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Jutanugarn sisters heading in different directions

By Randall MellSeptember 16, 2017, 5:23 pm

The Jutanugarn sisters are moving in different directions this summer.

While Moriya’s upward climb continues at the Evian Championship in her bid to make her first LPGA title a major, Ariya missed another cut.

With a 3-under-par 68 Saturday, Moriya took sole possession of the lead. At 9 under overall, she is one shot ahead of Ayako Uehara (66) and two ahead of Katherine Kirk (69).

In-Kyung Kim (69) sits just three shots back, in position to win back-to-back majors.

Lydia Ko (68) and Sung Hyun Park (73) are also three back. Ko is looking to win her third major and end a 13-month winless spell. Park, the first-round leader, is looking to win back-to-back starts and add to the U.S. Women’s Open title she won two months ago.

Ariya, on the other hand, continues to struggle to find the form that helped her ascend to Rolex world No. 1 after winning the Manulife Classic in June. She has slipped to No. 4 and looks to drop again after missing the cut at Evian. She followed up a 77 in the first round with a 74 on Saturday.

This marks the seventh time Ariya has missed a cut or withdrawn in her last eight starts.

After tying for eighth at the ANA Inspiration in the spring, she has now missed the cut in the last four majors.


Evian Championship: Articles, video and photos

Full-field scores from the Evian Championship


Moriya, 23, who is two years older than Ariya, has been pointing to something big this year. She has been knocking at the door to her first victory for some time now.

“That's actually what I'm trying to do, just keep knocking on the door,” Moriya said. “And when it's time, it's time.”

If Moriya wins, the Jutanugarns will become the first sisters in history to win majors. Ariya won the Ricoh Women’s British Open last year.

Moriya has been a regular contender all summer. She tied for second at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, tied for third at the Cambia Portland Classic and tied for fourth at the Meijer Classic. She has eight top-10 finishes this year, including her last two starts.

No LPGA player has made more birdies this season than Moriya (363). Her velvet putting stroke is considered one of the best on tour. She’s fifth in putts per greens in regulation for the year. She’s eighth in scoring (69.75). Also, she has gotten longer under swing coach Gary Gilchrist, improving her average driving distance by 12 yards this season, to 256.8 yards per drive. That’s taken her from 144th in driving distance last year to 52nd this year.

“Mo has gotten sneaky long,” said Lynn Marriott, who teams with Pia Nilsson as the Jutanugarn sisters’ Vision 54 performance coaches.

Gilchrist says a club-throwing drill that Marriott and Nilsson taught Moriya is a large factor in her swinging more freely. Moriya uses old clubs and flings them down the practice range as she follows through while hitting shots in the drill.

“Sometimes, we could see Moriya swinging defensively, where there was no energy to the finish in her swing,” Nilsson said. “Gary was seeing it, too. We wanted her to feel what it means to be free with her swing. So, we told her to let go of the club and let it fly. There’s instant feedback. She could see how she was holding off or hold on.”

It’s a drill that Marriott and Nilsson learned from Fred Shoemaker.

Really, though, the Vision 54 coaches say there isn’t one change that has led to Moriya’s improvements.

“Moriya is a little like Annika Sorenstam in that she just keeps adding skills, keeps improving, whether it’s technical, physical or human skills, she just keeps adding to them,” said Nilsson, who coached Sorenstam. “There are a lot of things she has been building on since last year.”

Though Moriya proved herself coming out of Thailand, tying for medalist honors at LPGA Q-School in 2012 and winning LPGA Rolex Rookie of the Year honors in ’13, she has played in her younger sister’s shadow.

Still, with Ariya winning five times last year and claiming Rolex Player of the Year honors, Moriya was her biggest cheerleader.

“Ariya is proud of what Moriya is doing now,” Nilsson said. “They’ve been able to figure out how to separate who they are as family, as sisters, and who they are as players. It’s a beautiful thing.”

It’s been a challenging summer for Ariya. She has posted scores of 76 or worse in eight of her last 15 rounds.

While Ariya has acknowledged her surgically repaired right shoulder has bothered her at times this year, she didn’t appear to favor the shoulder missing the cut this week.

“Ariya is always going to have trouble with that shoulder,” Marriott said. “It’s going to kind of come and go, but the main thing is that she gets comfortable with her game right now. She’s working through things.”

Even gearing down without her driver, Ariya has been struggling to hit fairways. She hit just 14 of 26 fairways through the first two rounds of Evian.

Marriott and Nilsson acknowledge the sisters are different personalities, and that affects how they react to the game’s challenges.

“Ariya’s highs are really high and her lows are really low,” Marriott said. “Mo is so different, not too high and not too low, not as extreme, but we really feel Ariya is going to come out of this just fine.”

Ariya has been through worse swoons than this. Once a teen phenom, she endured some epic failure struggling to come back from surgery in 2013 to repair a torn labrum in her right shoulder. She missed 10 cuts in a row in the middle of the 2015 season, the year before she was the LPGA’s Player of the Year.

“We have good communication,” Nilsson said. “Every player, no matter who you are, there are times when things go really well, times when nothing happens and times when you have some kind of dip in performance. It happens with every player, but when you are a top, top player, it gets more attention.”

Ariya’s rebound from previous struggles gives her perspective.

“We look at it through the long-term lens of mastery,” Marriott said. “Some players panic, or go into fix-it mode, and start changing a lot of things. Ariya isn’t doing that. She’s dealing with it, and we’re helping her deal with it. We see adversity as an opportunity to learn skills you’ll need in the future.”

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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.


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


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.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“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.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


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.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


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.”