They left you wanting more.
If you’re an LPGA fan, the season ended Monday with hope and promise leading a terrific rally.
A week after Michelle Wie broke through to win for the first time, Lorena Ochoa and Jiyai Shin staged the most dramatic duel for the Rolex Player of the Year award in the history of the tour. Their gut-wrenching battle came down to the final hole of the LPGA Tour Championship at The Houstonian Golf & Country Club in Richmond, Texas. Ochoa won the honor by a single point after closing with a birdie and watching Shin’s desperate final chip tease the hole before slipping inches away.
The duel was so compelling it overshadowed rookie Anna Nordqvist’s victory and her torrid run of seven birdies over eight holes in the middle of the round.
Coupled with Wie’s title, the ending gave the LPGA a much-needed bang-bang finish to the season.
Ochoa’s visible sigh after securing her fourth consecutive POY award summed up the angst of the entire tour this year.
“This has been the toughest, for sure, and the one I’m going to enjoy the most,” Ochoa told Golf Channel. “I was very proud of the way I finished.”
In a year that at times seemed cursed, with title sponsors bailing out by the bunch, players ousting their commissioner in a revolt and Americans struggling, the ending felt like a turn toward something better.
The LPGA’s new commissioner gained a clear view these past two weeks of the complex foundation he has to build upon.
Michael Whan got to see what’s right and what’s wrong with the tour he’ll officially begin leading on Jan. 4.
If Wie’s on the verge of stepping up in class, of becoming a dominant force, Whan’s job is a lot easier. Wie is an American with a giant-sized Q rating. The tour needs stars and an American star who can win with regularity. Whan won’t have to be much of a marketing man to market that. It would be good for the tour, too, if Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford and Morgan Pressel can find their way more to the winner’s circle.
The larger issue is selling the globalization of the tour to American audiences.
Americans won just five times this season, making this the nation’s worst showing in 60 LPGA seasons.
Sunday’s finish summed up the year.
Sweden (Nordqvist), Mexico (Ochoa) and South Korea (Shin) dominated the finish with Kristy McPherson the lone American with a chance to win on the back nine.
The LPGA may be a global tour, but it’s American-based and American-focused.
“When you’re a girl, this is where you dream about coming to play,” Australian Anna Rawson told the Wall Street Journal in a Sunday story about the state of the tour.
“At least 75 percent [of LPGA events] should be here,” fellow Aussie Katherine Hull told the newspaper.
While Ochoa and Shin put on a riveting show Monday, they aren’t the stars they ought to be, given their winning resumes.
Golf relishes being witness to stardom more than it does to drama. When Tiger Woods ran away with the U.S. Open title by 15 shots in 2000 and the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, TV ratings were through the roof.
As the No. 1 player in the world, Ochoa should be more celebrated.
As a South Korean, Shin leads the most dominant force in women’s golf. South Koreans won 11 times this season and yet there is a troubling disconnect with American audiences.
Ochoa and the South Korean contingent rule golf, but their stories aren’t resonating the way they could or should.
Whan’s challenge is changing that dynamic. It’s making foreign stars shine when Americans don’t and getting American audiences to care more about those foreign stars.
Or praying for an American resurgence.
Saving the Best for Last
They left you wanting more.
Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage
NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:
Friday, Day 2 (Times ET)
Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)
Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.
1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.
Fleetwood, with his fancy umbrella, fires 65 on Day 2
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tommy Fleetwood looked like an Open rookie when he set out on Friday under gray skies and a cold, steady rain.
Because the Englishman doesn’t have an equipment sponsor he made a quick turn through the merchandise tent for an umbrella – but at least he didn’t have to pay for it.
“We stole it,” he laughed when asked about his Open-brand umbrella. “We got one given for free, actually. We didn't steal it. We don't always carry an umbrella. So it just so happens this week that we've got a nice Open Championship [umbrella]. It looked quite nice, the yellow and the course.”
It was Fleetwood’s only rookie move on Day 2 at Carnoustie, posting a flawless 65 to move into an early tie for second place at 5 under par.
Fleetwood holds the competitive course record at Carnoustie, a 9-under 63 he shot last fall during the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship, but given Friday’s conditions and the difficulty of this course during The Open, his 65 on Friday might have been better.
“It's not a course record, but it's pretty good,” said Fleetwood, who was stroke behind leader Zach Johnson. “If you went out, you wouldn't really fancy being 6 under out there. So I think that's a good indication of how good it was.”
It was a dramatic turnaround for Fleetwood on Friday. He said he struggled with his ball-striking, specifically his tee shots, on Day 1, but he was able to turn things around with an hour-long session on the range following his opening round.
Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship
Following an even-par 71 in the first round of the 147th Open Championship, Tiger Woods looks to make a move on Day 2 at Carnoustie.
Tweets by GCTigerTracker
McIlroy responds to Harmon's 'robot' criticism
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy said during his pre-championship news conference that he wanted to play more "carefree" – citing Jon Rahm’s approach now and the way McIlroy played in his younger days.
McIlroy got off to a good start Thursday at Carnoustie, shooting 2-under 69, good for a share of eighth place.
But while McIlroy admits to wanting to be a little less structured on the course, he took offense to comments made by swing coach Butch Harmon during a Sky Sports telecast.
“Rory had this spell when he wasn’t putting good and hitting the ball good, and he got so wrapped up in how he was going to do it he forgot how to do it.
“He is one of the best players the game has ever seen. If he would just go back to being a kid and playing the way he won these championships and play your game, don’t have any fear or robotic thoughts. Just play golf. Just go do it.
“This is a young kid who’s still one of the best players in the world. He needs to understand that. Forget about your brand and your endorsement contracts. Forget about all that. Just go back to having fun playing golf. I still think he is one of the best in the world and can be No.1 again if he just lets himself do it.”
McIlroy, who has never worked with Harmon, responded to the comments when asked about them following his opening round.
“Look, I like Butch. Definitely, I would say I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum than someone that's mechanical and someone that's – you know, it's easy to make comments when you don't know what's happening,” McIlroy said. “I haven't spoken to Butch in a long time. He doesn't know what I'm working on in my swing. He doesn't know what's in my head. So it's easy to make comments and easy to speculate. But unless you actually know what's happening, I just really don't take any notice of it.”
McIlroy second round at The Open began at 2:52 a.m. ET.