LPGA Must Pray for Annika to Hang Em Up

By George WhiteOctober 19, 2004, 4:00 pm
The news is getting about as clichd as dog bites man. Annika Sorenstam wins for the sixth time this year (in just 15 starts). Oh ' it was the 54th time in her career that she did it ' 54 times that she broke the heart of the second-place finisher.
The LPGA rank and file must be longing for that day when Sorenstam finally hangs em up. She keeps hinting that that day may be soon, though she just turned 34 on Oct. 10. The sisterhood keeps silently waiting - at least that is what I would do if I were in their spikes.
All the right things keep coming from their mouths ' Were so fortunate to have her; Shes such a credit to the LPGA, etc, etc. You know what they want to say? How about, For Petes sake, when is she going to retire? Someone trot out the cake and lets have the going-away party tomorrow, already!!
You wonder if Annika hasnt broken the spirits of some of these promising debutants. For so long they play such exceptional golf. Then along comes Sorenstam, for one, two, three holes ' whoop whoop, a little lucky break here, a solid shot there, and what do ya know, shes done it again! Thirty-six times in the last five years shes done something very similar, and the women are flat getting tired of it.
Grace Park was the latest unfortunate. She had a wonderful round of 62 the first day of the Samsung World Championship, reserved for the LPGAs best players. She backed that up with a 67 the next day and was still ahead by three shots on the back nine Sunday.
But just as certainly as death, taxes and falsehoods in a presidential campaign, here comes Annika. She plodded along slowly but surely, never quite catching up, but never falling too far behind, either.
Then it happened so quickly ' she chipped in for an eagle on 15, followed with a gorgeous 4-iron for birdie for 17 ' and before anyone could say the LPGAs greatest player, she had won another.
Park, who had played an exceptional tournament, sounded as if she had just about had it. Shes 25 now, but she has seen this act all too often in her young career. You get ahead ' far, far ahead ' but it is seldom enough. Seems like you have to go lights out until the very end ' the final putt on the final hole of the final round. Sixty-eight holes of excellence, she already knows too well, just wont cut it.
I just knew that, you know, when you got the No. 1 player just behind you, you expect her to come back, said a downcast Park. You expect her to hang in there. And she did what she had to do, and I didn't.
Downcast? Disappointed? Disheartened? That doesnt begin to tell the story when youre trying to match up to the strengths of a Sorenstam. Park looked deep inside, and she could only come up with one descriptive phrase, one harsh reality that the whole tour has had to face when compared to Annika.
That I'm the biggest loser, said Park.
Loser? Yes, loser, she said ' capital L. Actually she has enjoyed an excellent year. But Sorenstam, it must be rememered, makes a lot of people feel that way. Annika is extremely polite, courteous to a fault ' but her golf game has a peculiar way of making a lot of womenfolk start grousing under their breaths.
This year has been very frustrating because I've come so close, Park said. Obviously, I'm very frustrated and upset with myself and disappointed. You know, I haven't felt this badly in a long time. I'm playing good golf, but just not getting it done. I don't know how many runner ups this is. It's getting a little frustrating.
For the record, Park finished second five times in 2003 ' one a playoff loss to Sorenstam in a major, the McDonalds LPGA Classic. This year the runnerup finishes have now stretched to six. Some day all those seconds may turn into wins - but that may be after Annika is gone.
Sorenstam has finished second three times herself, four times in 2003 ' but she has 12 wins to offset that. Park has two ' and 11 seconds.
Park doesnt do a very good job of hiding her feelings. Really - no comment. I don't have a comment. I fell apart and didn't get it done, and that's it, she said. She might well have been speaking for the whole womens tour.
Poor Annika ' she tries her best to win, she usually succeeds ' but she knows what she is doing is quite irksome to the ladies who must be content with second place. And she wishes she could be a bit tidier with her wins. But sometimes she just cant help but do it late on the final day.
You know, I didn't wait until the end on purpose, Sorenstam offered Sunday. I mean, I tried to get off to a hot start. It really didn't happen.
Poor Grace must silently be praying for the day ' and in the near future, if at all possible ' when this woman stashes the clubs and gets on with child-bearing or cooking or traveling or whatever. Annika has said numerous times that she doesnt plan on playing forever, you know. The rest of the ladies must wish she would stick to that promise.
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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”