Par 5 Questions Surrounding the Battle for No 1

By Randall MellApril 26, 2011, 5:52 pm

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

Who wins Westwood vs. Donald, Part II?

This battle for No. 1 in the world rankings is looking like it will be a weekly affair heading into summer.

And it’s quite possible it will continue to be a transcontinental struggle with the outcome of events being played on different continents regularly coming into play.

A week after reclaiming No. 1, Lee Westwood is in action again in Asia, this time at the European Tour’s Ballantine’s Championship in Seoul, South Korea. No. 3 Luke Donald is scheduled to play in the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic in New Orleans. No. 2 Martin Kaymer isn’t playing this week. Though the exact No. 1 scenarios won’t be out until we get closer to Thursday’s start, the ranking points are so close among the top three in the world that the top spot promises to be up for grabs again.

With Westwood winning last weekend at the Asian Tour’s Indonesian Masters, a weak field featuring just two players in the top 100 in the world rankings, and with Donald losing the Heritage in a playoff on the PGA Tour, the battle for No. 1 was good theater, even if you didn’t like the uneven playing fields. The world rankings battle, after all, isn’t a one-week struggle. It’s decided in a two-year rolling window.

Donald’s got the tougher challenge trying to win again this week, but the playing fields aren’t as uneven as they were last week.

What’s tougher, winning the Zurich Classic or Ballantine’s Championship?

Westwood headlines what’s being touted as the strongest field in Ballantine’s four-year history, but it’s still not as deep as the PGA Tour field at the Zurich Classic.

Donald’s the headliner in New Orleans, which is host to three of the top-10 players in the world and 12 of the top 50.

Westwood’s the only top-10 player at Ballantine’s, where seven of the top 50 are competing.

Zurich’s field includes No. 5 Graeme McDowell, No. 9 Steve Stricker, No. 14 Nick Watney, No. 16 Bubba Watson, No. 25 Justin Rose, No. 35 Ben Crane and No. 36 Rickie Fowler.

Ballantine’s field includes No. 11 Dustin Johnson, No. 13 Ernie Els, No. 15 Ian Poulter, No. 23 Miguel Angel Jimenez and No. 32 Y.E. Yang.

Is the volatility at the top of the rankings good for the game?

If you’re already a devoted follower of the game, you may like the uncertainty, the drama in so many characters crowding the stage in a bid for the game’s throne.

If you’re a fringe follower, you don’t like it so much.

That’s what history tells us.

The game’s popularity soared when Arnold Palmer seized the stage in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It soared again when Tiger Woods took the spotlight. The game reaches beyond its fringes when a dynamic character captures our fascination with his dominance. The masses like strong supporting characters to spice the drama, and we had that strong script working when Jack Nicklaus dominated, but they like having one brilliant star to root for or even to root against.

So where did we leave off in the women’s game?

Stacy Lewis finally gets to see if she can follow up on the momentum gained breaking through to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship three weeks ago.

Lewis was impressive overtaking world No. 1 Yani Tseng with a strong finish in the year’s first major, but this week’s Avnet LPGA Classic is Lewis’ first chance to follow up the victory after another long break in the tour’s schedule. It’s one of the unfortunate realities LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is dealing with in rebuilding the tour’s schedule. Just when he gets some good storytelling momentum going, there’s a stifling intermission.

And we’ve seen some pretty good stories develop with Tseng taking charge and grabbing the No. 1 world ranking at season’s start, with Hall of Famer Karrie Webb winning back-to-back events and with appealing first-time winners Lewis and Sandra Gal breaking through to win their first LPGA titles, but our attention’s lapsed with all the breaks in between.

Four months into the season, the LPGA’s staged just five events.

The nature of the schedule is costing the LPGA a chance to have every player in the top 10 in the world rankings at the Avnet LPGA Classic this week in Mobile, Ala. No. 2 Jiyai Shin and No. 7 In-Kyung Kim are the only top-10 players who aren't competing. Shin is back in Asia playing and decided to stay for a six-week run there rather than fly back to the United States for one event in the middle of that run.

LPGA pros had seven weeks off to open the year, played back-to-back events in Asia, had two weeks off, played three consecutive events on the West Coast, and had three weeks off. After this week’s Avnet, they’re off for two more weeks.

Tour pros have to be arriving at the Avnet LPGA Classic, feeling like they’re still trying to find their rhythm.

Who’s the player to beat at the Avnet LPGA Classic?

Lewis was impressive the way she held off Tseng, who seemed to be in total control going into the final round of the Kraft Nabisco.

The confidence Lewis, 26, gained putting all the elements of her game together with some newfound power make her a player with the goods to consistently contend.

But Lewis has some tough competition again with world No. 1 Tseng the player to beat every time she tees it up. The upside of a limited schedule is that you’ll see most of the LPGA’s stars at nearly every tournament. That’s the case at the Avnet LPGA Classic. Tseng, Cristie Kerr, Na Yeon Choi, Suzann Pettersen, Ai Miyazato, Karrie Webb, Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer are the top-10 challengers Lewis will take on. Se Ri Pak also is back as defending champion with 16-year-old Alexis Thompson scheduled to make her first appearance of the LPGA season on a sponsor’s exemption.



Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell
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Grillo still hunting follow-up to debut win

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:53 pm

Following a round of 1-under 69 Saturday, Emiliano Grillo will enter Sunday's final round at Colonial four shots behind leader Justin Rose.

Grillo is hunting his first win since he took the 2015 Safeway Open in his rookie debut as a PGA Tour member. 

The young Argentinian finished 11th in the FedExCup points race that season, contending in big events and finishing runner-up at the 2016 Barclays.

In the process, Grillo had to learn to pace himself and that it can be fruitless to chase after success week to week.

