Ko going for first major title

By Will GrayJune 18, 2014, 9:24 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – If you ask her, Lydia Ko will peer from behind the thick frames of her glasses and tell you that she’s just like every other teenage girl.

She hates the sound of the alarm clock in the morning. She had a “mental breakdown” upon meeting some of the top PGA Tour players Sunday at Pinehurst No. 2. At age 17, she’s just trying to have some fun playing a game.

True statements, sure. But as Ko continues her ascent through the rankings, they also belie the main point: She’s one of the best golfers in the world, regardless of age.

High-level women's golf is getting younger. Lexi Thompson served notice of that fact when she won a major this year at age 19, but Ko is the poster child for the movement. As a 15-year-old amateur, she won an LPGA event, then successfully defended that title in Canada a year later.

After turning pro last fall, she has shown no growing pains while adjusting to the play-for-pay scene, and Wednesday sounded like a player blissfully ignorant of the stakes as she looks to capture her first major title.

“It’s already June and I’ve turned pro like eight months ago, and it kind of feels like yesterday,” Ko said. “Just having so much fun and just being grateful that I can play on the tour at the age of 17 is just the best thing.”

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Golfers often struggle with the question of whether success begets confidence or if it’s the other way around, but it’s not an issue right now for Ko, who has plenty of both. Already a winner this year at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, she enters this week at No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings, poised to become the youngest ever to reach No. 1 should she leave Pinehurst with the U.S. Women's Open trophy.

It’s a label that the Kiwi is still getting used to wearing.

“I don’t feel like the world No. 3,” Ko said. “When people will tell me that and ask me stuff about it, then I go, oh, yeah, I am. But me, I just feel like a normal teenager and think that’s what makes it more fun and exciting.”

Teens have been bursting onto the scene in women’s golf for years. Nancy Lopez tied for second as an 18-year-old amateur at the 1975 U.S. Women’s Open, and Juli Inkster, who is making her 35th and likely final Open appearance this week, first played the event at age 15.

But few if any have risen as far – or as fast – as has Ko.

“I think I play with Lydia every week out on tour, it seems like,” said Paula Creamer, who won her first LPGA event at age 18. “It’s crazy, I’m 27 years old and I’m a veteran. I came out when I was 18 and it was like unheard of.”

At age 50, Laura Davies has watched the women’s game trend younger, with Ko now leading that charge.

“Although Lydia is not big, she still hits at it and gets after it and hits it,” Davies said. “I think that’s why people want to watch the women play now, because it’s more dynamic.”

Whether rolling to a U.S. Amateur title in 2012 or winning three LPGA tournaments since, Ko has time and again made a difficult game seem easy. Beneath the teenage smile and placid demeanor, though, she admits to possessing a strong drive to succeed.

“I probably put more pressure on myself than anybody else probably could,” she said.

Ko nearly got her first major title last year at the Evian Championship, when she finished second behind Suzann Pettersen. It was her final major start as an amateur and concluded a two-year stretch in which she finished as low amateur at six of seven majors.

Now she prepares to begin her third U.S. Women’s Open, where she is among the favorites, and she did not hesitate to make her aspirations for a major title known.

“It would be the top,” Ko said. “Everybody strives to win tournaments, and the majors are the biggest out of them all.”

With fans, media and the world’s best players gathered this week at Pinehurst, it’s a stage on which most 17-year-olds would likely wilt under the pressure.

Then again, most 17-year-olds wouldn’t have played their way here in the first place.

While Ko says there is no single secret for her success, she did reveal a game plan so delightfully simple that it could only have been crafted by a teen.

“I don’t have to think about everything else,” she said. “All I need to think about is just hitting the white ball into the hole.”

It’s a plan that has certainly worked so far.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.