Star-studded leaderboard will vie for gold

By Rex HoggardAugust 19, 2016, 9:10 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – Maybe it’s the golf course, with Gil Hanse’s handiwork proving to be the light that draws the game’s best players to the top. Maybe it’s the unique gravity of the event, with golf’s return to the Olympics taking on an importance that somehow transcends the game’s marquee stops.

Whatever the reasons that have brought the game’s best and brightest together for the second consecutive week at the Olympic Golf Course, the result is a prime-time leaderboard all vying for a spot on Saturday’s podium.

The uncertainty that seemed to define golf’s return to the Games for the first time in 112 years (116 years for the women) was whisked away last week when Henrik Stenson, the top-ranked player in the men’s field, was outdueled by Justin Rose on Sunday for the gold medal.

While Matt Kuchar proved the unique benefits of a late rally, closing with a 63 to claim the bronze medal, there doesn’t seem to be much of a chance for a like-minded comeback on Saturday at the women’s finale – at least not as far as the gold medal is concerned.

On cue, the competition, or maybe it was the course, has again produced a cast of leading women befitting an event that has gone from curiosity to compelling championship in a fortnight.

World No. 5 Inbee Park continued to surprise most observers through three rounds, essentially going straight from the DL to a potential date with a gold medal.

The South Korean, who hasn’t played an LPGA event since early June while she nursed a left-thumb injury, pulled away from the field on a blustery day in Rio, carding a 1-under 70 for a two-stroke lead.

Third-round highlights at the Rio Olympics

Olympic golf coverage: Articles, photos and videos

That she leads world No. 1 Lydia Ko only adds to the notion that however you define the game’s return to the Olympic stage there’s no debating the purity of the competition.

“It’s a great scenario,” said Park, who overcame five bogeys on Day 3 after penciling in just a single miscue for her first 36 holes.

While Park may have put one foot on the podium with her play on a day when winds gusted to 35 mph, the supporting cast is a best-case scenario for those who hope for the best but often brace for the worst at events like this.

Ko rallied early on Friday with an outward nine of 29 that included the New Zealander’s first hole-in-one (at No. 8) to move into a tie for second place with America’s Gerina Piller.

“We all know that there is a lot on the line at the end of tomorrow, but I think I've just got to take it on as just another day out there and just focus on the shot I have in front of me, and have a lot of fun,” said Ko, who finished with a day’s best 65. “To be in this position in my first ever Olympics, I think it's cool enough being there. Just focus and have fun.”

Piller had a similarly light-hearted plan for Saturday’s final round, which will begin earlier than anticipated with the field going off the first and 10th tees in threesomes to avoid a unfavorable forecast, to savor the moment, but history suggests it probably won’t be that easy.

“I think I'm just going to accept [the pressure]. I'm going to welcome them into my head,” said Piller, the only player this week to card three rounds in the 60s (69-67-68).

Sounds solid, but then that ignores what’s at stake on Saturday.

On Tuesday when Piller assembled with the rest of Team USA for a news conference she was asked if she’d ever envisioned herself winning a gold medal.

“I'll probably get choked up even saying this, but just standing on the podium and hearing the national anthem, I think that's pretty awesome,” Piller said before fighting back tears.

And that was on Tuesday.

The unique dynamic of golf in the Olympics, where second and third place take on an entirely new meaning, was certainly evident last week for the men and will undoubtedly be a part of Saturday’s dynamic in Rio.

For Park, however, there doesn’t seem to be much room for a consolation prize. After enduring the worst of years with various injuries and just two top-10 finishes, the Olympics are a chance to change her competitive fortunes in a dramatic way.

The seven-time major winner didn’t even know if she’d be healthy enough to play the Games until about a month ago and arrived in Rio with decidedly low expectations.

But after two nearly flawless ball-striking days, she showed familiar grit on Friday as the winds sent players tumbling down the leaderboard. Without her best game, Park rebounded from bogeys at Nos. 12 and 14 with clutch birdies at the 16th and 17th holes to solidify her advantage.

“It was very challenging conditions. I feel like I really struggled out there,” she said. “My putting was really, really good today, six birdies out in those conditions is phenomenal.”

There has been an ongoing debate the last two weeks with players repeatedly asked to compare Olympic golf to the game’s major championships. Most players sidestepped the issue, figuring golf in the Olympics was just different. Park offered no such ambiguity.

“It's definitely a lot more attention than the major championship. I definitely feel a lot more pressure. I've felt it since the first round of this week,” Park said. “I feel exhausted, every day, it feels like every day is a final round of a major championship in the final group.”

Comparing the Olympics to golf’s Grand Slam gatherings has always felt unfair, unwarranted even, but considering how the final round is shaping up for the second consecutive week it’s certainly starting to feel like a major.

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Chamblee comments on Choi's unique step-through swing

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 24, 2018, 3:55 pm

The golf world found itself enamored with a largely unknown journeyman this weekend.

Ho-sung Choi went from 554th in the world to No. 1 in the hearts of all those who swing the golf club just a little bit differently thanks to his run at the Korean Open.

The 44-year-old with the exaggerated step through impact found himself two off the pace through 54 holes and in contention for one of two available invitations to this year's Open Championship at Carnoustie.

Choi fell out of the hunt for tournament title and the Open exemption with a final-round 74, but nonetheless left an impression with his tie for fifth.

Asked about Choi's swing Saturday night, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee offered the following:

"If Chi Chi Rodriguez and Gary Player had a golf school, what would their first professional golfer swing like? Voila," Chamblee said.

"Both those legends had walk through finishes, but Ho Sung has taken this move to a new level with a borderline pirouette to keep from hanging back.

"In an era when professional golfers get accused of having golf swings that all look alike, I’ve never seen anyone swing quite like Ho Sung Choi.

"I can’t wait to try this on the range tomorrow."

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Wallace holds off charges to win BMW International

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 3:43 pm

PULHEIM, Germany - England's Matt Wallace shot a 7-under 65 to hold off a record-breaking charge from Thorbjorn Olesen and win the BMW International Open on Sunday.

Wallace finished on 10-under 278 - just ahead of Olesen, Mikko Korhonen and 2008 winner Martin Kaymer, whose chances took a blow with a bogey on the 17th hole.

''I want to keep building on this,'' Wallace said after his third European Tour win. ''Obviously this gives me a lot of confidence to go on and play well and I want to kick on and hopefully do this in the bigger events from now on.''

Full-field scores from the BMW International Open

Olesen had played himself into contention with the lowest round in tournament history, with nine birdies and an eagle for an 11-under 61. It was the lowest round of his European Tour career and it gave the Dane a three-shot lead before the final group had even teed off.

''I was just trying today to go out there and build on my game, see if I could shoot a low score,'' Olesen said. ''Obviously as the round progressed I kept on thinking birdies and trying to make the round better. Finishing with four birdies was pretty nice.''

Wallace turned in 34 but then made five birdies in seven holes from the turn to edge a shot past Olesen. He waited as Kaymer and Korhonen went close with rounds of 68 and 67, respectively.

England's Aaron Rai and Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard finished joint-fifth with rounds of 69.

Sunghyun Park (left) and Minchel Choi (right). Getty Images

Choi, Park qualify for Carnoustie from Korean Open

By Nick MentaJune 24, 2018, 2:54 pm

Two players - Minchel Choi and Sanghyun Park - qualified for next month's Open Championship at Carnoustie via the Open Qualifying Series on Sunday.

Choi (69) held off Park (66) to win the Korean Open by two shots.

This was the Qualifying Series debut for the Korean Open, whiched awarded Open Championship exemptions to the tournament's top two finishers inside the top eight and ties who were not already qualified.

Choi, the 532nd-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking, punched his ticket in his first professional win.

Park, the 146th in the world, is a six-time Korean Tour champion who has already won twice this season. 

Both players will be making their first ever major starts.

“I am absolutely honored to be playing in The Open and I wanted to win this championship to give me [that] opportunity," Choi said. "I cannot believe that I have won today. I am so happy and excited."

“It is a great honor to have qualified for The Open and make my first appearance in the championship," Park added. "I’ve watched The Open on television every single year and I can’t really believe that I have qualified, it is amazing."

The Open Qualifying Series continues next week at the Open de France, where as many as three exemptions will be awarded to the three leading players inside the top 10 and ties who are not already qualified.

The 147th Open will be held at Carnoustie from July 19-22.

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.