For Ko, winning breeds confidence

By Randall MellApril 4, 2016, 4:09 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Uh-oh, Lydia Ko’s figuring out how these major championship puzzles go together now, too.

Ko didn’t walk across Poppie’s Pond after winning the ANA Inspiration on Sunday at Mission Hills, but that’s probably just so we wouldn't think she was showing off.

She’s still only 18, but Ko’s already leaving us wondering if there’s anything she won’t be able to do in the women’s game before she’s finished.

With her clutch wedge to a foot for a closing birdie that proved to be the decisive stroke, Ko claimed her second consecutive major championship. Six months after winning the Evian Championship and becoming the youngest major championship winner in the history of women’s golf, she’s now the youngest to win two of them.

At 18 years, 11 months and 10 days old, Ko is an old soul in golf. She has already won 17 professional events around the world, 12 of them LPGA titles. That’s three worldwide this year, with back-to-back titles now on the LPGA tour.

“It was always my dream just to play the LPGA, just being here, being in this position,” Ko said. “For these amazing things to be happening, it's unbelievable, but I think it also motivates me to work harder and try and put myself in good position, and in contention whenever I can.”

Jason Hamilton has toted Ko’s bag as caddie for a year and a half now. Nobody has had a better seat to witness just how historically advanced her young game has been in that time.


ANA Inspiration: Articles, photos and videos


“She has an old head on those young shoulders,” Hamilton said. “We can’t help saying the same things, but I still struggle to get my head around her maturity.

“For someone her age to be so focused, it’s impressive. I never have to push her. She pushes herself so much, and I’m just glad she’s able to see the fruits of her labor.”

Ko didn’t make a bogey over the entire weekend, playing in contention through Saturday and Sunday with the pressure the highest. She didn’t make a bogey over the final 41 holes.

Falling behind on the back nine Sunday, Ko didn’t blink.

“I think Lydia’s patience is always the amazing thing to me,” said Sura, Lydia’s manager and older sister by nine years. “She knows how to wait for things. I don’t know how she does it, but she can wait for the magic out on the course.”

Ko patiently bided her time to make magic at the 18th.

With Ariya Jutanugarn pulling away behind her, Ko knew there was work to do late to give herself a chance. She checked a leaderboard stepping up to a nervy 8-foot putt for par at the 17th. She knew she needed to make that putt just to stay two shots behind Jutanugarn going to the final hole.

“I said, `Hey, I need to make this putt and make a birdie, or eagle, or something fantastic down the last,” Ko said.

Ko made a fantastic birdie after patiently laying up at the 18th. Yes, she flirted with the idea of trying to reach the 18th in two. She had only 202 yards to reach the front of the green after her tee shot, but her ball was sitting on a downhill lie. Still, she was thinking 3-wood, but she was thinking that without knowing Jutanugarn had made another bogey behind her.

But Hamilton knew.

“With a downhill lie like that, I knew we could lose the tournament with one shot,” Hamilton said. “I knew we were one behind and we could still win it with a birdie.”

Hamilton talked Ko out of going for the green.

After laying up to 84 yards, Ko hit the most beautiful sand wedge to a foot. She sent a jolt through the bleachers. It was all but over a few minutes later when Jutanugarn snap hooked her tee shot into the water at the 18th.

“Just after I hit my shot, I looked at the leaderboard, and I saw that we were all tied at 11 under,” Ko said. “Just so many thoughts, but, obviously, hitting it to a foot on the last hole, that makes it a lot easier than having a 3- or 4-footer. I think I'm lucky that Jason kind of talked me [into] not going for the green in two, and that definitely helped having a good yardage with a wedge.”

Hamilton called it the perfect yardage.

Ko was asked how she would rank the shot among the most clutch she has ever hit.

“I mean, it would be up there,” Ko said. “Every shot is special in its own way, like every win is special, because every tournament is so different. But, just playing the 72nd hole, birdieing the last hole, that's always a good feeling. Obviously, for that shot to mean so much that I would win the event, that makes it extra special.”

Ko’s putter was extra special all day.

More erratic than she would have liked with her ball striking, Ko kept herself alive with clutch putting. She holed a 22-foot birdie at the fifth and a 40-foot birdie at the eighth, but her clutch par saves made the difference on the back nine.

Ko’s save at the 11th was classic. She pushed her drive right into the trees, and then she punched out too hard across the fairway and back into deep rough. She chopped to 10 feet, though, and she holed her putt for par. She made a 15-footer for par at the 13th and nervy saves at the 16th and 17th holes.

Ko hit only 12 greens in regulation in the final round, the fewest she hit all week, but she got up and down for par every time.

In three previous tries at the ANA Inspiration, Ko never really looked comfortable. Her best finish was T-25, but then we forget she was 15, 16 and 17 when she played those first three times here. She’s showing now that she can adapt to any venue, major or minor.

“I think, obviously, winning this event is great, but jumping into the Poppie’s Pond, that kind of tradition will definitely be one of the highlights of my career,” Ko said. “I've never really played well at this course before, so just to know that, hey, I can still play well at a course that I haven't really played well before I think gives me the confidence.”

Uh-oh.

Getty Images

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 146th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Royal Birkdale, 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.

