Park laps field for gold medal at Rio Olympics

By Rex HoggardAugust 20, 2016, 7:28 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – This may not be an apple-to-apples fit, but in Olympic terms Inbee Park’s romp on Saturday at Olympic Golf Course was Katie Ledecky-like.

Ledecky – American’s sweetheart swimming champion who cleaned up in Rio with five medals, including four gold – may have set the standard for dominance in these Games, but Park’s five-stroke romp over the very best the women’s game has to offer was akin to Ledecky’s 11-second victory in the 800-meter freestyle.

Much like Ledecky last week, Park’s victory was never in doubt. Not after beginning her day with three consecutive birdies starting at the third hole. Not after making the turn a half dozen clear in her race to a gold medal. And certainly not when she birdied two of her last three to leave all drama to those vying for the silver and bronze.

The cold figures added up to a closing 66 for a 16-under 268 total.

On most weeks, Park would do well to stay with those detached numbers. The South Korean is fondly described as methodical, some have even described the 28-year-old as detached and virtually void of emotion on the golf course.

Final-round highlights from Rio Olympics

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There were no fist pumps, no triumphant pounding on her shirt after victory like that shown by Justin Rose in last week’s opening Olympic act.

That’s not Park’s style.

She hits fairways. She hits greens in regulation. She converts more putts than Jordan Spieth on a good day. And then she marches to the next tee with the look of a teenager taking an exam.

“I don't think people understand at all,” said Stacy Lewis, who came within a fraction of an inch of a chance to playoff for the bronze medal. “If you watch her, or even Lydia [Ko], watch both of them play golf, you're not going to be wowed. You're not going to be amazed. But if you watch it over a period of time, you'll be amazed.”

Be amazed, be entertained, because Park’s performance for four days in Rio goes well beyond those cold numbers, whether she’s comfortable diving into the nuances or not.

This is, after all, the same player who has just two top-10 finishes this season and hadn’t played an event on the world stage in more than two months because of a thumb injury.

A player who didn’t make the decision to even participate in golf’s grand return to the Games (it’s been 116 years since a woman golfer stepped to an Olympic podium) until about a month ago and even that decision was met with mixed reviews back home in South Korea.

There were those who figured Park was unfit for duty in Rio and should have made room for another South Korean in the competition. It was a school of thought that was hard for Park to ignore.

“Oh my god, that’s probably the biggest pressure she’s ever had,” said Se Ri Pak, the LPGA legend who served as South Korea’s team leader for the Games. “She got injured and had a really rough year, and then she decided almost not to come. The fans were half and half, good and bad, and the pressure, tons and tons.”

She may come across as aloof on the golf course, but the second-guessing cut deep.

Park took two months off to heal mind and body, played a tune-up event on the Korean LPGA two weeks ago, where she missed the cut, to identify which parts of her game needed work – which was pretty much everything.

She brought in a second swing coach to modify her action in order to accommodate her ailing left thumb and arrived in Brazil with a singular purpose.

Whether Olympic golf will ever rival, or even surpass, a major championship in terms of importance is the kind of esoteric debate that normally only leads to distractions, but for Park there is no doubt. She knew that back in South Korea a gold medal would mean so much more than any of her seven major championship victories.

“A lot of people were saying that maybe it is better to have another player in the field, a fellow South Korean player, which is very understandable,” Park said. “But I really wanted to do well this week to show a lot of people that I can still play.”

For those at home checking the transcript, that’s as close as Park ever got to an I-told-you-so moment. Instead, she let that machine-like game make her statements.

Whatever doubt may have clouded Park’s decision to play in Rio was quickly put to rest when she opened her week with back-to-back rounds of 66. Even Friday’s 70 in wind-whipped conditions held a measure of accountability considering how difficult the golf course played.

By the time she completed her round on Saturday there was no doubt she deserved her spot in the South Korean team house, nor – as is normally the case – any emotion.

The same couldn’t be said for the other members of the Olympic field.

After entering the day in solo third place, Gerina Piller appeared to be America’s best hope for a medal. But she began her round with back-to-back bogeys, made the turn in a three-way tie for the bronze and finished her week with a 2-over 38 on the inward loop to tie for 11th place.

After racing through the media “mix zone,” a visibly shaken Piller relented to be interviewed.

“I didn't even think I had a chance to be here, so to come and to be in contention is all I can really ask for,” Piller said. “I’m just going to learn from it and move on.”

Lewis was America’s final chance to earn a spot on the podium when she began the final hole tied with Ko and Japan’s Harukyo Nomura for third place, but her birdie putt came up short and she finished a stroke behind bronze medal winner Shanshan Feng of China and in a tie for fourth place.

Ko birdied two of her last three holes, including an 8 footer at the last, to claim the silver medal and become New Zealand’s youngest medalist ever.

But unlike last week when Rose was pushed to the 72nd hole by Henrik Stenson and the intensity of the competition was the headline, Park’s performance dominated the broader podium.

“She’s really good. She’s not pretty good, she’s really good,” Ko corrected a media type during the post-round interviews.

Injury or not, slump or otherwise, Park proved that point in Rio in a performance that could only be described as Ledecky-like.

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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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.”