LPGA season begins with myriad storylines

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2014, 9:08 pm

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Stories can grow larger than life in the Bahamas.

Somewhere beneath the sapphire seas hugging this collection of islands, The Lost City of Atlantis hides, according to local legend. This is also where Blackbeard and Calico Jack and some of the most notorious pirates of a bygone era hoarded stolen treasures. And it’s where mythological, forest-dwelling elfin creatures known as Chickcharnies like to hide, casting charms, both good or bad, to folks who see them.

So it seems a fitting place for LPGA pros to seek to start an enchanting season.

With the new Race to the CME Globe beginning with this week’s season opener on Paradise Island, the first steps will be taken in what could be a magical season for some player.

The Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic initiates the tour’s new season-long points race, a competition that could potentially end in the biggest payday in the history of women’s golf.

A $1 million paycheck awaits the winner of the race at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla. There’s also a $500,000 first-place check up for grabs at the Tour Championship. That means somebody could walk away with $1.5 million in Naples. While $1 million paychecks have been issued on the LPGA’s tour before, nobody’s ever claimed $1.5 million at a women’s event.

“Nothing is guaranteed with this new system,” Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park said. “This new race is going to make everyone on our Tour work a little bit harder because the payoff is so big.”

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic, the first of 32 official LPGA events, is scheduled to begin Thursday at the Ocean Club Golf Course. It’s the earliest start to an LPGA season in 13 years.

With LPGA commissioner Mike Whan rebuilding the tour from its anemic 23-event schedule just three years ago, optimism abounds with the new year’s start.

“I’m excited,” Whan said. “I think we’re finally in a spot where we can dream big.”

The Race to the CME Globe isn’t the only new competition woven into this season’s start. There’s also the new International Crown, a mid-season Olympic-style team competition that will pit eight countries against each other at Caves Valley Golf Club outside Baltimore, Md. While the eight teams have already qualified, jockeying to earn roster spots within those teams intensifies.

This isn’t the LPGA’s first foray into the Bahamas. Pure Silk made its debut as a new title sponsor last May, but torrential Caribbean rains almost wiped out the event, flooding the course and forcing the LPGA to play three 12-hole rounds on the driest holes available. Ilhee Lee won the shortened event. She said she barely recognized the place in her return here Tuesday.

The move to January promises better weather, with highs in the 70s and lots of sun forecast all week.

Park won’t be here. Neither will No. 2 Suzann Pettersen, who withdrew from the event on Monday, but four of the top 10 in the world will be looking to get a head start on them this week. No. 3 Stacy Lewis leads the field with No. 4 Lydia Ko adding intrigue in her first start as an LPGA rookie. The 16-year-old is coming off a victory last month, her first as a pro.

Here’s a look at some of the storylines to watch for with the ’14 season about to begin:

The Big Three, Chapter II

Park, Pettersen and Lewis dominated the 2013 season, combining to win 13 of 28 events and all the major championships while bolstering their rankings as the world’s No. 1-2-3 players, respectively.

Who will draw first blood in ’14? Lewis gets the first chance as the only member of the Big Three teeing it up in the Bahamas. Lewis ended 2013 on a hot streak, with 11 consecutive top-10 finishes. Over the last two seasons, Lewis has won seven titles, the Rolex Player of the Year award (2012) and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average (2013).

Pettersen ended the year with a chance to overtake Park as world No. 1 in the season-ending CME Group Titleholders. After withdrawing from the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic, Pettersen now plans to make her 2014 start at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in two weeks, where she will begin a run of four tournaments over four consecutive weeks. Three of those will be in the Far East, where she has a formidable record. She plans to play the Honda LPGA Thailand, the HSBC Women’s Championship in Singapore and the Mission Hills World Ladies Championship in China. Pettersen has six professional titles in Asia, five of them LPGA events.

Park will be looking to follow up a record-setting season when she makes her start at the Women’s Australian Open, or possibly in Thailand next month. She left her mark on the majors last year, becoming the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1950 to win the first three majors of the year. Her reign as Rolex world No. 1 now stretches to 38 consecutive weeks.

Ko-mania officially comes to the LPGA

Ko, the 16-year-old phenom from New Zealand, will make her debut as an official LPGA rookie member in the Bahamas this week. She showed she isn’t fazed playing for money now that she’s a pro, winning the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters in Taiwan last month in just her second start since turning professional.

It’s a big couple months for Ko. She will be the focus of much attention Down Under in February, when she will defend her title in her Kiwi homeland at the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open, Jan. 31-Feb. 2. Two weeks after that, she’ll tee it up at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, a co-sanctioned LPGA and Ladies European Tour event.

Lexi Thompson’s growing up fast

Thompson is barely a teenager anymore.

The big-hitting American will turn 19 on Feb. 10.

With two victories late last year, Thompson climbed into the top 10 in the Rolex world rankings, leaping over every American other than Lewis, who calls Thompson one of the best ball-strikers in the women’s games. A couple more wins puts Thompson in the hunt for No. 1.

Will Shanshan Feng make it the Big Four?

Feng won two of her last four LPGA starts last season, including the season-ending CME Group Titleholders. She finished second and tied for eighth in those other starts. Her ball-striking rivals Thompson’s.

Kerr and Creamer looking for new balance  

Cristie Kerr had a baby, Paula Creamer got engaged.

For the longest time, these two players took turns as the highest-ranked Americans in the game.

As their personal lives evolve, we’ll watch to see how they meet new challenges.

