Another Wonderful Year For Annika and LPGA

By Sports NetworkDecember 7, 2004, 5:00 pm
One year ago, the story of the golf world was a women playing with men. It happened with Annika Sorenstam on the PGA Tour, Michelle Wie on the Nationwide and Canadian Tours and Se Ri Pak in Asia. Heck, even Jan Stephenson competed on the Champions Tour.
In 2004, only Wie played in a high-profile event, the Sony Open in Hawaii on the PGA Tour. The story of this year's campaign was stellar golf, an outstanding national championship and one lady who just gets better and better.
There are few things you can rely on in your life. The sun will rise in the morning, the Los Angeles Clippers will stink every year and Annika Sorenstam will be the Player of the Year in women's golf.
Sorenstam won eight titles in 2004, including another major at the LPGA Championship. She picked up two more victories internationally and tallied four runner-up finishes. The Swede was in the top-10 in 16 of her 18 starts this season. The other two finishes - ties for 13th at the Nabisco Championship and Women's British Open.
Sorenstam pocketed $2,544,707 for another money title, her seventh. In fact, she took home over $1 million more than second place finisher Grace Park. Sorenstam matched her own LPGA record scoring average of 68.70, which she originally set in 2002, the same year she won 11 times and netted 20 top-10s in 23 starts.
The interesting thing about the comparison about the 2002 and 2004 campaigns is the number of starts. Twenty-three versus 18. Sorenstam has never been shy about being interested in things outside the golf world, namely having a family. At 34, the clock might be ticking so get your fill of Annika while you can.
That being said, can Sorenstam walk away from this? She is a fearless competitor who thrives on tournament action. Sorenstam is now 32 wins behind Kathy Whitworth for first all-time. Sounds like a lot, but think about this. She has won 38 times since 2000 and doesn't seem to be falling off the pace. Figure sometime around mid-2008 for Annika to be the career wins leader in LPGA Tour history.
Presumably she will stick around to try and break that although if 2004 taught her anything, it's that she can play a relatively limited schedule and still be dominant. Her winning percentage of 44% on tour is staggering and tops in golf. Vijay Singh may have won nine times, but it took him 29 starts to do it for a pedestrian 31% winning percentage.
Sorenstam is still the most dominant player in the sport. She has the aura about her that Woods had in 2000. When she is in a tournament, every other player teeing it up knows Annika is the player to beat. She's in the best shape on tour and works hard on her game. Sorenstam has the off-season to relax and playing a lighter schedule means she has more time to charge her batteries.
In 2003, the obvious choice for Rookie of the Year was Lorena Ochoa. She mowed through the PAC-10 at the University of Arizona then came on tour and moved to the top of the class.
This year was a little different. No player stuck out, but the nod here goes to Shi Hyun Ahn, a 20-year-old Korean, who actually won an event in 2003, the CJ Nine Bridges. That win got her an LPGA Tour card and she made the most of it.
Ahn opened with back-to-back ties for fifth place to start the season, then finished alone in second behind Sorenstam at the LPGA Championship. Ahn missed two cuts in a row from the Women's British Open, but collected three consecutive top-11 finishes, including another runner-up, this time at the John Q. Hammons Hotel Classic.
Ahn finished 16th on the final money list, which was good enough to outlast Aree Song for Rookie of the Year honors.
Se Ri Pak for the last three seasons has been the toughest threat for Annika Sorenstam's stranglehold atop women's golf. That abruptly screeched to a halt in 2004.
From 2001-2003, Pak collected 13 wins and finished second on the money list all three years, amassing close to $5 million in earnings.
This year was a disaster in comparison.
Pak won once, the Michelob Ultra Open, finished in the top-10 five times and missed three cuts. She slipped to 11th on the 2004 money list and stopped playing competitively.
The common theory is that Pak is wiped out and needs time to rest. She will have plenty of time for that now, but Pak better worry about keeping her ball on the fairway (156th in driving accuracy), or she will continue to slide down the money list.
With due respect to the LPGA Takefuji Classic and its seven-hole playoff that became a marathon due more to mediocre golf between Cristie Kerr and Seol An Jeon, the finish at the U.S. Women's Open was a spectacle in itself.
Jenny Rosales, a rail-thin, chain-smoking 20-something, had a three-shot lead heading into the final round. This would have been her first major championship and vaulted her into a top tier golfer.
Meg Mallon, who was born a few hours away from Orchards Golf Club, is in her mid-40s, does not have the traditional athlete's physique and seemed to heading into the twilight of her career.
Something strange happened on that Sunday afternoon in Massachusetts.
Mallon started holing every putt she looked at. She finished the round with 10 one-putts, Mallon made a pair of 20-foot birdie putts in the final round. She rolled in tap-ins and even stroked home a par-saver from the fringe at 17.
Mallon won the following week and picked up win No. 3 of the season a few weeks later. Had it not been for Sorenstam, Mallon would certainly be the Player of the Year, but winning the tournament of the year is a good consolation.
Cristie Kerr won three titles and lost in a playoff in the season-ending event, the ADT Championship. Kerr took fifth on the money list and finally turned into the elite player many thought she should have been before 2004.
Grace Park came in second on the money list and earned her first major at the Nabisco Championship. Despite the strong season, developing a reputation for a bad closer with seven second-places, but 12 top-fives is too impressive to overlook.
Christina Kim is one of the most exciting players in the world. Galleries love her go-for-broke attitude and she responded with a phenomenal run in the early fall. She took second at the State Farm Classic and a few weeks later, recorded her first win on tour at the Longs Drugs Challenge.
Juli Inkster failed to win a tournament for the first time since 1996. She tallied seven top-10s, but fell off her perch as top American woman, yielding to both Mallon and Kerr.
Candie Kung won three times in 2003. She won zero times in 2004. Kung finished sixth on the LPGA Tour money list in 2003. She finished 17th in 2004. Kung was third in birdies in 2003 with 357. She finished fourth with 372 in 2004. All was not lost.
Rosales won for the first time on tour at the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship, then looked destined to win the U.S. Women's Open. She imploded on Sunday and Mallon won the title. Rosales only posted two top-10s the rest of the way.
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    Six players named in the race for Tour Player of the Year

