Lexi-Lydia: An 'L' of a matchup

By Randall MellOctober 16, 2015, 3:43 pm

Lexi Thompson is on a nice little roll.

Now if she can just get past Lydia Ko ...

Thompson is turning up her game in this second half of the season, showing off the hard work she has put into her wedge game and putting. She won the Meijer Classic at the end of July, finished second at the Evian Championship a month ago. She has posted four top-10 finishes in her last six starts, and then there was her undefeated Solheim Cup performance.

Thompson’s game is in a good place, and that’s where it needs to be with another weekend date with Ko set up.

Ko is the hottest player in the women’s game, poised to return to Rolex world No. 1 with a strong finish this weekend at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea. Ko won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in late August and then won her next start, the Evian Championship, in September, becoming the youngest woman to win a major. In her next start after that, she tied for second in Malaysia last week. Ko has finished T-3 or better in five of her last six starts.

With a big finish this weekend, Ko could leave South Korea with the No. 1 ranking and as the LPGA’s leader in the race for Rolex Player of the Year points, for the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, money winnings and CME Globe points.

Scores: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship

“If there is a switch, the media is going to talk about it,” Ko said. “But, you know, I'm sorry, but I'm going to try and ignore you guys. I think that's the best way. Because when I'm out there, I'm just trying to hit a good shot and put myself in good position. If I thought about the rankings, the awards, it's just way too much. It's hard enough just trying to hit the ball straight out there.”

That brings us to this weekend and Thompson.

This young dynamic duo appears on another collision course, and that’s a good deal for women’s golf.

Ko, 18, and Thompson, 20, dueled head to head in the final round at Evian, but Ko was otherworldly. Two behind Thompson on that Sunday morning in France, Ko closed with a awe-inspiring 63. She hit every green in regulation but one. She posted a score seven shots better than anyone among the final 18 players teeing off in the final round. While it isn’t the lowest score a woman has ever shot in a major, it has to be the greatest round a woman’s ever played in one.

If you’re a late bird who likes women’s golf, you’ve got a treat in store tonight. Ko and Thompson are paired together in the final group off at the Sky 72 Ocean Course in Incheon. Ko’s 7-under-par 65 Friday moved her to the top of the leaderboard, a shot ahead of Thompson, who posted 67. Ko made her move playing alongside Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park.

Ko and Thompson are scheduled to tee off the third round at 10:42 p.m. ET with Golf Channel picking up live coverage at 11:30 p.m.

“Every time you have to go up against any top player out here, Inbee, Lydia, Stacy [Lewis], you know you have to bring your A-game,” Thompson said. “You know you have to top them with birdies and make more birdies when they make pars. They are not going to make mistakes so you just have to keep on making birdies on them.”

Ko and Thompson know each other well. When Ko won the Canadian Women’s Open at 15 to become the youngest winner of an LPGA event, she broke the mark set by Thompson, who won when she was 16.

“I’ve played with Lydia a lot on the LPGA tour, and when she was younger in the Australian Masters and Australian Open,” Thompson said. “I knew she was going to be a great talent coming up the first time I ever played with her. She has an overall, very strong game. Not many weaknesses, great ball-striker, kind of sneaky long and putts it and chips it like God.”

Ko is first in scoring average on tour this year. Thompson is fourth. Ko is first in hitting greens in regulation, Thompson is third.

Of course, Ko and Thompson play different games. Ko is a tactical master, charting her way around golf courses so precisely. Thompson is a big hitter who can play bomb and gouge better than just about any other woman in the game. She has put a lot of work into her wedge game, and it’s showing in all those greens she’s hitting in regulation.

Saturday in Incheon could be fun.

Getty Images

Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

Getty Images

Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

Getty Images

Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

Getty Images

Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”