Battle of major champs set for final round of Founders

By Randall MellMarch 20, 2016, 4:01 am

PHOENIX – You can’t win the JTBC Founders Cup without a major championship on your resume.

Maybe you can, but it’s never been done in the six-year history of this special event.

That makes Stacy Lewis, Lydia Ko and Paula Creamer the favored cast of chasers in Sunday’s bid to catch 54-hole leader Eun-Hee Ji in what promises to be a shootout at Wildfire Golf Club.

Ji’s two titles include the U.S. Women’s Open in 2009.

Lewis, Ko and Creamer are the only other major championship winners among the top 16 on the leaderboard.

Ji’s 7-under-par 65 moved her one shot ahead of Lewis (64) and Sei Young Kim (70), two ahead of Jacqui Concolino (68) and three ahead of Ko (64), Creamer (67) and Carlota Ciganda (64).

A two-time winner, Ji has never successfully closed out a 54-hole lead in an LPGA event. In fact, she’s only held a 54-hole lead once in her nine years on tour. She won the U.S. Women’s Open and the Wegmans Championship coming from behind.

With players in attack mode at the Founders Cup, with birdies being made in bunches this week, Ji may have to fight off a number of final-round charges. In fact, she might not even have the lead by the time she tees off on Sunday afternoon.

“These scores are just ridiculous,” Lewis said. “So you can’t look at a leaderboard. You just go out there and make as many birdies as you.”

They can’t seem to play the Founders Cup without Lewis having something to say about how it all ends.

Lewis has been a commanding presence in every final act of this event over the last three years. She won in 2013, coming from four-shots behind in the final round. She finished second to Karrie Webb in 2014 and second to Hyo Joo Kim in 2015.

Kim, Webb and Lewis were all major winners when they won here. So was the only other player to win here, Yani Tseng in 2012.

Lewis, 31, is looking for her 12th LPGA title, her first since winning the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in June of 2014. She would love to put an end to all the questions that have come with the nine second-place finishes she has recorded since her last victory.

“The golf course just fits my eye,” Lewis said of her ability to regularly contend here. “You have to hit good shots to get rewarded for it. And then I read the greens really well here. But, you know, I don’t really know what it is. I'm just really happy to see some good scores going up.”

The Founders Cup has become a special event for Lewis, so special she helped fund filming of the documentary movie, “The Founders,” which was shown in a players’ meeting this week. After her round, Lewis helped a young LPGA pro confused by who was whom, matching names to the faces of the founders and pioneers who were seated on a small stage behind the 18th green.

“This week, it’s really special to me,” Lewis said. “I’ve gotten to know the founders the last few years, especially Marilynn Smith. Just being around them, you see the love and the energy they have for this game still, and for our tour.”

Ko, the 18-year-old Rolex world No. 1, won the New Zealand Women’s Open earlier this year and now is looking to win her first LPGA title of the new season. She has knocked on the door here before, finishing tied for second two years ago and sixth last year.

Ko gave herself a chance shooting 64 Saturday to match Lewis, Ciganda and Alena Sharp for the day’s low round.

“With the rough a lot longer this year, I thought the scores wouldn’t be as low, but apparently not,” Ko said. “I told myself if I wanted to catch up I needed to go low today.”

Creamer, 29, is looking for her 11th LPGA title, her first since winning the HSBC Women’s Champions two years ago. Despite a sluggish start, Creamer kept grinding away and got herself back in the hunt with a back-nine blitz. She showed her new found length eagling the 15th, knocking a 3-wood to 25 feet and rolling in the putt.

“I just didn’t get too upset on the front nine,” Creamer said. “I knew there was a lot of golf left. I just kept plugging along.”

Creamer says working with new coach Gary Gilchrist helped her push past Saturday’s frustrating start. She kept competing instead of fretting over missed shots or missed putts. Afterward, she said her caddie, Colin Cann, noticed how she grinded through some disappointments.

“Colin said he wasn’t sure that would have happened a couple months ago, if I maybe I would have gotten down on myself,” Creamer said. “That’s kind of what Gary is helping with, that you can swing however you swing, everyone has their own swing, their own mentality. It’s a matter of `This is what you’ve got, now go get it done.’

“I think I was being too critical for quite a while with my swing. I forgot to play the game. I know I’m not going to hit every shot perfect, but I think the difference is I’m saying `OK, I’m going to chip in, or I’m going to get up and down and move on.’ I don’t really dwell on things.”

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CJ Cup: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 16, 2018, 9:20 pm

The PGA Tour returns to South Korea this week for the second edition of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Here is the key information for the no-cut event, where Justin Thomas is defending champion.

Golf course: Located on Jeju Island, the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, The Club at Nine Bridges opened in 2001 and was designed by Ronald Fream and David Dale. The par-72 layout (36-36) will measure 7,184 yards for this week's event, 12 yards shorter than last year.

Purse: The total purse is $9.5 million with the winner receiving $1.71 million. In addition, the winner will receive 500 FedExCup points, a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and invitations to the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Players, Masters, and PGA Championship.

Last year: Thomas defeated Marc Leishman with a birdie on the second playoff hole to earn his seventh career PGA Tour win.

