More than one path to the top for Park, Lewis

By Randall MellApril 30, 2013, 1:30 pm

There is more than one path to the top of the women’s game.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park and No. 2 Stacy Lewis are textbook cases as they prepare to play the Kingsmill Championship this week in Williamsburg, Va.

Park turned pro when she was 17, Lewis when she was 23.

Park did not play collegiately, Lewis did.

They both claimed major championships as their first LPGA titles. Park was 19 when she won the U.S. Women’s Open, Lewis 26 when she won the Kraft Nabisco.

Inbee Park vs. Stacy Lewis

No. 1 Inbee Park   No. 2 Stacy Lewis
24 Age 28
South Korea Country  United States
 3/7 2013 LPGA wins/starts  2/8
6/147 Career LPGA wins/starts 7/116
2013 scoring average/(rank) 69.5/(T-1)
2013 earnings/(rank)  $636,803/(2)
250.714 yards/(76) 2013 driving distance/(rank) 261.125 yards/(25)
73.8 percent/(10) 2013 GIR/(rank) 76 percent/(5)

Today, it appears they may have a harder time separating themselves from each other than they will separating themselves from the rest of the women’s game; though, Suzann Pettersen might argue otherwise.

Park and Lewis are on the rise together despite having taken such diverse paths.

Park strengthened her grip on the Rolex No. 1 world ranking Sunday winning the North Texas LPGA Shootout in Irving, Texas. It was her third victory this season and her fifth in her last 18 starts. Lewis held the No. 1 ranking for four weeks before Park gained it three weeks ago. Lewis has won twice this year, six times in the last two seasons.

Rarely does a tournament pass these days where either Park or Lewis is not contending. Typically, they’re both in the mix. Of the LPGA’s eight events this year, Park and Lewis have won five. Just one event has ended without one of them finishing among the top 10 (ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open) and Park didn’t play in that.

“It’s always good to see my name on the top of the leaderboard almost every week,” Park said. “I mean, not every week, but close to every week. It’s really good to see my game improving every week, every year, and just trying to take it step by step.”

Park and Lewis both elevated their games last year. Park won the LPGA money title and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. Lewis was the Rolex Player of the Year.

When Park took the No. 1 ranking from Lewis three weeks ago, it caught the game by surprise because it came in an off week without either player competing. It felt like a back-door entry to No. 1. With the rankings based on a two-year rolling window, Park’s divisor changed, giving her a boost in average world ranking points used to determine No. 1. Park’s victory in Texas on Sunday erased any doubts she deserved to be there.

Nobody should be surprised, though, if Park and Lewis keep taking turns at the top.

With the world rankings so close, there is added pressure on Park and Lewis to keep pace with each other.

“I found myself after Hawaii being disappointed with a ninth-place finish, when anyone's usually happy with a top 10, so I needed to kind of take some perspective back,” Lewis said. “I've won twice this year ... it's been really good, and I just need to not put so much pressure on myself and just realize I'm doing a lot of good things.”

Park and Lewis show there are as many ways to groom a world-class game as there are personalities.

Born in South Korea, Park moved to the United States when she was 12 and began playing junior golf in the Orlando, Fla., area. She won nine American Junior Golf Association events and claimed the U.S. Girls’ Junior when she was 14.

Park was in a hurry to play the LPGA and tried to do so at 17. The LPGA, however, denied her petition for a waiver of its rule requiring members be at least 18. So, instead of heading to LPGA Q-School, Park enrolled at UNLV. She attended classes for just two days before bolting to play the Futures Tour, the LPGA’s developmental circuit, now called the Symetra Tour. Park turned 18 that summer on the Futures Tour and earned her LPGA card by finishing third on the money list.

Lewis, whose battle with scoliosis challenged her development, wasn’t in such a hurry to become a pro. She wasn’t an AJGA regular in the national events. She redshirted her freshman year at the University of Arkansas while recovering from spinal surgery. She spent five years at Arkansas honing her game as a national champion and decorated collegiate amateur before turning pro and winning her tour card in her first trip to LPGA Q-School. Lewis’ first LPGA event as a pro was the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at Hazeltine. She was the 54-hole leader, but Park passed her in the final round to win her first LPGA title.

Their paths crossed early with the promise of continuing to cross often in the LPGA’s near future.

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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?

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“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.”

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How will players game-plan for Carnoustie?

