Amateur Ko, 15, a serious Kraft contender

By Randall MellApril 4, 2013, 2:07 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – The Kraft Nabisco Championship may have to hire a lifeguard to watch over Poppie’s Pond in Sunday’s finish this year.

There’s this young kid who wouldn’t shock the women’s game if she jumped in as the winner of the year’s first major championship.

Lydia Ko is just 15, and it’s not quite clear if she knows how to swim.

“I hope so,” Ko cracked Wednesday.

The women’s game has witnessed its share of phenoms, but nobody quite like Ko.

At 15 years, 4 months and 2 days old, Ko won the CN Canadian Women’s Open last summer to become the youngest winner of an LPGA event. Eight weeks ago, she became the youngest winner of a Ladies European Tour event, claiming the New Zealand Women’s Open. The week after that, she made a serious run at winning the LPGA’s season opener, the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. Ko shared the 54-hole lead with former world No. 1 Jiyai Shin but faded in the final round.

If Ko were to win the Kraft Nabisco, she would eclipse Morgan Pressel as the youngest winner of a major championship by nearly three years. Pressel was two months shy of her 19th birthday when she won at Mission Hills.

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You won’t find an LPGA pro who discounts Ko’s chances.

“I am just completely impressed with her as a player,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “I just can’t see where she’s not going anywhere in the next few years but being a very, very significant player.”

Ko, who was born in South Korea but raised in New Zealand since she was 6, doesn’t seem fazed by the game’s largest stages. She won the U.S. Women’s Amateur last summer. When she won in Canada two weeks later, she was paired in the final round with Stacy Lewis, the LPGA’s Player of the Year last season and the current Rolex world No. 1. Ko wasn’t intimidated. Lewis started that Sunday one shot behind Ko but ended up six shots behind her.

Notably, Ko is paired with Michelle Wie in the first two rounds this week. As a 13-year-old, Wie tied for ninth in her Kraft Nabisco debut 10 years ago. She was fourth here as a 14-year-old and third as a 16-year-old.

Wie’s struggles of late are evidence that nothing’s certain, but Ko looks good as a possible contender again this week. Her combination of skill and temperament should suit major championship tests. She handles the spotlight so well. When Ko made a run at winning in the Women’s Australian Open, she shot 63 in the first round while in a marquee pairing with Yani Tseng and Wie. She was five shots better than Tseng that day, 11 better than Wie.

“She doesn’t seem like she’s 15 years old,” Tseng said. “She didn’t even look like she was nervous.”

Lewis was also impressed with how unflappable Ko was when she was paired with her in that Sunday final round in Canada.

“Ignorance is bliss,” Lewis said. “I don’t think she even knows how good she is.

“I expect her to come out and play really good this week. She probably doesn’t even really realize it’s a major or a big event. It’s just kind of the way she is. She’s just very calm and relaxed.”

Ko, who turns 16 on April 24, is the female universe’s version of Jason Dufner.

“She talks about being nervous, but, boy, you can never see it,” Rankin said. “She's just very, very calm. She has just a beautiful golf swing, and she seems to play within herself.”

The big question Ko keeps getting is how long she’s going to wait before turning pro.

Karrie Webb was asked before the Women’s Australian Open if Ko should embrace the amateur game a while longer.

“That’s not my advice to her,” Webb said. “Obviously, she’s proven that she’s ready to play professional golf.”

Ko has stated an interest in going to college, but she could turn pro and still do that. So Yeon Ryu won the U.S. Women’s Open while enrolled in college in South Korea. Wie played the LPGA while at Stanford.

“I couldn't really give a certain year of when I will turn pro,” Ko said Wednesday. “We don't normally think about it when we go back home. The time I think about it is when I'm here, getting asked the questions. My parents and I, my coaches, we have never really talked about it seriously.”

Ko is accompanied to tournaments by her mother, Tina Hyon. She picked up a former LPGA and PGA Tour caddie this week, Patrick Boyd, who now works in his family’s home and commercial security business in Southern California.

Hyon told the Sunday Star Times of Auckland, New Zealand, last month that there is no hurry to turn pro.

“I just think she is too young to make such a big decision, she's maybe a couple of years away,” Hyon said. “Lydia will be the one to make the decision. My role as a parent is to make sure she makes the most informed decision.”

A dive into Poppie’s Pond on Sunday would threaten to speed up the timetable.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

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“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

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“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”