    By Rex HoggardSeptember 25, 2018, 11:26 am

    The PGA Tour announced six nominees for the PGA Tour Player of the Year Award on Tuesday; although, to many, it won’t be a competition.

    Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose and Justin Thomas have been nominated for the Jack Nicklaus Award.

    DeChambeau won three times this season, including the first two playoff events; Johnson was also a three-time winner and had 12 top-10 finishes; Molinari had two victories, including The Open; Rose won the FedExCup, and Thomas had three victories. But if player reaction last week at the Tour Championship was any indication, they are all vying for second place behind Koepka.

    Although Koepka only had two victories they were both majors, the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, after missing a good portion of the season with an injury.

    The Tour also released the five nominees for the Rookie of the Year Award, although that race appears to be a foregone conclusion as well. Aaron Wise was the only member of the rookie class to advance to the Tour Championship and also won the AT&T Byron Nelson.

    Voting for both awards ends on Oct. 1.

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    Promise kept as Poulter - and his fire - return to Ryder Cup

    By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 11:14 am

    SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – In December 2016, in one of his lowest moments as a pro, Ian Poulter sat on stage at a PGA of America dinner and fielded questions from the audience.

    One of the queries was this: What’s left for you in golf?

    “I feel I’ve got more wins in me,” he replied that day. “And I’m going to make the team in Paris.”

    That much appeared in doubt. 

    Earlier that year, Poulter underwent foot surgery and missed the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. Relegated to a vice-captain role, he could only watch as the Europeans got dismantled and saw their three-match winning streak come to an end.

    Poulter’s own game suffered, too. Before the injury he’d already slipped outside the top 75 in the world – his lowest position since 2003 – and his freefall continued into early 2017, when he plummeted all the way to No. 207.

    Then came a surprise runner-up finish at The Players that helped him secure his PGA Tour card for the next season, and then, at age 42, he enjoyed one of his best years. In April he won the Houston Open for his third PGA Tour title (and first since 2012) and then posted solid finishes at The Players, U.S. Open, Canadian Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Though he lacked the necessary points to qualify for the European team automatically, he was as much a lock for a captain’s pick as a healthy Tiger Woods on the U.S. side.

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    “There’s a little voice in the back of your head that says: ‘You might not get back to as good as you once were,’” he said. “But that’s been a goal for the last 20 months. It’s been something that has kept me going from a motivational standpoint.

    “It was difficult being a vice captain last time, knowing how much I’ve helped the team in the past, and I wanted to help the team in any way I could. But I felt like this time around, I really wanted to make the team. I’m pretty proud.”

    Poulter and Sergio Garcia are the heartbeats of the European side, veterans have who seen everything in the Ryder Cup, who have plenty of pull in the team room, who know how to handle the most stressful situations.

    With a 12-4-2 record, no European Ryder Cupper has a better win-loss mark than Poulter. At Medinah, he seemed to single-handedly bring the visitors back from the dead, teaming with Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy to win three matches, then capturing a point in singles, as well, as the Europeans matched the largest final-day comeback in tournament history.

