Teen dreams, Olympic drama at U.S. Women's Open

By Randall MellJuly 5, 2016, 11:29 am

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko relishes the return of the U.S. Women’s Open to California for the first time in more than three decades.

Ko has already won twice in California this year, including the year’s first major championship.

Six of Ko’s 13 LPGA titles have come on the West Coast of the United States and Canada. She likes the mountainous topography of the region.

“It reminds me of New Zealand,” the Kiwi Ko said. “When you go to places that aren’t home but feel a lot like home, it makes a difference.”

World No. 2 Brooke Henderson is just as pleased to be teeing it up at CordeValle Golf Club just south of San Jose this week with all three of her LPGA titles coming on the West Coast over the last 10 months. The Canadian claimed her first major last month at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship outside Seattle.

“Getting the major championship win in Washington, knowing that I can win a major championship, was definitely a huge momentum changer,” Henderson said. “And then coming off a win in Portland, I think it really is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

Can these young stars keep the teenage sweep of majors going this season?

Will the 19-year-old Ko and 18-year-old Henderson be able to repeat the theatrics they created in their epic duel at Sahalee in June? They put a jolt of new excitement in the women’s game with their dramatic finishes at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

U.S. Women’s Open: Articles, photos and videos

What about Ariya Jutanugarn, who fell just short of joining Ko and Henderson in that playoff? The 20-year-old Thai is bidding to win a tour-best fourth LPGA title this season and her first major.

The U.S. Women’s Open is stacked with storylines beyond this youthful trio as Olympic qualifying will conclude with the final putt’s drop on Sunday. The Olympic golf dream seems to be a much larger ambition among the women than the men with South Africa’s Lee Anne Pace so far the only woman to withdraw her name from Olympic consideration, because of the Zika virus. Several of the top names in men’s golf, including Jason Day and Rory McIlroy, have already done so.

“The Olympics has been my No. 1 goal,” said Lexi Thompson, the highest ranked American in the world at No. 4. “Winning the Olympics would be better than a major.”

The competition to make it to Rio de Janeiro is most intense within the South Korean ranks with the battle so bunched that a dozen women are still within reach of claiming one of the four spots available to that country.

“A gold medal would be bigger than winning a major because it’s the first time for us in the Olympics,” Sei Young Kim said of the intense interest back in South Korea. “The Olympics is the reason I came over to play the LPGA.”

The Koreans don’t have a monopoly on Olympic qualifying drama.

Hall of Famer Karrie Webb’s Olympic dream hangs in the balance as she sits outside the qualifying criteria and needs a big finish this week to claim a spot on the Australian team. Webb has fallen to No. 59 in the world rankings and needs to pass No. 39 Sun-Hyun Oh to secure a spot on the Aussie team in Rio. Oh is also in this week’s field.

And what about the United States?

It’s been a tough haul so far in 2016 for the Americans, who are on pace for a historically awful year. Through the first 19 LPGA events this year, Thompson is the lone player from the United States to win an event. In the 67-year history of the LPGA, the Americans have never gone more than 17 consecutive events without winning. If they fail to win the U.S. Women’s Open this week, it will mark 16 straight the Americans have failed to win this year.

The Americans have never failed to win at least four LPGA titles in a season, but the South Koreans have to be the favored nation this week. The South Koreans are putting their stamp on the U.S. Women’s Open. They’re looking to win the championship for the fifth time in the last six years.

In Gee Chun defeated fellow South Korean Amy Yang in last year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club outside Philadelphia.

If the Olympics were staged today, Thompson and Stacy Lewis would be the only American women playing.

According to Olympic rules, a country is allowed a maximum of four qualifiers, provided all four are among the top 15 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. Only Thompson at No. 4 and Lewis at No. 8 were among the top 15 in Monday’s release of the newest rankings.

How much have American women slipped since Olympic qualifying began two years ago? There were eight Americans among the top 15 in the Rolex rankings when Olympic qualifying began on July 14, 2014. Lewis, Thompson, Michelle Wie, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, Lizette Salas and Jessica Korda were part of that group, that first week.

Gerina Piller’s hovering on the Olympic bubble this week at No. 16 with Kerr at No. 21, Korda No. 24, Lincicome No. 25 and Morgan Pressel No. 28. 

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Woods (T-6) qualifies for WGC-Bridgestone via OWGR

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 7:43 pm

After narrowly missing out on a 15th major title at Carnoustie, Tiger Woods can take solace in the fact that he earned a return to Firestone Country Club by the thinnest of margins.

Woods was ranked No. 71 in the world entering The Open, and the top 50 in the rankings on both July 23 and July 30 will earn invites to the upcoming WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Despite missing a short birdie putt on the 72nd hole, Woods' three-way tie for sixth was enough to lift him to exactly 50th in the updated rankings.

