Par 5: Match Play From Spain to N.J.

By Randall MellMay 17, 2011, 7:23 pm

Setting the week’s agenda with five questions for tournament golf at large . . .

Is Luke Donald the man to beat at the Volvo World Match Play?

After winning the WGC-Match Play Championship in February, Donald should bring a lot of confidence to this week’s Volvo World Match Play Championship at the Finca Cortesin Golf Club in Spain.

The event, by the way, feels like a celebration of what’s right with European golf.

Five of the top six players in the world rankings are scheduled to play in the European Tour event. They’re all Europeans.

No. 1 Lee Westwood is in the 24-player field along with No. 2 Donald, No. 3 Martin Kaymer, No. 5 Graeme McDowell and No. 6 Rory McIlroy.

The unique format features eight groups of three players. The top two players from each group will advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals from a round-robin format over Thursday and Friday. Winners of group matches earn two points for a victory, one for a halved match. Head-to-head records will be used to break ties in the group matches. If there’s still a tie, a playoff will decide who advances.

The semifinals and finals are scheduled for Sunday.

Despite his stellar play winning at Accenture, Donald is not the man to beat this week, according to Ladbrokes. Westwood is the betting favorite at 6-to-1 odds. Donald is next at 7-to-1 with Kaymer at 8-to-1. Donald is in a group with England’s Ross Fisher and American Ryan Moore.

Will the memory of The Players Championship motivate or haunt Toms?

David Toms jumps right back into competition at this week’s Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial looking like a man determined to give himself another chance to make a clutch putt.

Toms, 44, has a history of riding hot streaks, and he looks like he’s heating up again.

He loves Colonial, where he has done just about everything but win. He’s finished T-2, T-3 and T-4 there. In the aftermath of Sunday’s loss at The Players, Toms radiated with the aura of a man on the rise, not a man crushed by the disappointment of a blown chance.

“I think I’m going to win again soon,” Toms said. “Playing great [at The Players] gives me that confidence.”

Colonial seems like the perfect place for Toms to give himself another chance to win his 13th PGA Tour title. His run at The Players shouldn’t have surprised. He is second on the PGA Tour this season in driving accuracy, second in greens in regulation and second in total putting despite his short miss at the end of The Players. Those aren’t the stats of a guy who just caught lightning in a bottle. He’s in strong form.

Who is Toms’ most formidable competition at Hogan’s Alley?

Zach Johnson will be looking to become the first player to repeat as champ at Colonial since Ben Hogan won in 1952 and ’53.

Ten players have won multiple titles at Colonial since the tournament launched in 1946. Hogan, Julius Boros, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Corey Pavin, Nick Price, Bruce Lietzke, Phil Mickelson and Kenny Perry have all won it more than once, but Hogan’s the only player to win it back-to-back, and he did it twice. He also won it in 1946 and ’47, the first two years of the event.

So look for players who have won here before to get themselves in the mix. Johnson, Rory Sabbatini and Sergio Garcia could be factors as former champs.

Who are the players to beat at the Sybase Match Play Championship?

The LPGA returns to action with 64 of its top players competing at Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone, N.J., Thursday through Sunday.

The top 32 seeds will be based on the Rolex Women’s World Rankings with each of those seeds choosing their opponent in a blind draw on Tuesday.

With so few events this season, it’s difficult to know who’s arriving in the best form, but here’s how this reporter handicaps the favorites:

  • 3/1 Brittany Lincicome – Swept through the field winning at Hamilton Farm in ’06.
  • 5/1 Yani Tseng – World No. 1 highly motivated after Kraft loss and missed cut in last LPGA start.
  • 6/1 Jiyai Shin – Will wear out opponents hitting fairways and greens.
  • 8/1 Angela Stanford – Lost in finals in this event last year.
  • 10/1 Stacy Lewis – Ball striking, confidence make Kraft champ tough to beat.
  • 10/1 Karrie Webb – Two victories on the board already this season.
  • 12/1 Na Yeon Choi – Finished T-3, T-5 and sixth so far this year.
  • 12/1 Michelle Wie – Record shows she steps up in match play.
  • 15/1 Sun Young Yoo – Brings some serious mojo as defending champ.
  • 15/1 Cristie Kerr – Coming through a sluggish run, but if her putter gets hot ...
  • 18/1 Paula Creamer – Solheim Cup practice session this week may light a fire.
  • 18/1 Morgan Pressel – Match play brings out the best in ‘05 U.S. Women’s Amateur champ.
  • 20/1 Suzann Pettersen – Putter’s temperature determines how far she advances.

Will Alexis Thompson bounce back strong in Europe?

Alexis Thompson will make her first start since she lost a share of the 54-hole lead in a final-round stumble at the Avnet LPGA Classic three weeks ago.

The 16-year-old American will tee it up at the UniCredit Ladies German Open Thursday looking to become the youngest winner of a Ladies European Tour event. Amy Yang holds the mark having won the ANZ Ladies Masters when she was 16 years and 192 days old. Thompson would be 16 years and 101 days old on Sunday.

Thompson made a strong run at winning in Europe last year before finishing tied for second at the Evian Masters.

The Ladies German Open field includes Sandra Gal, who will be popular returning to her homeland after winning the Kia Classic earlier this year. Gal’s the highest ranked player in the field at No. 34 in the world. Laura Davies is there to defend her title.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMellGC
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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”