"That was a hot run in there," Grillo said Saturday, referring to his rookie year. "I played, in 2016, I played the majors very well. I played the big tournaments very well. I was in contention after two, three days in most of the big events.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

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"I think, you know, I wanted to do better. I pushed for it. Some of the tournaments I ended up being 50th or 60th just because I wanted to play. I wanted to play well so badly. That played against me, so I learned from that. In that rookie year, I learned that."

Grillo was still plenty successful in his sophomore season, advancing to the BMW Championship last fall.

But now he's beginning to regain some of that form that made him such an immediate success on Tour. Grillo has recorded four top-10 finishes year - a T-9 at Mayakoba, a T-8 at Honda, a T-3 at Houston, and a T-9 at Wells Fargo - and will now look to outduel to U.S. Open champs in Rose and Brooks Koepka on Sunday at Colonial.

"Well, he's top 10 in the world, so everything he does he does it pretty well," Grillo said of Rose. "You know, he does his own thing. Like I say, he's top 10 in the world. Nothing wrong with his game. ...

"He's in the lead on a Sunday. Doesn't matter where you're playing, he's got to go out and shoot under par. He's got 50 guys behind him trying to reach him, and I'm one of those. I've just got to go out and do what he did today on those first five or six holes and try to get him in the early holes."

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Koepka looking to make hay on Horrible Horseshoe

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:26 pm

The Horrible Horseshoe - Nos. 3, 4 and 5 at Colonial Country Club - annually ranks as one of the toughest three-hole stretches on the PGA Tour.

Consider Brooks Koepka undeterred.

Last year's U.S. Open champ has played the stretch 2 over this week but knows that if he's going to have any chance at catching Justin Rose on Sunday, he's going to need take advantage of the par-5 first and then find a way to pick up shots on the Horseshoe.

"I feel like just need to get off to a good start on this golf course," Koepka said after a third-round 67 Saturday. "If you can get 2 or 3 under through six holes, I think you'll be right there."

Koepka will start the final round four behind Rose, as he looks to win for the first time since his maiden major victory last year.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

The big-hitter missed nearly four months this year with a wrist injury and is progressing quickly in his comeback despite dislocating his wrist on two different occasions over the last two months.

Koepka missed the cut with partner Marc Turnesa at the Zurich Classic in his competitive return before following up with a tie for 42nd at the Wells Fargo Championship and a tie for 11th at The Players Championship.

Now, thanks to a closing birdie Sunday, he finds himself playing alongside Rose in the final group on Sunday.

"I feel like my game is coming around," he said. "[At Zurich], I was five days into touching clubs. I am finally finding a rhythm and feel like I'm getting really close. ...

"Just want to get off to a good start [tomorrow]. That's really all I am trying to do. You put together a good solid round tomorrow, you never know what can happen. The important thing is we were just trying to get in that final group. I thought the putt on 18 was kind of big to get in that final group and play with Rosey."

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Rose leads Koepka, Grillo by four at Colonial

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 9:06 pm

On the strength of a 4-under 66 Saturday, Justin Rose will take a four-shot lead over Brooks Koepka and Emiliano Grillo into the final round of the Fort Worth Invitational. Here's where things stand through 54 holes at Colonial Country Club.

Leaderboard: Rose (-14), Koepka (-10), Grillo (-10), Corey Conners (-8), Jon Rahm (-8), Louis Oosthuizen (-8), J.T. Poston (-8), Ryan Armour (-8)

What it means: The fifth-ranked player in the world is 18 holes from his ninth PGA Tour victory and his second this season. Up one to start the third round, Rose extended his lead to as much as five with birdies on four of his first six holes. Through 54 holes, Rose has made 17 birdies and just three bogeys. The 2013 U.S. Open winner and 2016 Olympic gold medalist has a history of winning at iconic venues - Muirfield Village, Aronimink, Cog Hill, Doral, Merion and Congressional - and now looks to add Colonial to the list. He'll be chased on Sunday by Grillo, the young Argentinian who won his first Tour start as a member in 2015, and Koepka, last year's U.S. Open winner who continues to impress in his injury comeback despite ongoing wrist issues.

Round of the day: Corey Conners and Ted Potter both turned in 7-under 63. Potter was bogey-free and Conners came home in 6-under 29 on the back nine.

Best of the rest: Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen, Brian Harman and Michael Thompson all signed for 64. Rahm called his six-birdie start the best 10 holes he's played so far this year.

Biggest disappointment: Jordan Spieth has finished second-first-second in the last three years at this event, but he's yet to find his normal Colonial form through three rounds. Spieth, who said Friday he was capable of shooting "10 or 12 under" over the weekend, shot even-par 70 Saturday. He sits in T-38 at 3 under for the week, 11 back.

Shot of the day: Rory Sabbatini closed out his third round Saturday with this eagle holeout from 134 yards at the 18th.

His colorful scorecard featured three bogeys, two birdies, a double bogey and that eagle. It added up to a 1-over 71. 

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McCarron closes with only bogey, shares lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 8:49 pm

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Scott McCarron, seeking a second senior major title to go with his 2017 Senior Players Championship, made his only bogey of the third round on the final hole to slip into a tie for the lead Saturday with Tim Petrovic in the Senior PGA Championship.

They were at 13 under par after Petrovic, seeking his first major, shot 65. McCarron has shared the lead through three rounds.

England's Paul Broadhurst, the 2016 British Senior Open winner, matched the best third-round score in tournament history with a 64. He was at 11 under.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, coming off his first major championship last week at the Regions Tradition, shot 65 and was 9 under.

Tom Byrum, who made a hole-in-one in shooting a 67, was in a group at 8 under.