Ko coping with increased scrutiny in victory or defeat

By Randall MellFebruary 20, 2016, 7:04 pm

Lydia Ko’s back in the crosshairs again.

That’s what life is like when you’re the Rolex world No. 1 and you put yourself in position to win almost every week. Ko moved into position yet again Saturday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, climbing one shot off the lead going into the final round.

If Ko wins, it’s another big story. It would be her second victory in a row and her fifth in her last 10 worldwide starts.

If she doesn’t win, it’s a big story, too.

That’s the growing challenge for Ko going into Sunday’s final round at The Grange Golf Club in South Australia. That’s how things are changing the more successful she becomes. That’s the burden of expectation the great ones carry.

At 18 years old, Ko is carrying that burden a lot earlier than anyone has ever carried it.

There’s more success when you’re on top of the mountain, but there’s a lot more failure, too.

Huh? How’s that?

Yes, relatively speaking, there’s more failure the better you become in professional golf, because so many more of the shots Ko hits are scrutinized by galleries, TV viewers and analysts than shots hit by her peers. It’s the nature of the beast when you’re No. 1 or near the top of so many leaderboards.

Every player misses shots, but when you’re Ko, Inbee Park or Stacy Lewis, people see a lot more of your misses. There is a tiny death in a big miss for those players, especially in misses that lead to the ultimate failure, the failure to win.

When you’ve proven yourself as gifted as Ko, good shots are expected, winning is expected.

That’s why bad shots are like tiny deaths. They’re subject to rigorous post-mortem analyses, to video being rewound to examine how every wayward swing went wrong.

So when you’re Ko, Park and Lewis, if you’re not careful, you can see a lot of folks carrying scalpels, ready to cut and dissect.

Of course, it’s a lot worse in the men’s game because the interest is even more intense. That’s also the added challenge for Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy and the best of the best today. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer didn’t get that in the same way, not that they wouldn’t have handled it as brilliantly as they did everything else. There just wasn’t the same intense scrutiny, not as much media and no unrelenting waves of blogs and tweets.

Sean Foley, Tiger Woods’ former coach, observed this phenomenon at its most intense.

Foley nailed it when he said we subject Woods to “daily referendums.” Nobody has faced the kind of scrutiny Woods does. Obviously, with Ko, it’s nowhere near the same intensity, but it’s still becoming something of a weekly referendum.

While LPGA pros don’t get the same valued TV time slots the men get, or the same audiences, they’re playing more live TV events than they’ve ever played before.

This is Ko’s third start this year, and she has given herself a chance to win going into the final round of all three. Two weeks ago, Ko took a share of the 54-hole lead into her first LPGA start of the year at the Coates Golf Championship and uncharacteristically collapsed with three consecutive bogeys and then a double bogey in the middle of her round. Ultimately, she rallied to tie for third.

Last weekend, Ko successfully defended her title winning the New Zealand Women’s Open, but with no other player in the field among the top 70 in the world, there was some dismissiveness over the fact that she only won by two shots and some concern that her ball striking’s not quite right.

You know you’re reaching rarified air when even your victories aren’t good enough.

So that leads to Sunday in Australia, where a victory will make Ko’s weekly referendum favorable and anything less will make it unfavorable, possibly even troubling if there’s another Coates-like stumble. You think that’s overstated? Ask Yani Tseng how the No. 1 ranking skewed everything for her.

Ko got herself into contention Saturday in Australia with a fast start, making four consecutive birdies to being her round. She shot 68 despite hitting just four fairways. Karrie Webb hit all 14 fairways. That’s something to keep an eye in the weekly referendum, because one of Ko’s stated goals starting this year was that she wanted to hit more fairways.

Swing coach David Leadbetter feels the scrutiny, too, even with all the success the two have enjoyed over the last two years. He knew what it would be like when he and his assistant, Sean Hogan, signed up with Ko.

“In the beginning, to be honest, we were a little reluctant to take her on, because it was a case of you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” Leadbetter told GolfChannel.com at the end of last year. “If she played well, she was supposed to play well. If she played badly, well, then it’s `You guys screwed up.’

“I went through that with Nick Faldo. It was `Who the hell are you to mess up our golden boy?’ It’s always a bit of a risk, but you have to take a little bit of risk in life sometimes.”

For such a tender age, Ko handles these burdens of expectation with remarkable grace. She seems to get that unreasonable expectations are just that. They’re unreasonable. They aren’t worth fretting over.

While expectations can create resentment, Ko shows no signs of feeling that way. She deflects them with the skill of an Aikido master.

“To see some of the headlines, you kind of don’t know what to think about it,” Ko said when her game was slightly off early last year. “I try not to think about it, because at the end of the day, we’re all trying to play our best out here. That’s all we can do.”

The “referendum” nature of evaluating top players today may seem unfair, but it’s actually part of the game’s appeal. The more intense the scrutiny of a player’s game, the more intense the interest is in a player. That’s a good thing for the game, better for the game when a popular player learns to cope.

Ko’s coping skills seem as highly advanced as her golf skills.

That’s good for her, and it’s good for the game.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”