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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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.