Getty Images

Knox relishes round with 'mythical figure' Woods

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Russell Knox was expecting the worst and hoping for the best Thursday at The Open.

Playing with Tiger Woods tends to have that effect.

The native Scot received a treat earlier this week when he saw his name on the tee sheet alongside his boyhood idol, Woods.

“Felt good out there, but obviously my swing, it was just like I had too much tension,” Knox said after an opening 73. “I just wasn’t letting it go as normal. First round with Tiger, I expected to feel a little bit different. The way I felt was better than the way I swung.”

Knox said that he was nervous playing alongside Woods, a player he’d only encountered on the range. “He’s almost like a mythical figure,” he said.

But after a while, he settled into the rhythm of the round at Carnoustie.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I thought it would be worse,” he said, “I feel like I should know what I’m doing. It’s cool playing with Tiger, but I’ve got to get over that. I’m here to win, not just enjoy my walk around the course.”

Knox probably had more interaction with Woods than he anticipated, if only because the third member of the group, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, keeps to himself because of the language barrier.

“It’s kind of a blur,” Knox said. “It’s like, Oh, I’m chatting away with Tiger here like normal. I don’t even remember what I was saying.”

There have been countless stories from this year as the next generation of players – guys who grew up watching Woods dominate the sport – get paired with Woods for the first time.

It was no less special for Knox on Thursday.

“It’s nice for him to say things like that,” Woods said, “and we enjoyed playing with each other. Hopefully we’ll play a little bit better tomorrow.”

Getty Images

Rain expected to shower Carnoustie Friday morning

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:43 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – By the end of the day Friday, we’ll be able to determine which side of The Open draw ended the first two rounds at Carnoustie with more favorable conditions. With rain expected for most of Friday morning, it seems those who played early/late may be more pleased.

According to Weather.com, there is a 75 percent chance of rain beginning at 2 a.m. local time Friday here in Scotland. That percentage vaults up to 95 percent by 7 a.m., with the first tee time scheduled for 6:35. At 11, the number drops to 55 percent. After 2 p.m., the percentage chances of rain are 25 percent and below for the remainder of the day.

Temperatures during the day are expected to be from the low 50s to the low 60s and winds will vary between 14-18 mph, again per Weather.com.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


This is The Open’s official weather report for the weekend:

Saturday: A dull start with some drizzle possible. Staying cloudy for much of the day but gradually becoming brighter with a chance of some sunny intervals during the afternoon and evening. Winds light and variable in direction but should predominantly settle in to a SSE 8-12mph during the afternoon. Max temp 20C (68F).

Sunday: Often cloudy but mainly dry. A better chance of some decent sunny spells compared to Saturday. Most likely the windiest day of the Championship; SW 12-18mph with gusts 20-25mph. Feeling warm, especially in any sunshine with a max temp of 23C (73F).

Getty Images

Bandaged Woods 5 back after even-par 71

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods arrived Thursday with therapeutic tape on the back of his neck.

Carnoustie’s back nine inflicted even more pain.

Playing in the most difficult conditions of the day, Woods’ progress was stalled by two late bogeys as he settled for an even-par 71 that left him five shots off the lead at The Open.

“I played better than what the score indicates,” he said. “It certainly could have been a little bit better.”

Woods created a stir when he showed up with black kinesiology tape on his neck. Afterward, he said that his neck has been bugging him “for a while” and that Thursday was merely the first time that the tape was visible.

“Everyone acts like this is the first time I’ve been bandaged up,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been doing this for years.”

Woods said that the discomfort didn’t really affect his swing, other than a few shots “here and there.” It didn’t seem to affect his score, either, as he went out in 2 under before a few stumbles on the back nine.

On the fast, baked-out turf, he played conservatively off the tee, using driver only once and 3-wood just twice. Apparently he didn’t need the added distance, not with his 6-iron traveling 240 yards. He tried to play to his spots, even if it routinely left him more than 200 yards for his approach.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


That’s the strategy he employed at Hoylake in 2006, where he hit driver just once and captured the third of his Open titles. Despite some of the similarities in firmness, Woods said that Carnoustie presents a different challenge off the tee.

“These fairways are very small,” he said. “They’re hard to hit right now. They’re so fast, and they’re so moundy.”

Finding the fairway wasn’t the chief problem for Woods on Day 1, however. He missed just four fairways but found only 11 greens.

More damaging to his score was his play on the par 5s. Despite having only an 8-iron in, he failed to birdie each of the two par 5s and then bogeyed Nos. 10, 13 and 15 to squander his early momentum.

Though the draw here won’t be a significant factor – or at least not like in recent years, with a wide range in scores from morning to afternoon – it’s clear that Woods (in game 47 of 52) encountered the most difficult of the conditions Thursday, with the wind gusting to 20 mph and the fairways running even faster after another sun-splashed afternoon.

Still, his opening 71 was one of the better scores in the late wave.

“He hit it good,” said playing partner Russell Knox. “He plotted his way around, which I expected him to do, and he was very conservative off the tee. It’s kind of fun to watch him do that, to be honest.”

Even more fun would be a major with Woods in contention.

He hasn’t broken par in the opening round of his last eight majors. Indeed, for Woods, these slow starts have been the real pain in the neck.