Ko gives herself belated birthday gift with 'Skirts' win

By Randall MellApril 27, 2015, 3:29 am

DALY CITY, Calif. – This won’t count as Lydia Ko’s first major championship victory, but it sure felt like it should.

With Lake Merced offering a brutish test that played a lot like a U.S. Women’s Open, with a strong, deep field to beat, Ko won a war of attrition Sunday at the Swinging Skirts Classic.

She was the last woman standing with long shadows falling over a long, hard day.

While Ko won’t go into the record books as the youngest woman to win a major championship claiming this title, she had to beat the youngest woman ever to win a major. Ko defeated Morgan Pressel in a playoff with a birdie at the second hole of sudden death. Pressel became the youngest winner of a major when she took the Kraft Nabisco Championship in 2007 at 18 years, 10 months and 9 days old. Pressel was trying to win her third LPGA title Sunday, her first since taking the Kapalua Classic in ’08.

Ko once more turned the 18th at Lake Merced into her personal stage, creating some terrific theater for the second year in a row. Last year, she ended this event by making birdie at the 72nd hole to beat Stacy Lewis by a shot. She set up this year’s victory by hitting a wedge to 8 feet at the final hole of regulation, then making a birdie to force the playoff. She hit a wedge to 5 feet at the same finishing hole on the second playoff hole. She won by making that last birdie chance after watching Pressel’s 10-foot chance slip left of the hole.

“It’s always a very close one here,” Ko said. “This tournament always makes my heart clench. I always get so nervous.”

It marks Ko’s first victory as a legal adult. She counts it as a belated birthday present, her first victory since turning 18 on Friday. It’s the third worldwide victory this season for the Rolex world No. 1, her second LPGA title of the year. She’s now 2-0 in playoffs in her LPGA career.

Though Ko insists she feels pressure, she looked her typically unflappable self with the intensity ratcheting up. She was chuckling good naturedly stepping to the tee to begin the playoff. She laughed and shook her head after hitting her last wedge close to set up her winning putt.

Ko was asked if she really does feel nerves.

“I do get nervous,” Ko said. “You have to take my word on that. My 17th-hole shot at Ocala definitely proves it, doesn't it?  That was a pretty bad shot.”

Ko shanked a shot at Golden Ocala at the end of this year’s season opener, losing out on a chance to win there. It was a rare failure for this young star.

Pressel didn’t see any nerves in Ko on Sunday.

“She's very, very impressive, and she’s always there [in contention],” Pressel said. “At her age, she plays with so much poise and calmness that I don't think you see from other kids her age.”

Pressel caught herself with the last comment.

“I guess she's not a kid anymore, sorry,” Pressel said.

Ko started the day three shots back, then dug herself a bigger hole with a bogey-bogey start to fall four behind.

“I said `Man, this is an awful start,’” Ko said.

But she battled to the end. She felt like the long birdie putt she holed at the 15th was a difference maker. She ignited a roar dropping a birdie from 40 feet that got her within a shot of Pressel.

“I thought it was going to stop in front of the hole,” Ko said. “But it went in and definitely gave me a lot of confidence.”

For Pressel, there was disappointment in the end, but she has come so far so quickly since overhauling her swing before the JTBC Founders Cup in Phoenix six weeks ago. She said she was lost with her swing on the Asian swing at season’s start, but she found a spark reuniting with swing coach Ron Stockton. She tied for third at the ANA Inspiration three weeks ago, missing out on a playoff by one shot.

“I definitely feel like there are so many positives,” Pressel said. “If you would've told me before I left Phoenix that I would finish third at ANA and then second, I don't think I would've believed you.

A shot behind at Sunday’s start, Pressel took charge early. She holed a 55-foot eagle at the sixth hole that gave her a two-shot lead. She left Lake Merced kicking herself over missed chances, including a missed 5-foot birdie putt at the fifth hole and a missed 4-foot birdie chance at the ninth that would have given her a three-shot lead going to the back nine.

“Nothing was really sharp,” Pressel said. “I definitely missed some putts that I could have made.  It was a very strange day. Missed a 4-footer for birdie, make a 50-footer for eagle on the next hole, and then three-putt. I was kind of all over the place.

“But I gave myself a chance, and that's what I came here to do.”

Ko won changing her strategy at the 18th. After laying up to 108 yards at the end of regulation and then 111 yards on the first playoff hole to hit pitching wedge in, she hit a longer hybrid as her layup at the second playoff hole. She laid up to 96 yards so she could hit sand wedge, instead. She hit it so hard she couldn’t believe the divot she took and thought she might have hit it too heavy.

It was nearly a perfect shot, though, spinning to 5 feet to help her close out.

“We were both hitting the ball good, so in the end I knew it would come down to somebody making a putt,” Ko said.

Golf is getting accustomed to seeing Ko make those putts.

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

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McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

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Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.