    “He’s a legend,” said European teammate Tyrrell Hatton.

    Poll any U.S. team member, and Poulter is still the guy they most likely want to beat – not necessarily because he’s the best player on the European side, but because his success seems to fuel his teammates.

    “I take it as a huge compliment,” Poulter said. “It’s a daunting position to be in to know that everyone really wants to take you down, but quite frankly, I want to take them down just as much.”

    Poulter was the first European player out on the range on Monday – he didn’t qualify for the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship – and captain Thomas Bjorn joked that Poulter “wanted to go midweek last week, if he could.”

    “He looks forward to this,” Bjorn said. “We all know Ian’s history and feelings about the Ryder Cup. He wanted to get out there. He’s that type of guy. He’s certainly ready to go.”

    Some brave reporter asked Poulter whether he’s preparing for this to be his final home Ryder Cup, whether he’s trying to “drink it all in.”

    It was a reasonable question – he will be 46 during the 2022 matches in Italy – but Poulter stared a hole through him.

    “It won’t be,” he said flatly.

    Then he softened.

    “I’d like to think I’ve got more in me, I’ll say that,” he said. “I think how I’ve played this year is hopefully the start of me kicking forward again to play in some more. The reason I answered it that way is I don’t want to think this is my last hurrah.”

    But if it is, well, you can guarantee that Europe’s fieriest player will try and go out in a blaze of glory.

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    Molinari reflects on beating Woods at Ryder Cup, Open

    By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 9:11 am

    SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Francesco Molinari might be a useful resource for the European Ryder Cup team.

    He’s already beaten Tiger Woods, head to head, at a Ryder Cup and a major.

    Molinari was in the anchor match at the 2012 Ryder Cup when Woods conceded on the final hole to give the Europeans an outright victory in the incredible comeback at Medinah. He said the last hole was a “blur,” and it remains the last Ryder Cup that both Molinari and Woods played.

    “I’ve improved a lot as a player since 2012,” said Molinari, who lost his previous singles match against Woods in 2010, 4 and 3, “and I hope to show that on the course this week.”

    The proof is the claret jug that he now keeps at home.

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    To win his first major he needed to not only endure the circus that a Woods group brings, but he needed to outlast the 14-time major champion and a host of other worthy contenders to prevail at Carnoustie.

    Reflecting on that momentous day Tuesday, Molinari said he initially was dreading the final-round date with Woods.

    “If I’m completely honest, I wasn’t exactly hoping to be paired with Tiger, not because I don’t like to play with him, but because, obviously, the hype and with him being in contention in a major, it’s going to be noisy and it’s going to be a lot of people," he said. 

    “So the most challenging part was probably that moment when the draw came out, but then I quickly managed to think, You know, whatever. I don’t really care. I’m here to do a job, and they can’t really influence how I do my job.”  

    To thrive in that situation gave Molinari a lot of confidence – especially heading into a pressure-cooker like the Ryder Cup.

    Asked whether it’s more pressure trying to win a major or a Ryder Cup – since he’s now done both – Molinari said: “You won’t believe me, but it’s nowhere near. Carnoustie was nowhere near Medinah or in any matching ways. It’s hard to believe, but it’s probably because you play for a team; you play for a continent in our case, and you know about the tradition and what players have done in the past.”

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    Woods 25/1 to break Nicklaus' record by age 50

    By Will GraySeptember 25, 2018, 9:05 am

    With his victory at the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods crept closer to Sam Snead's all-time PGA Tour wins mark. But he also got fans thinking about whether golf's most famous record is once again in play.

    Woods has been stuck on 14 career major titles since the 2008 U.S. Open, although he had a pair of close calls this summer. But now that he's again a winner on Tour, oddsmakers at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook created bets on where Woods' career major haul will end up.

    The line they drew in the sand? Dec. 30, 2025 - when Woods, now 42, will turn 50 years old.

    According to the Westgate, Woods is a -150 favorite to win at least one more major by that time. He's 2/1 to win at least two more, 5/1 to win at least three more and 12/1 to win at least four more. But it'll take five more majors to break Nicklaus' record haul of 18, and the odds on Woods doing that by age 50 are set at 25/1.

    There are also odds on Woods' 2019 major prospects, as he's already the betting favorite for the Masters at 9/1. Woods' odds of winning any major next year are listed at +225, while the pessimists can wager -275 that his major victory drought will extend to at least 2020.

    There's even a bet for those expecting some serious history: the odds of Woods sweeping all four majors next year at age 43 are 200/1.