Once Again Annikas Trophy Goes Elsewhere
Sorenstam broke her own scoring record by averaging 68.70. Actually, make that 68.6969. She had set the record in 2002 with 68.6973. Second place was Grace Park, who still had a very good year at 69.99. Parks average, incidentally, was only the fourth time an LPGA player other than Sorenstam had shot better than 70 over the course of a season. Annika has done it five times.
Alas, though, the LPGA wont recognize the fact that Sorenstam was having the best season from a scoring standpoint. It recognizes Park. The reason? Seems the LPGA requires 70 rounds to qualify for the Vare Trophy, and Annika had just 66.
Yes, she played the necessary number of tournaments. The ADT Championship, which she won for her eighth victory, was her 18th. That was plenty to make her eight wins another full season ' 10 if you count a couple of overseas wins. But 66 doesnt qualify by LPGA standards for the Vare. She finished four short of the required 70.
This, of course, is blatantly unfair to Sorenstam. And it doesnt seem fair to Park. She is listed as the winner of the Vare Trophy in a year in which she won just one-fourth as often as Annika ' two times. Someday when she is retired from an active playing career, Park will still have her name on the trophy for the year 2004. But Grace will know that in 2004 she did not have the best season.
But it is unfair to Park because she had an outstanding season this year, and the mention of the Vare subject will always be paired with whispers of, 'Yes, but Annika ...' The only thing Grace did wrong was she did not have an out-of-this-world season such as Sorenstam. But, outside of Vijay Singh, who did?
Actually, this is the second year it has happened to Annika. The same thing occurred last year, and the LPGA stoically sat on its hands and did nothing about the slap. Last year Se Ri Pak was given Annikas trophy because Sorenstam did not, by the LPGAs standards, play enough. That was particularly painful, she said ' especially when she didnt realize until September that she wouldnt qualify.
Its something Ive got to deal with, Sorenstam said philosophically. I always considered the Vare Trophy one of the highest awards to win throughout the year.
She, of course, knew this was going to happen - this year she did. Last year she played 17 times. Unfortunately, 17 ' or 18 in the case of 2004 ' dont add up when you are only playing three-round tournaments, which most LPGA events are. But ' I know the rules, said Annika. Got to deal with them.
Will the LPGA review the qualifications? Its doubtful, even though everything about the prestigious trophy screams review.
Definitely needs to be looked because we're going into more three-day events, Sorenstam said last November. Also, we're starting in March where we used to start in January, and you know, you are taking two months of tournament golf off like that. So you have to cram in that many tournaments, adding every other year a tournament like Solheim Cup, etc. ' it is just very tough.
I have always been for quality and not quantity. If it is a question of how much you play, then I am not going to compete in that. I like to focus on quality and win tournaments. It's sad because I think it is a very prestigious award.
Ostensibly, the award is for excellence during a season, playing to such a high standard that you score the best in the LPGA. What it comes down to is really something else ' it comes down to playing a lot of tournaments AND scoring. Somehow, that cheapens the award a little.
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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship
ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.
Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.
''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''
The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.
Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.
Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.
''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''
Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.
Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.
First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.
Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round
CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.
Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.
Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.
“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”
Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.
“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”
Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win
CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.
Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.
“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.
“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”
Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.
Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey
CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.
This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.
Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.
Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.
“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”
Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.
“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”