For Ko, Lewis, fortune and fortitude

By Randall MellNovember 23, 2014, 11:43 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko took home a fortune Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

Stacy Lewis was more than happy realizing the promise of a very special fortune cookie.

Ko, just 17, swept the big money prizes at Tiburon Golf Club, claiming the $1 million jackpot as winner of the season-long Race to the CME Globe and a $500,000 first-place check after winning the Tour Championship in a three-way playoff. Lewis swept the tour’s important awards, becoming the first American since Betsy King in 1993 to claim the Rolex Player of the Year, Vare Trophy for low scoring and the official money title in the same season. 

Afterward, Lewis reached into her pocket, pulling out a fortune she dug out of a fortune cookie her father handed to her the night before, while they were watching her beloved Arkansas Razorbacks win.

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“I never really read into these things at all,” Lewis said. “But ...”

Lewis read the fortune: “Good news of a long awaited event will arrive soon.” She liked it so much she stuck it in her pocket before the final round Sunday.

“Pretty good omen,” Lewis said. “I thought that was pretty cool.”

Lewis claimed the Rolex Player of the Year Award for the second time in three seasons. She claimed the Vare Trophy for the second year in a row. She claimed the official money title for the first time.

“That's what I came here for,” Lewis said. “I went into the week wanting to win these three awards. The $1 million and all would've been nice, but I would take these three over $1 million any day.”

Lewis, 29, relished what the awards mean.

“The coolest part to me is I get to be on the trophies with some pretty amazing women, and be a part of history,” Lewis said. “I've said all along I don't play for the money. The money is nice, but that's not what I play for. I play to win tournaments and to play consistent golf. That's what these awards show, who plays the most consistent throughout the entire year.”

Ko made some big money, but she also made some history as well. She clinched youngest Rolex Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year before arriving this week. While the $1 million prize that comes with winning the Globe doesn’t count as official money, the $500,000 Tour Championship winner’s check does. It makes her the first rookie to win more than $2 million in a season.

“This is a pretty special week,” Ko said. “It’s a week I’ll never forget.”

Ko needed overtime to add to her remarkable resume, winning at the fourth hole of a sudden-death playoff. She beat Carlota Ciganda with a par after Ciganda pulled her approach into a hazard and after Granada was eliminated when she missed a 5-foot putt for par at the second playoff hole.

Though Ko won’t turn 18 for another four months, she has now won five LPGA titles. It’s her third victory this season, equaling Lewis and Inbee Park for most this season.

At week’s start, Ko was staggered seeing $1 million stuffed into a glass cube. She thought the $16,603 she won in her professional debut here a year ago was a lot of money.

“When I saw that $1 million in the box, I was like, `Wow, I wonder who the winner of that will be?’” Ko said. “It's amazing. I've never seen that much cash in one place before.”

What’s she going to do with the $1.5 million total winnings? Ko says she would like to purchase an expensive purse that her mother has been eyeing, but she says she won’t be making any large purchase for herself.

Ko was thrilled at Sunday’s finish, Lewis relieved.

While winning the Globe and Tour Championship were nice frosting on a brilliant rookie year for Ko, Lewis desperately wanted to sweep those awards, prizes she seemed to have in hand until Park began pushing her hard the last couple months of the season. While Park was heating up at year’s end, Lewis was cooling off.

“I just feel like a ton of weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” Lewis said.

Hall of Famer Beth Daniel followed Lewis around Sunday. She has been watching her from afar through this push at season’s end.

“I knew the last month her golf game wasn’t there,” Daniel said. “She gutted it out. I mean, it was a total gut-out. I told her when she walked off the 18th green here, that might have been the hardest round she’ll play her entire life.”

Meg Mallon, the four-time major championship winner, was there Sunday watching Lewis, too.

“It’s just a testament to her character that she kept fighting and didn’t give up,” Mallon said.

For Lewis and Ko, fortunes truly favored them.

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

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Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

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“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

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Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.

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Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”