2012 LPGA season full of plot twists

By Randall MellNovember 23, 2012, 8:32 pm

You never knew what lurked around the corner this past LPGA season.

From surges to swoons, from breakthroughs to comebacks, from heart-thumping moments to heart-breaking ones, the women’s game offered up a series of storylines with more plot twists than a Brian De Palma film.

Here’s a look back at some of the surprising turns in 2012:

The American woman’s return: Nobody was talking about Stacy Lewis when the year began, even though she broke through to win her first major championship (Kraft Nabisco) in 2011. Lewis noticed that, and she gave everyone something to talk about at year’s end. She was the LPGA’s story of the year, becoming the first American woman to win the Rolex Player of the Year award since Beth Daniel 18 years ago. Lewis led an American surge with her four victories helping U.S. women claim eight LPGA titles this year. It was the most LPGA victories by American women in a single season since they won 10 times in ’08.

Photos: LPGA player portraits

Kimchi power: Korean cabbage (kimchi) apparently has the same mystical powers as Popeye’s spinach. Na Yeon Choi won the two biggest first-place checks in women’s golf this year. She took home $585,000 winning the U.S. Women’s Open and $500,000 winning the season-ending CME Group Titleholders. Choi told reporters her mother cooked her kimchi all week at the Titleholders, leading her caddie (Jason Hamilton) to credit “kimchi power” for her biggest drives. Choi wasn’t the only South Korean feasting on success this year. South Koreans won eight LPGA titles, equaling the Americans for most by any nation in 2012. South Koreans won three of the four majors with Choi, Sun Young Yoo (Kraft Nabisco) and Jiyai Shin (Ricoh Women’s British Open) claiming them. Fellow countrywoman Inbee Park didn’t win a major this year, but she won the LPGA money title and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. So Yeon Ryu was the Rolex Rookie of the Year winner.

Yani’s rough patch: After opening the year with three more LPGA titles, giving her a terrific run of 15 worldwide titles in 15 months, Yani Tseng stumped everyone, including herself, with an unexpected swoon. She missed back-to-back cuts in the summer, went 12 consecutive rounds without breaking par and five months without recording a top-10 finish. Nobody saw that coming, but Tseng showed signs she’s close to returning to form with two third-place finishes and a fourth-place finish on the Asian swing this fall. She’s still the No. 1 player in the world, a title she carried nobly this year, even in her struggles, but she will have to find her winning form to hold on to the top spot next year with so many players picking up their games.  

Another Far East force: Ten years from now, we may be talking about “Shanshan’s kids” the way we talk about “Se Ri’s kids.” Shanshan Feng’s victory at the Wegmans LPGA Championship may prove to have the same inspirational effect Se Ri Pak’s U.S. Women’s Open victory had on young South Korean female golfers. Feng, 22, became the first player from mainland China to win an LPGA event, and she made it doubly impressive doing so in a major. “I think, in the future, China will be one of the strongest countries in golf,” Feng said after winning.

A shocking miss: Blame the Indio effect. How else do you explain I.K. Kim missing a 12-inch putt at the 72nd hole that would have won the Kraft Nabisco Championship? The mysterious force blamed for drawing putts toward the city of Indio in the Coachella Valley pulled so much more with it in the year’s first major. It pulled a player’s most cherished hopes and dreams with it. The dizzying finish was so stunningly inexplicable it made Kim’s head hurt  as much as it made her heart ache. At least that’s what it looked like as Kim staggered off the 18th hole after missing a putt that couldn’t be missed. She put her hands on her head as if she were trying to contain a memory more brutal than a migraine. Kim’s nightmare became Yoo’s dream come true as Yoo claimed her first major.

Baby-faced closer: Lydia Ko became the youngest winner in LPGA history at 15 years, 4 months and 2 days old when she claimed the CN Canadian Women’s Open this summer. Ko, born in Asia and raised in New Zealand, won holding off the best women in the game on a nerve-racking Sunday. “You would never have known it was the final round of an LPGA event,” said playing partner Stacy Lewis. “She played like she had been there before.”

The hardest kind of loss: Two months after being diagnosed with West Nile virus, long-time LPGA rules official Doug Brecht died in October. “Few people truly make the world a better place,” Dottie Pepper said. “We just lost one.” Brecht, 62, was devoted to the tour in his 22 years with the LPGA.

The graduate: Michelle Wie pulled off an impressive feat in spring, graduating from Stanford while playing the LPGA. Now there’s the difficult business of graduating to another plane on the tour. Wie found fulfillment pursuing life as a Stanford undergraduate; now comes the challenge of finding fulfillment as an LPGA pro. Wie missed 10 cuts in 23 starts this year with just one top-10 finish. What she needs most now is a doctorate in putting.

Slow-play blues: Thinking she was 3 up with six holes to go in a Sybase Match Play Championship semifinal this summer, Morgan Pressel was hit with a slow-play penalty at the 13th tee. She was stunned to learn the loss of hole meant she was just 1 up on Azahara Munoz. Pressel lost her momentum and then the match. “Pace of play is an issue, but in that situation, I’m not sure it should have been called,” Pressel said. “I’m a little upset, and I think I have a right to be. It was an unfortunate situation that could have changed the whole outcome of the tournament.” Pressel looked like a good bet to claim her third LPGA title, but her season would only grow more difficult with a hand injury making it the toughest year of her seven years on tour.

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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.

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

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

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

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

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.”