TV schedule (all times Eastern): Golf Channel, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Live streamingWednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. 

Notable tee times (all times Eastern): 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im; 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els; 8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama

Notables in the field: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and last week's winner Marc Leishman.

Key stats:

 This is the third of 46 official events of the season and the second of three consecutive weeks of events in Asia

• 78-player field including the top 60 available from the final 2017-2018 FedExCup points list

The field also includes 12 major champions and two of the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking (highest ranked are No. 3 Koepka and No. 4 Thomas)

Thomas and Koepka both have a shot to ascend to No. 1 in the OWGR this week - they will play their first two rounds grouped together

Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit

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Els eyeing potential Prez Cup players at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:55 pm

Ernie Els is teeing it up this week in South Korea as a player, but he's also retaining the perspective of a captain.

While the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia is still more than a year away, Els has already begun the process of keeping tabs on potential players who could factor on his International squad that will face an American contingent captained by Tiger Woods. Els played in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and this week received one of eight sponsor exemptions into the limited-field CJ Cup on Jeju Island.

Els played a Tuesday practice round with Presidents Cup veteran and Branden Grace and India's Shubankhar Sharma, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last week in Malaysia.

"It's going to be a very diverse team the way things are shaping up already," Els told reporters. "We've got another year to go, so we're going to have an interesting new group of players that's going to probably make the team."

In addition to keeping tabs on Grace and Sharma, Els will play the first two rounds with Australia's Marc Leishman and South Korea's Si Woo Kim. Then there's Sungjae Im, a native of Jeju Island who led the Tour money list wire-to-wire last season.

"There's so many Korean youngsters here this week, so I'm going to really see how they perform," Els said. "Still a long way to go, but these guys, the young guys are going to be really the core of our team."

Els, who will turn 49 on Wednesday, made only five cuts in 15 PGA Tour starts last season, with his best result a T-30 finish at the Valero Texas Open. While it's increasingly likely that his unexpected triumph at the 2012 Open will end up being his final worldwide victory, he's eager to tackle a new challenge in the coming months by putting together the squad that he hopes can end the International losing skid in the biennial matches.

"The U.S. team is a well-oiled team. They play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cups against us, so they're a very mature team," Els said. "We are going to be a young team, inexperienced. But that doesn't scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I've played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course strategy-wise and I'm going to share that with my players."

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CIMB champ Leishman hopes to improve on CJ runner-up

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:29 pm

Marc Leishman is back in Korea with momentum on his side, hoping to fare a little better than a year ago.

Leishman nearly took home the trophy in the inaugural CJ Cup, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Justin Thomas. But the Aussie put his approach into the water on the second extra hole, allowing Thomas to wrap up the win a few minutes later.

"Excited to be back in Korea. I have a lot of good memories here at this golf course," Leishman told reporters. "Hopefully I can play well again and go one better than last year."

Leishman's playoff loss kick-started a strong opening stretch to his wraparound season, but he closed it without a victory. That drought ended in emphatic fashion last week, as he cruised to a five-shot win at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia for his fourth career PGA Tour win and his third since March 2017.

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

Leishman told reporters last week in Malaysia that before the week started, his driving was so crooked that he feared his equipment reps might need to add a few golf balls to his locker. Instead, he found his groove en route to shooting 26 under par at TPC Kuala Lumpur and leaving the field in his wake.

"Golf's a funny game. It can change very quickly from bad to good or from good to bad," Leishman said. "It was certainly a goal of mine to win this season, and to win my first event of the season is great. Also to be going back to Maui puts me in a different frame of mind for the whole year. For a lot of reasons, I'm really happy with what last week brought."

Leishman played on the Korean PGA Tour in 2006 while getting his pro career off the ground, but even with that experience he expects a learning curve while going from the steamy conditions of Malaysia to the cool and wet climate that has greeted players this week on Jeju Island.

"It's a big adjustment going from so hot and humid last week to fairly cold and hopefully not wet, but it was wet this morning," Leishman said. "The ball goes different distances, your body's not quite as loose as what it is when it's hot. Just little things like that that you have to adjust to."

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Bowditch eyes same fusion surgery as Tiger

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:03 pm

After struggling through a couple lean years on the course, Steven Bowditch is ready to go under the knife.

Bowditch has won twice on the PGA Tour, and the Aussie was a member of the International Team at the 2015 Presidents Cup in South Korea. But his game fell apart shortly thereafter, as Bowditch has made just two cuts in his last 40 starts dating back to July 2016 while putting up some eye-popping scores.

Bowditch's exemption for his win at the 2015 AT&T Byron Nelson expired in August 2017, and he spent last season without full-time status on Tour for the first time since 2010. He made eight starts, notably finding a caddie via Twitter search before missing the cut at the John Deere Classic in July.

But the 35-year-old revealed Tuesday that his on-course struggles have been tied to some health concerns that have been difficult to pinpoint. Having finally received the appropriate diagnosis, he is preparing for a spinal fusion surgery next month between the L5 and S1 vertebrae - the same two that Tiger Woods successfully fused last year:

Bowditch's estimate of a "late 2019" return likely means he'll miss the entire 2018-19 season. When he returns he would do so with past champion status based on his wins, which also included the 2014 Valero Texas Open.