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Planet 'Moliwood': Unassuming duo dominating Ryder Cup

By Will GraySeptember 29, 2018, 6:29 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Go back through the European Ryder Cup history books and take your pick.

Seve and Ollie. Faldo and Woosie. Clarke and Westwood.

All decorated champions, but none can match the unexpected heights reached this week by, of all people, Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari.

The 2018 Ryder Cup appears headed toward a European victory, and should Thomas Bjorn’s side leave France with the trophy on Sunday it’ll be remembered both for his decision to pair the two friends together and the blistering form both displayed at Le Golf National. Four matches up, four matches in the win column for a pair of European stars that some casual fans might struggle to pick out of a lineup.

The search for chemistry when crafting pairings is one of the most difficult burdens a captain shoulders, constantly questioning which path to take. Will two emotional players fuel each other? Would a pair of stoic stars be best equipped to handle the emotional turmoil? Where does the mélange exist between the two extremes?

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They’re the questions that Jim Furyk will likely be asking himself for some time after nearly every move he made through the first two days failed to deliver. But when it came to crafting Europe’s answer to Spieth-Reed (or Spieth-Thomas), there wasn’t any debate.

“He’s one of my best friends, not just on Tour but in life,” Fleetwood said. “I’ve been very, very lucky to get partnered with Fran. We knew we wanted to play together.”

“It was pretty much written in stone,” added Molinari.

It’s a matchup that, on paper, makes a ton of sense. Molinari is playing the best golf of his career, highlighted by his win at The Open two months ago. Fleetwood won on this golf course last year, and he displayed a knack for coping with stifling pressure during a final-round 63 at the U.S. Open in June.

But their ability to exceed the sum of their parts this week, en route to guiding the Europeans to a 10-6 lead, has surpassed even their leader’s expectations.

“There’s not much you can say about it. It’s a remarkable performance,” Bjorn said. “Speaking to the stats guys and the vice captains, there was never any red flags with the two of them, so I thought, ‘OK, we’ll give it a go.’ But from there, to what they have done, is pretty remarkable.”

The blemish-free record vaulted them into rarified air, joining Americans Lanny Wadkins and Larry Nelson (1979) as the only other pair to go 4-0 together in team play. But it wasn’t just the result of the matches – it was who they beat, and how they did it.

Three times the duo affectionately termed “Moliwood” squared off with Tiger Woods, himself just a week removed from a watershed victory. The first required a comeback, as the Euros turned a 2-down deficit through 12 holes into a 3-and-1 win.

But the next two, plus a foursomes win that gave Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas their only blemish, were never in doubt. The Europeans never trailed in any of their last three matches, and they had a lead for all but four of the 43 holes they played. No match extended beyond the 15th green.

“We ran against two guys that were both playing well, and when one was out of the hole, especially in best-ball, the other one made birdie and vice versa,” Woods said. “They did that a lot to us. At one point they made what, six out of eight birdies on the back nine, and only one person was in the hole at a time.”

Just as Olazabal tempered Ballesteros and Woosnam ignited Faldo, so too the variant emotions of Fleetwood and Molinari have meshed this week to create a brilliant product. On one side you have the Englishman, fiery and animated while soaking in his Ryder Cup debut. On the other stands Molinari, the game’s preeminent flat-liner whose machine-like ball-striking hasn’t wavered since the summer solstice.

“Francesco, it’s like he’s leaning on golf shots and they land about 3 feet from the hole,” Bjorn said. “I don’t know what planet he lives on, but it’s not the one that the rest of the players live on, that’s for sure.”

The combination helped them topple the game’s biggest star, not once but thrice, while providing the edge for their 10 teammates who played the U.S. to a draw in the other 12 matches.

Both Fleetwood and Molinari joked that they’ll be sad to see the other go, having to forge their own path during Sunday’s singles matches with Europe on the doorstep of triumph. But now forever joined in the Ryder Cup history books, they’ll likely get the band back together in two years’ time at Whistling Straits – much to the chagrin of the Americans.

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain fired a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

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Local favorite Yu Liu was in sole possession of seventh place after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.

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"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."

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Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:09 am

There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).

No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.

On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.

The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.

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"It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."

It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, considering his status a three-time major winner and an impending No. 1, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major; his only regular Tour win to date was his first, at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

"My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."

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Koepka ahead by four, with No. 1 ranking in his grasp

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 5:48 am

Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Piercy (-9), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)

What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One off the lead to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Round of the day: After contending last week at the CIMB, Shubankhar Sharma rebounded from opening rounds of 74 and 75 with a nine-birdie, 8-under 64 to move up 45 spots into a tie for 26th through 54 holes.

Best of the rest: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.

Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.

Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.