If Jang is feeling pressure, she isn't showing it

By Randall MellFebruary 6, 2016, 1:15 am

OCALA, Fla. – Ha Na Jang is patiently waiting to break through to win her first LPGA title, but she knows patience runs thin back in her South Korean homeland.

She’s already a star back there.

Jang was a star on the Korean LPGA Tour before she teed it up to start her rookie season in the United States last year.

That’s why Korean fans and media expect her star to keep shining over here.

It’s why there’s pressure ratcheting up after Jang went winless in her rookie debut last season.

Jang, 22, came over with the newest wave of young South Korean mega talents last year, with Hyo Joo Kim and Sei Young Kim. It didn’t ease Jang’s circumstance when Sei Young won three titles on her way to claiming the Rolex LPGA Rookie of the Year Award and when Hyo Joo also won to add to the Evian Championship she claimed as a non-member the year before. Plus, there was In Gee Chun’s success. Chun came over from the Korean tour in July and won the U.S. Women’s Open.

Back in 2013, Jang was the KLPGA’s Player of the Year. She beat out Hyo Joo Kim, Sei Young Kim and Chun for the award.

So with Jang now sharing the lead going into Saturday’s finish to the Coates Golf Championship, there’s escalating pressure to measure up.

Or is there?

“I don’t think about what other players are doing,” Jang said. “I just want to think about playing my game.”

Kevin Kim, Jang’s swing coach, says she isn’t kidding. He says she’s a special player with special focus.

Coates Golf Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“She is a little different,” Kim said. “She doesn’t really care what other players are doing.”

That isn’t easy given how popular women’s golf is in South Korea and how much scrutiny that nation’s golf stars receive. Jang may live in San Diego now, but she’ll always be a proud product of the South Korean women’s golf programs.

So Yeon Ryu, the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open champion, says the success Koreans have enjoyed playing the American-based LPGA makes it difficult on all the KLPGA stars coming over.

“So many Koreans have won on the LPGA, it makes for more pressure,” she said. “I hate to say it, but with the Korean media, it seems like if you haven’t won, it’s like you’re a failure.”

Jang will get a lot of attention Saturday. She was tied for the lead at 7 under with world No. 1 Lydia Ko when the third round was suspended because of darkness. They’re paired together.

Jang came so close to breaking through last year. She finished second four times, holding the 54-hole in three of those runner-up finishes. She lost the Marathon Classic in a playoff to Chella Choi.

“I did feel a little more pressure, tiny bit more pressure, because of those second-place finishes,” Jang said.

Kevin Kim says all the second-place finishes motivate Jang more than anything her Korean peers have done.

“Second-place finishes, they can be really tough to deal with,” Kim said. “And when you’ve had the lead after 54 holes, it’s especially tough. It’s why she’s working so hard.”

One of Jang’s second-place finishes came at the Coates Golf Championship last year, when she Monday qualified to get into the field and then seized the 54-hole lead. She finished one shot behind Na Yeon Choi, who knows all about the unrelenting pressure to win that Korean players feel coming from their homeland.

After Choi won at Golden Ocala last year, she said she felt great relief ending a two-year victory drought. She said she was overwhelmed by criticism back in Korea. Choi said it got so bad, she considered downsizing to a 2G cell phone so she wouldn’t be able to connect to the Internet to see what was being written about her.

“I got hurt from reading that stuff,” Choi said.

If Jang is feeling pressure to break through this week, she isn’t showing it. She plays with fun-loving spirit. She’s animated, with an easy smile and unveiled emotion.

Ko said she likes the way Jang plays.

“She has a lot of positive vibes, great energy,” Ko said. “You can see by her fist pumps. I know she's a really confident player. It’s fun playing alongside her.”

After Friday’s round, Jang said she likes Golden Ocala, because the narrow, tree-lined design reminds her of Korean courses she likes. She also likes where she has her game.

“Very confident ... very comfortable,” Jang said.

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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.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“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?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“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.”