNovember 2, 2011, 12:25 pm

SHANGHAI – The smattering of conversations suddenly gave way to the constant shutters of cameras at Le Meridien hotel, and there was no mistaking who was causing all the commotion on Wednesday.

U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy could barely make his way across the room without being stopped. He stood tall as he posed with a Chinese businessman, and stooped over for another picture with a young girl, smiles everywhere. At his side was Caroline Wozniacki, the No. 1 player in women’s tennis and the girlfriend of golf’s newest star.

McIlroy wasn’t bothered by all the attention. As he said earlier Wednesday before a room packed with reporters at the HSBC Champions, it comes with his expanding territory.

Only now, the fuss is for more than just his golf.

It already has been a long year for McIlroy, who now embarks on a sprint to the finish when he tees off on Thursday in the final World Golf Championship of the year.

On the course, he went from a Sunday meltdown at the Masters to blow a four-shot lead to an overwhelming performance in the U.S. Open at Congressional, where he won his first major and shattered the scoring record in an eight-shot win.

Off the course, he is part of sport’s new power couple – “WozIlroy” – and then really caused a sensation when he chose to leave longtime agent Chubby Chandler of International Sports Management to join Horizon Sports Management, a Dublin agency that represents good friend and fellow U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell.

“It’s been an interesting year,” McIlroy said. “A lot has happened. There’s been incredible highs and the one very disappointing low. But I think that disappointing low was needed to experience the incredible high of Congressional. So it’s been a great year. When I get a chance to reflect on it over Christmas and the new year, it’s been a fantastic year and I wouldn’t take it back.”

The reflection can wait.

McIlroy won’t get into specifics over why he left Chandler, only that he wants to concentrate on winning tournaments. Chandler raised the notion that Wozniacki had become a big influence on him, while Lee Westwood tweeted that the move was “bizarre.”

In his first tournament since the split, McIlroy opened with a 64 against a world-class field last week in the unofficial Shanghai Masters, then beat Anthony Kim in a playoff to win $2 million, the richest payoff of any tournament in the world.

He can only hope that serves as a springboard toward a spectacular finish.

McIlroy is about $1.8 million behind Luke Donald on the European Tour money list going into the final month of the season. Donald, who won the PGA Tour money list by closing with a 64 to win at Disney World two weeks ago, was unable to play the HSBC Champions because his wife is expecting their second child.

Winning at Sheshan International comes with a $1.2 million check, which could make a big dent in the deficit as players make their way to the season-ending Dubai World Championship.

“With him not being here this week … I feel like I’ve got a chance to cut into the lead a little bit,” McIlroy said after enduring a steady rain in the pro-am. “It would be fantastic to get another win, the second win in two weeks, and cut into that lead. But it’s such a strong field here, and there’s a lot of guys with a chance to win.”

Missing from the field is Tiger Woods, winless in two years and ineligible for the first time at a WGCPhil Mickelson, a two-time winner of the HSBC Champions, chose to stay home with family before consecutive weeks in the Singapore Open and Presidents Cup. Dustin JohnsonMatt KucharSteve Stricker and Webb Simpson aren’t playing.

Even so, the field remains strong with a heavy influence of European players and enough PGA Tour players – Nick WatneyHunter Mahan, FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas and all four major champions – that there will be no shortage of challengers.

And it’s meaningful for plenty of these players, such as PGA champion Keegan Bradley. The HSBC Champions counts on the PGA Tour if one of its members wins, and that would give Bradley a Tour-leading three wins this year, including a major.

No one argues that Donald has had the best year – not Bradley, not even McIlroy – although the PGA Tour delayed sending out the awards ballots until after this week.

“Luke Donald has had such a great year,” Bradley said. “I think it would be difficult to beat him. But I definitely think a win would help.”

It’s been a great year, and certainly a memorable one, for McIlroy.

First came his collapse at Augusta National, where he shot 80 in the final round to blow a four-shot lead. That was followed by a flawless performance at the U.S. Open to capture his first major. He stumbled at the British Open, on the links and after his round when he complained about too much wind, and he had a jarring moment at the PGA Championship when he tried to hit a 7-iron through a tree root and injured his right arm.

McIlroy recovered, and he has not finished worse than third since the PGA Championship. Meanwhile, his star power grows. He first noticed that a month after the U.S. Open, when he walked into a press conference at Royal St. George’s and saw every seat occupied, with a dozen or so reporters lined up against the wall.

“It was the first time I had really addressed the media after Congressional, and it was a bit of a shock to me, to be honest,” McIlroy said. “I feel as if I’m learning to deal with it a little better, and it’s quite an adjustment to make. But that’s just part and parcel of what we do. And I’m very glad to be in this position, very glad that people are interested in me.”

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Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage


Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

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Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.


Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

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Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage


Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.

Scoring:

TV Times (all times ET):

Wednesday
4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)