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Korean team gives fans what they came to see

By Randall MellOctober 4, 2018, 10:11 am

INCHEON, South Korea – The Korean fans didn’t live up to the hype in Thursday’s opening round.

The Korean players did, though.

With the bleachers around the first tee nearly empty when England and Australia were introduced as the opening match, the UL International Crown got off to a decidedly underwhelming start.

There wasn’t a hint of electricity in the air in a surprisingly low voltage opening, with none of the new energy promised for this event’s first staging overseas. But the late-arriving Korean fans picked things up when their team teed off, 90 minutes after the first ball was struck.

With legend Se Ri Pak raising the Republic of Korea flag as the country’s national anthem played, the sense of pride in what Korean women have come to mean to golf was palpable.

Park, a two-time major champion, said she was nervous watching her country’s flag go up.

“I thought my heart was going to burst,” Park said.

Korean fans didn’t completely fill the bleachers at the first tee, but they crammed together on the mound along the first fairway, chanting and waving small flags and signs supporting their players.

Full-field scores from UL International Crown

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Though there weren’t the 30,000 expected Thursday – probably not even half that – there were healthy galleries hiking every step with the Koreans, especially with Sung Hyun Park, whose “Namdalla” fan club was decked out in black and gold, their club colors.

The Korean team delivered exactly what the fans wanted to see.

They seized control, sweeping both their fourball matches to become the only team to go 2-0 in the opening round.

Park was spectacular at the 14th, driving the short par 4 there and then holing an 18-foot eagle putt to ignite a roar in front of the two-story corporate hospitality suites building there. She gave her and I.K. Kim a 2-up lead on Chinese Taipei’s Candie Kung and Phoebe Yao, a gritty duo that didn’t make it easy on the Koreans.

Kim had to sink a clutch 10-foot birdie at the last to secure a 1-up victory.

In the match right behind, Korea’s So Yeon Ryu and In Gee Chun brought home a 2-up victory against Chinese Taipei’s Teresa Lu and Wei-Ling Su.

All square through 10 holes, Chun put the Koreans up holing a 10-foot putt at the 11th. Ryu closed out the victory with a birdie at the last.

The Koreans have something to prove to their fans here.

They are the dominant force in women’s golf. They are home to the Rolex world No. 1, Park, and they boast the only team here this week with major champions filling all four rosters spots.

“The pressure is all on them this week,” American Cristie Kerr said.

So far, so good for Team Korea.

“You have pressure, it's just a different kind,” Ryu said when asked how playing for her country compared to playing in a major. “I think that before we actually started today, having to play in front of the home crowd, representing our country was a little more daunting. “Now that we finished, I think having the fans really helped us.”

Korea leads Pool A with four points after the opening round.

Thailand leads Pool B with three points after gaining a victory and a tie in their matches with Japan.

The United States split its matches with Sweden in Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to Sunday singles after three rounds of fourballs. A fifth wild-card team will also advance after a playoff between the third-place finishers from each pool.

Friday’s action will ramp up with a schedule change because of the approach of Typhoon Kong-Rey, which is expected to graze the area beginning late Friday, bringing rain and wind gusts up to 40 mph.

Friday’s play will begin at 7:05 a.m. local time (Thursday at 6:05 p.m. ET), with the third and final fourball round beginning shortly after the second round concludes. The plan is to get in as much of the third round as possible.

The Koreans will be looking to keep their hot hands going.

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Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin: