Ko, 17, rises to No. 1 despite losing lead on 71st hole

By Randall MellFebruary 1, 2015, 1:18 am

OCALA, Fla. – Lydia Ko might not actually be the youngest No. 1 in the history of men’s or women’s professional golf with the release of the newest Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Sure, her birth certificate may say she is 17 years, 9 months and 9 days old when she officially ascends to No. 1 on Monday, but the back nine at the Coates Golf Championship must have aged her 10 years.

It had to age Na Yeon Choi and she took home the winner’s trophy.

In a wild, nerve-racking finish to the LPGA’s season opener, Choi and Ko both went home winners, but not without passing through trials and tribulations that should have left them both plucking premature gray hairs.

After watching Ko birdie the first two holes Saturday to build a four-shot lead at Golden Ocala, Choi fought back to win, prevailing after Ko shanked a shot into the woods at the 17th hole, then skulled a wedge over the 18th green trying to get up-and-down to sneak into a playoff.

While Choi took home the $225,000 winner’s check, Ko took home a historic consolation prize. With her three-way tie for second, Ko secured enough world ranking points to overtake Inbee Park as the newest No. 1 in the Rolex rankings.

Ko beats the mark of Tiger Woods, rising to the top of the rankings 3 years, 8 months and 14 days younger than Woods was when he became No. 1. Woods was 21 years, 5 months and 16 days old in 1997 when he reached the top of the Official World Golf Ranking. Jiyai Shin was the previous youngest No. 1 in women’s golf at 22 years and 5 days old when she got there in 2010.

Coates Golf Championship: Articles, videos and photos

In the end, Ko would have preferred taking home her sixth LPGA title.

“It’s a little disappointing,” Ko said.

Ko said she didn’t realize anything less than a win would get her to No. 1 until her mother, Tina, and her agent, Michael Yim, told her after she signed her scorecard.

“I didn’t win at the end of the day, but I still became No. 1 and that’s pretty awesome,” Ko said.

While a lot of 17-year-olds, and pros a lot older than that, might have been devastated losing the way Ko did, she met the media afterward with poise and grace that belies her youth.

“I always joke that we have to send her to anger management classes, so she can learn to get angry,” David Leadbetter, her swing coach, said afterward.

By the time Ko walked out of the scoring tent, you couldn’t tell if she won or lost this thriller.

“She has an amazing temperament for the game,” Leadbetter said. “She’s just 17, but she walks on this cloud. She doesn’t get overly excited. She doesn’t get overly down.”

Leadbetter believes that same temperament will help Ko deal with all the extra pressure that comes with the top ranking. Standing behind the 18th green in the aftermath, Ko’s mother was asked what she thought of her daughter reaching such lofty status at such a tender age.

“She’s too young,” Tina said. “You just worry about what she feels.”

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. It’s a saying that the world’s best players can understand. The onerous weight of the No. 1 ranking was something Yani Tseng struggled with. She has spoken openly about it leading to her swoon after 109 weeks at No. 1.

Leadbetter is there with reassurance for Tina if she needs it.

“She is more worried about it than Lydia is,” Leadbetter said. “Lydia just takes it in stride. It’s not really a big deal to her.

“It’s like when she won CME last year. It was `Ho-hum, a $1.5 million.’ It’s the same way with this. I don’t think the No. 1 mantle is going to affect her at all. She could be there for a while. Although with a lot players right there at the top now, the No. 1 ranking could flip flop for a little bit, but Lydia will be right there. It’s just incredible to think she’s there at 17.”

Jason Hamilton, Ko’s caddie, loved the way Ko took Saturday’s loss in stride, the poise he saw after.

“It’s fantastic,” Hamilton said. “I’m glad you can’t bottle it. It’s one of the qualities that makes Lydia unique.”

Hamilton, by the way, was Tseng’s caddie through Tseng’s rise and fall.

Ko’s head had to be spinning when she signed her scorecard, so much changed so quickly on that back nine. She took a one-shot lead to the 17th tee before blocking her tee shot into a right fairway bunker. From there, she shanked a shot right, into the trees.

Ko said her driver got stuck behind her there, same with the 5-hybrid she half-blocked and half-shanked into the woods, leading to a double bogey. It could have been worse. She holed an 18-footer to avoid a triple bogey. Ultimately, that putt might have given her the points needed to get to No. 1 in the world.

Ko’s misses on the back nine seemed related to misses on the front. Earlier in the round, Ko pull-hooked a tee shot at No. 8 off a tree. She pulled her next shot, hooking it into a greenside bunker, leading to a bogey. At the 15th hole, she pulled a 7-iron wide left of the pin before recovering with a brilliant 60-foot birdie putt there.

“My miss is both right and left,” Ko said. “It’s just my club being a little late behind my body. It creates shots left and right.”

Ko said the same thing happened with her 5-hybrid that went into the woods. Hamilton said the sand was a factor.

“She lost her balance and footing,” he said.

At the 18th, needing to get up and down for birdie from left of the green to force a playoff, Ko skulled a chip over the green. Hamilton said it was a bit of a downhill lie, from a fairly tight lie, and she was trying to hit a flop with a 60-degree wedge that she had to hit precisely.

“I was just so eager,” Ko said. “I just kind of lifted up on it.”

Afterward, Ko wasn’t interested on dwelling long on Saturday’s finish or even a future as No. 1.

“It was my goal to one day be No. 1, but right now, I didn’t expect that,” Ko said. “Everything just hits me by surprise. Like that double at 17. That hit me by surprise, and a lot of good things, too . . . I didn’t win at the end of the day, but I still became world No. 1. That’s pretty awesome.”

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Kim cruises to first win, final Open invite at Deere

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 9:38 pm

Following the best week of his professional career, Michael Kim is both a winner on the PGA Tour and the 156th and final player to earn a tee time next week at The Open.

Kim entered the final round of the John Deere Classic with a five-shot lead, and the former Cal standout removed any lingering doubt about the tournament's outcome with birdies on each of his first three holes. He cruised from there, shooting a bogey-free 66 to finish the week at 27 under and win by eight shots over Francesco Molinari, Joel Dahmen, Sam Ryder and Bronson Burgoon.

It equals the tournament scoring record and ties for the largest margin of victory on Tour this season, matching Dustin Johnson's eight-shot romp at Kapalua in January and Molinari's margin two weeks ago at the Quicken Loans National.

"Just super thankful," Kim said. "It's been a tough first half of the year. But to be able to finish it out in style like this means a lot."

Kim, 25, received the Haskins Award as the nation's top collegiate player back in 2013, but his ascent to the professional ranks has been slow. He had only one top-10 finish in 83 starts on Tour entering the week, tying for third at the Safeway Open in October 2016, and had missed the cut each of the last three weeks.

But the pieces all came together at TPC Deere Run, where Kim opened with 63 and held a three-shot lead after 36 holes. His advantage was trimmed to a single shot during a rain-delayed third round, but Kim returned to the course late Saturday and closed with four straight birdies on Nos. 15-18 to build a five-shot cushion and inch closer to his maiden victory.

As the top finisher among the top five not otherwise exempt, Kim earned the final spot at Carnoustie as part of the Open Qualifying Series. It will be his first major championship appearance since earning low amateur honors with a T-17 finish at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, and he is also now exempt for the PGA Championship and next year's Masters.

The last player to earn the final Open spot at the Deere and make the cut the following week was Brian Harman, who captured his first career win at TPC Deere Run in 2014 and went on to tie for 26th at Royal Liverpool.

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

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Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.