Ko, Lewis resume tight competition in Bahamas

By Randall MellJanuary 23, 2014, 9:06 pm

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Lydia Ko picked up right where she left off.

So did Stacy Lewis.

This was a marvelous formula for Thursday’s start of the LPGA’s 2014 season, with Ko and Lewis jockeying back and forth atop the leaderboard in the first round of the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic.

The 16-year-old phenom, maybe the future of the game, traded shots with Lewis, the best American in the game, with the shimmering, turquoise waters of the Bahamas as a spectacular backdrop at the Ocean Club Golf Course.

With a birdie at the 18th, Ko pulled a shot ahead of Lewis, moving atop the leaderboard with Meena Lee at the end of the morning wave. Ko opened her rookie season as an LPGA member with a 5-under-par 68 that felt like it could have been so much better.

“I thought I was playing much better than my scores,” Ko said. “I was just more shocked that I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be. I just felt relaxed and felt really confident.”

New clubs? New coach? New caddie? Same old story for Ko.

“Not many things seem to faze her,” Lewis said. “You can change her golf clubs. You can change her coach. You can change all this stuff, but she’s still the same person on the golf course. That’s what I like about her. She gets it done, and that’s all you can ask.”

Ko is making her rookie start with David Leadbetter and Sean Hogan as her new coaches, with Callaway as her new clubs and with Scott Lubin as her new caddie.

A lot of changes didn’t work out so well for Rory McIlroy last year. Ko was asked if the derailment of top players after major changes concerned her.

“Over the last month, hearing the word change, it could pretty much be my middle name,” Ko said. “I know what happened before, with other players, but you never know what’s going to happen . . . I wanted a challenge.”

Ko got one making her rookie in a pairing with Lewis.

Lewis, 28, became the first American in 18 years to win the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 2012. She followed that up last year becoming the first American in 19 years to win the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. And she begins this year burning for more.

Her goals?

“I’d like to get back to No. 1 in the world,” Lewis said. “That’s kind of the most immediate thing.

“I’d like to do both of those things (Player of the Year and Vare Trophy) in one year, at some point in my career. I have a list of things kind of in the back of my head that I want to check off, and those are two things that are on it. But you try not to think about it too much, because there are so many good players, and so many people who can be No. 1. It’s a hard place to be.”

Yes, Thursday was just the first round of the new season, but Lewis and Ko got off to the kind of start that should get the attention of Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park, who isn’t playing this week.

When Ko birdied the sixth hole, she seized a share of the lead, a stroke in front of Lewis. When Lewis birdied the 10th, she moved into the lead, a shot ahead of Ko. With another birdie at the 13th, Lewis moved to 5 under, two shots ahead of Ko, who responded with a late charge after a Lewis bogey at the 14th.

“I think our games are very similar, just the way we play,” Lewis said. “We both hit it solid and make some putts.”

With the Ocean Club exposed to the winds blowing off the Atlantic, control is an especially large factor this week.

“I think it’s a ball striker’s course with the greens,” Lewis said. “The greens are really grainy, and they do get pretty bumpy with spike marks. The best ball striker is probably going to win this week.”

That means Ko and Lewis could be jockeying all week on the leaderboard.

That’s fine with Lewis. Watching her and Ko chat and laugh throughout the round, it’s clear there is a growing rapport and mutual respect.

When Lewis was told after the round that Ko was impressed being paired with Lewis and Beatriz Recari, whom Ko called two of “the world’s greatest players,” Lewis good naturedly chuckled. Lewis is No. 3 in the world, Ko is No. 4.

“It’s unbelievable,” Lewis said. “She must not think she’s any good or something. I think she’s really good. Gosh, when she gets some confidence and really figures that out, watch out for the rest of the tour.”

Lewis didn’t mean that Ko lacks confidence. She just believes that when Ko’s confidence catches up with her talent, she’s going to surge to yet another level.

Ko, who turns 17 in April, has already won five professional titles, two of them LPGA titles.

Lewis ended last year with 11 consecutive top-10 finishes, including a victory at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, her second major championship triumph. Ko ended last year beating an elite field at the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters, her first title since turning pro.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.