Gael force

By Randall MellSeptember 25, 2011, 7:53 pm

DUNSANY, Ireland – Call it a Gaelic classic.

In a marvelous tale of wonder and woe Sunday in the shadow of Killeen Castle, the Europeans didn’t just win the Solheim Cup. They transformed it.

With speculation that this biennial competition was on the verge of irrelevance when the week arrived, Europe changed everything.

Suddenly, the Solheim Cup matters more than it ever has.

The Europeans, who had lost the last three competitions, transformed the event with a comeback as thrilling as any you’ll see in this sport.

[Click to view Solheim Cup report cards]

Yes, the Americans lost, but they gallantly battled to overcome early setbacks so emotional that their two toughest stars were in tears with the day barely under way. The Americans lost, but golf always wins on days like this, in unforgettable battles of skill, wit and will.

Europe won 15-13, but it was closer than that, maddeningly and wondrously closer.

“I’ve been in agony all day,” European captain Alison Nicholas said.

U.S. captain Rosie Jones was in agony at the end, but she also appreciated what she was seeing.

“It probably was the best Solheim Cup ever,” Jones said. “I couldn’t be prouder of my team. I couldn’t be prouder of the European team. They fought hard all day. It was unbelievable.”

Europe’s Laura Davies has played in every Solheim Cup since it began in 1990, and she couldn’t remember a better one.

“This was the most exciting one by far,” she said.

With the competition tied late and narrowing down to the final three matches, the Americans looked a lock to win their fourth consecutive Solheim Cup. The Euros didn’t lead in a single remaining match, but then Suzann Pettersen, Caroline Hedwall and Azahara Munoz stepped into Solheim history. They led the charge that improbably gave Europe its fourth win in the 12-match history of the event.

“Europe just played better than us in the last 35 minutes,” Jones said. “They just took it away, stripped it.”

The Americans found themselves in a hole early when Cristie Kerr broke down and cried on the driving range with the realization that she was too hurt to play. The highest-ranked American in the world, scheduled to play the anchor singles match, couldn’t go when her ailing right wrist worsened.

“I’m devastated that I couldn’t play,” Kerr said in a statement issued by the U.S. team. “I tried my best, but I couldn’t hold the golf club.”

Kerr doesn’t know how she hurt her wrist, but it began bothering her shortly after her arrival in Ireland. She played through the pain all week but could no longer do so come Sunday morning. She conceded her match to Karen Stupples to give the Euros their first singles point on a day that began in an 8-8 tie.

The American outlook worsened when Solheim Cup bulldog, Paula Creamer, got thrashed, 6 and 5, by Catriona Matthew in the leadoff singles. It was a stinging blow given Creamer’s perfect record in singles (3-0) and what she means to the team. Creamer left in tears.

Still, even after the opening loss, the Americans fought and scratched with Morgan Pressel knocking off Anna Nordqvist, 2 and 1, with Hall of Famer Juli Inkster stealing a late halve with Laura Davies, with Brittany Lang and Christina Kim winning in routs and rookie Vicky Hurst also winning.

The Americans dug themselves out of holes late in matches all week, and it appeared they were going to keep the theme going to the end.

With the United States and Europe at 12 ½ points each, the outcome was down to a final three matches over the final three holes. The Euros didn’t have a lead in any of them.

That’s when this Solheim Cup turned into the best ever.

That’s when Pettersen turned around her match with Michelle Wie.

One down at the 16th tee, Pettersen rallied with three closing birdies. She stuffed a 5-iron to 15 feet for her first, stuck a gap wedge to 4 feet for her second and closed out Wie with a dagger at the last, a gap wedge to 8 feet for her final birdie.

“I seemed to be able to dig it out, but I seem to get older every time it happens,” Pettersen said. “I think I have more gray hair than when this started today.”

Then there was Munoz, all square with Angela Stanford stepping to the 17th tee. That’s where Munoz hit the shot of her young life, an 8-iron to 4 feet for a birdie that put her 1 up.

Assured of at least a half point going to the 18th, Munoz wouldn’t need to finish out, not with Hedwall taking care of business in front of her.

Two down with two holes to play to rookie Ryann O’Toole, Hedwall won the 17th when O’Toole found trouble in fescue and made bogey. At the 18th, Hedwall sealed the deal, carving a 7-iron to 5 feet. With O’Toole in trouble in thick rough behind the green, Hedwall didn’t need to putt. After O’Toole chopped out short, failing to reach the green, then failing to hole a chip for par, Hedwall secured a vital halve with a conceded birdie.

“I put pressure on Ryann, and she couldn’t handle it this time,” Hedwall said.

The half-point was all the Europeans needed to win. They took the singles 7-5, marking their first victory in that format since 2003.

“We proved them wrong; we can win singles,” Pettersen said.

They also proved that the Solheim Cup matters.

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain shot a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Ciganda is attempting to win her third LPGA title and first since the 2016 season, when she won two tournaments in a one-month span. Kim is chasing her eighth career LPGA win and second title of the 2018 season.

''I want to win because I didn't win last year,'' Ciganda said. ''I love playing in Asia. It's good for long hitters, playing quite long, so I'm quite comfortable.''

Full-field scores from the Buick LPGA Shanghai

Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

Yin and Altomare have yet to break through for their first LPGA win. A win in Shanghai would make either player the ninth first-time winner of the 2018 season, which would tie 2016 for the third highest number of first-time winners in a season in LPGA history.

''I love competing,'' Yin said. ''That's why I'm playing, right? I'm excited to be in contention again going into Sunday.''

Local favorite Yu Liu was seventh after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."

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Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:09 am

There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).

No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.

On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.

The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

"It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."

It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, considering his status a three-time major winner and an impending No. 1, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major; his only regular Tour win to date was his first, at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

"My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."

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Koepka ahead by four, with No. 1 ranking in his grasp

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 5:48 am

Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Piercy (-9), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)

What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One off the lead to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Round of the day: After contending last week at the CIMB, Shubankhar Sharma rebounded from opening rounds of 74 and 75 with a nine-birdie, 8-under 64 to move up 45 spots into a tie for 26th through 54 holes.

Best of the rest: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.

Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.

Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.