Kerr will tee it up for the first time this year at the Honda LPGA Thailand next month. She will do so for the first time as a mother. Kerr shared with the world her joy when a surrogate gave birth to her son, Mason Kerr Stevens, last month. She tells GolfChannel.com that her life is changing dramatically with mommy instincts kicking in, something she’s relishing after wondering if she’d ever have a child. With a physical condition challenging her desire to have a child, Kerr and her husband, Erik, considered adoption before choosing to have the baby with a surrogate mother carrying their child.

Kerr turns 37 later this year, and there will be challenges balancing competition and motherhood.

Creamer, 27, will be looking for her first win since she claimed the U.S. Women’s Open in 2010. She’ll do so with a fiancé and evolving priorities, and there will be challenges in that, too.

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Tiger putts way into contention at The Open

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 5:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – When Tiger Woods benched his trusty Scotty Cameron blade putter last month at the Quicken Loans National for a new TaylorMade mallet-headed version some saw it as a sign of desperation, but if his performance on Carnoustie’s greens on Saturday were any indication it could end up being a calculated success.

Woods stormed into contention on Day 3 with a 5-under 66 to move to within shouting distance of the lead at The Open, thanks in large part to his vastly improved putting.

“I hit so many good putts out there today, and this week from distance, I've had really good feels,” said Woods, whose 29 putts on Saturday belies his performance on Carnoustie’s greens. “Even as this golf course was changing and evolving, I've maintained my feels with the putter. I've made a couple of putts from about 40 to 60 feet, which is nice. I just feel like I've been able to roll the ball.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

The highlight of Woods’ round came at the par-4 ninth hole when he charged in a 40-footer for birdie from the front edge of the green to begin a run of three consecutive birdies. Perhaps more impressive, he didn’t have a three-putt, and has only had two all week, which is always a bonus on links courses.

Woods temporarily took a share of the lead with a lengthy birdie putt at the 14th hole and scrambled for a par save at the last after his drive nearly found the Barry Burn.

“I hit a few putts that I think should have gone in from 20, 30 feet today," he said. "So that's always a good sign.”

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TT postscript: A 66, he's in contention - awesome

By Tiger TrackerJuly 21, 2018, 4:58 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods went berserk Saturday and shot 5-under 66 to vault up the leaderboard at The Open at Carnoustie:


At 4:13PM here in Scotland, when Tiger two-putted for birdie on the par-5 14th hole, he held a share of the lead in a major championship. It was once unthinkable, but it happened. I saw it with my own eyes.

• Tiger’s last two weekend rounds in the 60s in The Open both happened at Carnoustie and both happened on July 21. In 2007, Woods shot 69 here. On Saturday, that score was clipped by three shots. Tiger shot 65 in the second round of The Open at Royal Liverpool in 2006. He won his third claret jug that week. Tiger last shoot 66 in a major during the second round of the 2011 Masters.

• This is the sixth time that Tiger has recorded three consecutive rounds of par of better to start The Open. He went on to win three of the previous five times.

• One bad swing, the only bad swing of the day according to Tiger, produced the luckiest of breaks. Standing on the 18th tee with an iron in hand, Tiger pulled his tee shot that hit on the top of the Barry Burn and very easily could’ve ended in a watery grave. Instead it ended in thick rough, some 250 yards from the pin. Tiger punted it up the fairway, but got up and down from 83 yards to save par and shoot 66. “I hit my number,” he quipped about hitting wedge to 2 feet.

• On the other hand, the lone bogey came from one poor putt. On the par-3 16th hole, with half of Scotland screaming his name, Tiger missed a 7-footer for par. It was deflating at the time because the last three holes are so difficult. Pars on the last two holes were stellar.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

• Final stats: 12 of 15 fairways, 14 of 18 greens and 29 total putts. Tiger hit six drivers and one 3-wood, proving that he was way more aggressive. He hit four drivers on Friday and only one on Thursday.

• One of the aforementioned drivers that he hit on the ninth hole was well left and in some thick round, 170 yards from the hole. A safe approach to 40 feet set him up for and easy two-putt par. But he slammed the putt home and made an improbable birdie. “I hit so many good putts out there today, and this week from distance, I’ve had really good feels,” he said.

• In his own words about his chances of winning: “It certainly is possible. I’ve shown that I’ve been there close enough with a chance to win this year. Given what happened the last few years, I didn’t know if that would ever happen again, but here I am with a chance coming Sunday in a major championship. It’s going to fun.”

Yes, yes it is.

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Watch: Guy sleeps next to many beers at Open

By Grill Room TeamJuly 21, 2018, 4:55 pm

It's Moving Day at The Open Championship for all but one sedentary fan.

Cameras caught this potentially browned-out man having himself a Saturday snooze on the browned-out grasses of Carnoustie:

Browned out. That's a great term. Glad it's in the public domain. We've been using it all weekend. I imagine we'll continue to use it. A lot.

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Watch: Tiger makes 6 birdies, 1 amazing par in Rd. 3

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 4:10 pm

Tiger Woods started the third round of The Open at even par, having made seven birdies and seven bogeys over the first 36 holes at Carnoustie.

Following three pars to start on Saturday, Woods went on a birdie binge.

No. 1 came with this putt at the par-4 fourth.

No. 2 with this two-putt at the par-5 sixth.

No. 3 thanks to this 30-footer at the par-4 ninth.

No. 4 after nearly jarring his approach shot on the par-4 10th.

No. 5 when he almost drove the green at the par-4 11th and two-putted, from just off the green, from 95 feet.

And No. 6, which gave him a share of the lead, came courtesy another two-putt at the par-5 14th.

Woods bogeyed the par-3 16th to drop out of the lead and almost dropped - at least - one more shot at the par-4 18th. But his tee shot got a lucky bounce and he turned his good fortune into a par.

Woods shot 5-under 66 and finished the day at 5 under par.