It means that Woods will return to Akron in two weeks despite starting the year ranked No. 656. Firestone's South Course is the site of eight of Woods' 79 career PGA Tour victories, including his most recent worldwide victory back in 2013 when he won by seven shots. He has not played the invitation-only event since withdrawing in 2014 because of injury.

That's also the last time that Woods played in any of the four WGC events.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Woods had stated for several weeks that he hoped to return to Firestone this summer, given that the tournament will permanently shift to TPC Southwind in Memphis beginning next year. While he had the option to play next week's RBC Canadian Open to bolster his world ranking, Woods reiterated in recent weeks that his status for Akron would simply hinge on his performance in The Open.

"One of my goals is to get into Akron one last time before we leave there," Woods said at The Players Championship in May. "I've won there eight times and I'd love to get there with one more chance."

Speaking to reporters after a final-round 71, Woods explained that he thought he needed a top-4 finish to qualify and had fallen short. Instead, his 5-under total and best finish in a major since the 2013 Open at Muirfield proved to be just enough.

Woods will now take a week off before teeing it up in Akron Aug. 2-5, followed by an appearance the following week at the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.

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Spieth shrugs off his worst final round in a major

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 7:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth was the 54-hole co-leader of The Open. He was looking for his fourth career major and second consecutive claret jug. He also has been in the biggest victory drought of his career, extending back to last year at Royal Birkdale.

Spieth shot 5-over 76 - his worst final round in a major - failed to make a birdie - the first time he's failed to pick up any strokes in a major - and tied for ninth place, four shots behind Francesco Molinari. He got over it quickly.

“I’ve already gone through the frustration,” Spieth said, about 20 minutes after his round. “I’m kind of on acceptance now.”

Spieth said all week that he was burned out after having played so much golf in a stretch that ended two weeks ago at the Travelers Championship. The two-week rest did him good and he was eager to see where his game was after diligent practice at home in Texas.

Being in the hunt was a good enough result for Spieth this week.

“When you put yourself in position enough times, it goes your way sometimes, it doesn’t go your way sometimes,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Bogey on the fifth hole was followed by a nasty double bogey on the sixth when Spieth hit his drive right and flew his second shot into a gorse bush well short and right of the green. He took a drop, hit a wedge onto the green, then three-putted for double-bogey 7. He also made bogey on the 15th and 17th holes.

Some major disappointment stings more than others. This wasn’t one that Spieth was going to worry about. In fact, he’s more interested in looking forward to an important stretch that includes a WGC event, a major and a playoff run on the PGA Tour.

“My (putting) stroke is there, it’s back, which feels awesome,” Spieth said. “My game all together is back. I’ve had different parts of every single part of my game being at kind of a low point in my career, not all at the same time, but enough to where I haven’t really been able to compete. It’s all there, and it’s moving in the right direction.”

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McIlroy 'committed to everything ... ran out of holes'

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 7:08 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy summed it up: “I don’t really feel like it’s a defeat. I feel like it’s a good week.”

McIlroy, in search of his fifth major, tied for the lead at The Open late on Sunday at Carnoustie when he made eagle on the par-5 14th hole. An hour later, he had made five consecutive pars to close out a 1-under 70 and tie for second place with Justin Rose, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele.

That group ended two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. McIlroy thought it was realistic to squeeze one more shot out of his round, but he never though it was possible to squeeze out two.

“I committed to everything,” he said. “I hit the shots when I needed to. I made good swings on 17 and on 18. I just ran out of holes.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy hasn’t played poorly this year, but this hasn't been a year that would rank as a total success. He took the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and collected a second-place finish at the BMW PGA Championship. He had a legitimate chance to win the Masters before a terrible Sunday round, and then missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month at Shinnecock Hills.

Sunday at Carnoustie, McIlroy bogeyed two of his first five holes and quickly became an afterthought. When others faltered, McIlroy birdies Nos. 9 and 11, then eagled 14 to vault back into the picture.

“I’m happy with how I played,” he said. “I didn’t get off to a great start, but I hung in there, and I battled back.

“So I’ll look back at this week and be very encouraged about what I’ve done and the golf that I played. I feel like that will stand me in good stead for what’s coming up.”

McIlroy is scheduled to play the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks, followed by the PGA Championship and the FedExCup Playoffs.

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Edoardo, other pros congratulate Francesco on Twitter

By Grill Room TeamJuly 22, 2018, 6:54 pm

Francesco Molinari played a bogey-free weekend at Carnoustie to claim Italy's first claret jug.

His rock-solid performance in the final round earned him his share of social media plaudits.

Here's a collection of Twitter hat-tips, and we start off with Frankie's brother, Dodo.