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:31 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Thomas took a familiar slash with his driver on the 18th tee on Monday at Carnoustie and watched anxiously as his golf ball bounced and bounded down the fairway.

Unlike the two previous editions of The Open, at what is widely considered the rota’s most demanding test, a particularly warm and dry summer has left Carnoustie a parched shade of yellow and players like Thomas searching for answers.

Under the best circumstances, Carnoustie is every bit the unforgiving participant. But this week promises to be something altogether different, with players already dumbfounded by how far the ball is chasing down fairways and over greens.

Brown is beautiful here at Royal Dark & Dusty.

But then it’s also proving to be something of a unique test.

Where most practice rounds at The Open are spent trying to figure out what lines are best off tees, this is more a study of lesser evils.

Tee shots, like at the par-4 17th hole, ask multiple questions with few answers. On his first attempt, Thomas hit 2-iron off the tee at No. 17. It cleared the Barry Burn and bounded down the middle of the fairway. Perfect, right? Not this year at Carnoustie, as Thomas’ tee shot kept rolling until it reached the same burn, which twists and turns through both the 17th and 18th fairways, at a farther intersection.

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“A hole like 17 in this wind, the trick is getting a club that will carry [the burn],” said Thomas, who played 18 holes on Monday with Tiger Woods. “If that hole gets downwind you can have a hard time carrying the burn and keeping it short of the other burn. It’s pretty bizarre.”

The sixth hole can offer a similar dilemma, with players needing to carry their tee shots 275 yards to avoid a pair of pot bunkers down the right side of the fairway. Yet just 26 yards past those pitfalls looms a second set of bunkers. Even for the game’s best, trying to weave a fairway wood or long-iron into a 26-yard window can be challenging.

“Six is a really hard hole, it really just depends on how you want to play it. If you want to take everything on and have a chance of hitting an iron into a par 5, or just kind of lay back and play it as a three-shot hole,” Thomas shrugged.

It’s difficult to quantify precisely how short the 7,400-yard layout is playing. It’s not so far players are flying the ball in the air, particularly with relatively little wind in the forecast the rest of the week, so much as it is a question of how a particular shot will run out after it’s made contact with the firm turf.

As the field began to get their first taste of the bouncy fun, one of the earliest indications something was askew came on Sunday when Padraig Harrington, who won The Open the last time it was played at Carnoustie in 2007, announced to the social world that he’d hit into the burn on the 18th hole.

“This time it was the one at the green, 457 yards away,” the Irishman tweeted. “The fairways are a tad fast.”

Most players have already resigned themselves to a steady diet of mid-irons off tees this week in an attempt to at least partially control the amount of run-out each shot will have.

Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, hadn’t played a practice round prior to his media session, but could tell what’s in store just from his abbreviated range session on Monday. “Extremely baked out,” he said.

The conditions have already led Spieth and his caddie, Micheal Greller, to conjure up a tentative game plan.

“You might wear out your 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you’re used to,” Greller told him.

But even that might not be the answer, as Tommy Fleetwood discovered on Sunday during a practice round. Fleetwood has a unique connection with Carnoustie having shot the course record (63) during last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.

The Englishman doesn’t expect his record to be in danger this week.

In fact, he explained the dramatically different conditions were evident on the third hole on Sunday.

“There’s holes that have been nothing tee shots, like the third. If you play that in the middle of September or October [when the Dunhill is played] and it’s green and soft, you could just hit a mid-iron down the fairway and knock it on with a wedge,” Fleetwood said. “Yesterday it was playing so firm, the fairways really undulate and you have bunkers on either side, it’s actually all of a sudden a tough tee shot.”

The alternative to the iron game plan off the tee would be to simply hit driver, an option at least one long-hitter is considering this week if his practice round was any indication.

On Sunday, Jon Rahm played aggressively off each tee, taking the ubiquitous fairway bunkers out of play but at the same time tempting fate with each fairway ringed by fescue rough, which is relatively tame given the dry conditions. But even that option has consequences.

“It’s kind of strange where there’s not really a number that you know you’re going to be short,” said Fleetwood, who played his Sunday practice round with Rahm. “[Rahm] hit a drive on 15 that was like 400 yards. You just can’t account for that kind of stuff.”

Whatever tactic players choose, this Open Championship promises to be a much different test than what players have become accustomed to at Carnoustie.