Pursuit of Ko continues with first major a month away

By Randall MellMarch 2, 2016, 5:15 pm

The pursuit of Lydia Ko continues.

Who’s going to press the Rolex world No. 1 hardest for that top spot as the LPGA moves within a month of its first major championship of the year?

The HSBC Women’s Champions begins Wednesday night (in the United States) with the strongest field of the year teeing it up in Singapore. The top 17 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are all there, with 23 of the top 25 in the field. They’re all looking to round into form with the ANA Inspiration scheduled March 3-6.

Lexi Thompson will tee it up at Sentosa Golf Club looking to win in back-to-back weeks after taking the title at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

“Since I first started coming to Singapore, I thought this tournament was something special,” Inbee Park said Wednesday in her pre-tournament news conference. “We get such a strong field here. We get all the players in the top every year, and it's a great competition. We get a pretty good field of not just the LPGA players but players worldwide.”

Park is the defending champion. She went bogey-free over 72 holes last year and impressively held off Ko and Stacy Lewis in a Sunday duel with all three grouped together in the final round. Park is still rebounding this week from a back injury that caused her to withdraw from the season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic. She made her return to the LPGA last week, tying for 30th at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

“I feel like I'm definitely in better shape than I was last week or a month ago,” Park said. “It's just getting better and better, but I just don't want to rush for anything.”

Park says there is still rust to work off her game.

“Everything kind of needs to come together a little bit more, ball-striking to short game to putting,” Park said. “Everything is just a little bit not exactly where I want to be right now. But I definitely see some improvement last week.

“It's just going to take time. We have a long season, and especially I'd like to play well in the summertime.”

That’s where Park thrives, in the major championship summer run.

“Even if I don't end up holding the trophy [this week], I would really like to take something from this tournament, like some confidence,” Park said. 

While Park is looking to round into form, Ko opened the year contending right from the start, tying for third in her debut at the Coates Golf Championship, winning the New Zealand Women’s Open and finishing second at the Women’s Australian Open.

Ko was the co-leader going into the final round of Coates but struggled coming home. She entered the final round of the Women’s Australian Open one shot behind Haru Nomura and closed strong with a 67, only to see Nomura win with a brilliant 65.

“It's a really good start to the season,” Ko said. “It could always be better in that sense, but I'm very pleased with the way it started.”

Ko and Park have an interesting game of 19-week runs going in the world rankings. Ko was atop the world rankings for 19 weeks until Park overtook winning the KPMG Women’s PGA last summer. Park reigned at No. 1 for 19 weeks until Ko took it back from her in October of last year. Ko is in the 19th week of her current run at No. 1, but she won’t be giving it up this week. Nobody can overtake Ko in the world rankings, even with a victory in Singapore, but they can press the action getting ready for ANA.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.