Golf Capital: Double Aussie triumph, US Women’s Open debuts in Alabama

@hamishneal

 

It was a Sunday of two Australian victories for Minjee Lee and Cameron Davis plus two big name Ryder Cup players, Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari, won in the USA and England respectively. From this Thursday Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club in Alabama hosts the US Women’s Open for the first time.

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Opening drive

He could have been playing at the Wentworth course on the European Tour but a clever schedule tweak from Olympic champion Justin Rose saw him romp home at Fort Worth. A final round of six under 64 handed the Brit a comfortable three-stroke win over US Open champion Brooks Koepka to win the Fort Worth Invitational. Rose’s victory at the Texas venue is his 22nd professional triumph, moved him from five to three in the world rankings and means he has now recorded at least one win every year since 2010. This week the PGA Tour heads to Ohio for the Memorial at Muirfield Village Golf Club won by Jason Dufner in 2017.

 

Italian Francesco Molinari will be looking for back-to-back Rolex Series wins after his BMW Championship win in Wentworth when he lines up in the Italian Open in Brescia this week after a two-stroke triumph in England. Rory McIlroy’s halfway lead evaporated as he and Molinari sat on a four-stroke lead from the rest of the field on Saturday night before the Italian’s final round 68 bested McIlroy’s 70. Molinari bogeyed only twice all week and played the last 44 holes bogey-free.

 

Australian Minjee Lee, on her 22nd birthday, secured her fourth LPGA title in winning the LPGA Volvik Championship in Ann Arbor. Lee, the only player to break 70 in each round (67-69-68-68) did suffer a late wobble when IK Kim joined her in the lead. But Lee followed her bogey on 17 with a birdie on 18. Given Lee placed T11 in last year’s US Women’s Open the victory in Michigan puts the Perth golfer in a good position ahead of the weekend in Alabama.

 

Fellow Australian Cameron Davis, winner of November’s Australian Open, prevailed in only his fifth second-tier start in the USA this season, to claim the Web.Com Tour’s Nashville Golf Open by one stroke. Sydney’s Davis started the day six shots adrift and fired an impressive seven under 65. The victory gets him a start this week on the PGA Tour in Ohio and moves him to 105 in the rankings after he started the week at 162. Davis, 23, was ranked 1290 this time last year when playing the McKenzie Tour in Canada.

 

Player Performance Notes 

 

This week the Shoal Creek venue in Alabama hosts a major for the first time with the US Women’s Open. Here are some notes and thought ahead of the major which is at a venue that is not even a regular stop on the LPGA.

 

Under 20: Ariya Jutanugarn. A winner recently in Virginia the world number five has seven top seven finishes in her last eight starts.

 

Under 20: Minjee Lee. Currently ranked eighth in the world Lee is the highest ranked player yet to win a major and hasn’t finished outside the top 29 in her last five starts which also includes a second-placed finish behind Lydia Ko in California and well as last weekend’s triumph.

 

20 to 50: Eun Hee Ji. The Kia Classic winner from March has three top ten finishes in her last four starts and won this event back in 2009 when it was held at Saucon Valley in Pennsylvania. The course has a similar profile to Shoal Creek in that it was a new venue for many of the filed at the time.

 

200 to 500: Emma Talley. The LPGA rookie went to the University of Alabama and is the only member of the course in the field. Talley, who has two top tens this year on tour, qualified via a playoff on Monday and her course experience should be a huge asset. Especially given it was closed for practice on Tuesday due to Subtropical Storm Alberta so many are still unfamiliar with the venue to a level they normally would be before a major.

 

Greens in regulation

Last year’s edition of the US Women’s Open tournament, won by Park Sung-Hyun, was held at Trump National. The New Jersey venue had it’s issues as the USGA’s course choice but the Alabama venue has it’s own controversial past with only one African-American member on the books in 1994 when Tiger Woods led his college team Stanford to a win at the course. The less said about Hall Thompson the better.

 

Tap in

Out at the same price in the markets as one of our picks Emma Talley another 200-1 chance this week in Birmingham is worth noting as decorated Australian player Karrie Webb will break her own active streak when she tees it up for her 23rd straight US Women’s Open. Webb is player under a special exemption and has done so since 2011 in this tournament when her ten-year winner’s exemption expired. A two-time winner of this major (2000 and 2001) Webb’s spot it not merely ceremonial as she picked up a T19 finish in Virginia recently and her experience might be a useful asset at a course which the seven-time major winner says won’t present the same conditions as recent editions of this tournament.

 

Image via pgatour.com

Golf Capital: Wise uses Aussie knowledge for Texas win, Belgian Knockout confusion

@hamishneal

Last week it was some 50-year-olds racking up the wins but this week the PGA Tour and LPGA tour victors are 21 and 22-years-old respectively – Aaron Wise won in Texas and Ariya Jutanugarn in Virginia. For good measure 25-year-old Spaniard Adrian Otaegui claimed the inaugural Belgian Knockout for his second European Tour triumph.

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Opening drive

 

Aaron Wise romped home at Trinity Forest to win the Byron Nelson by three strokes to claim his maiden PGA Tour crown at the Dallas venue. Wise, who came into the tournament with a T2 finish the week prior, shook off Australian Marc Leishman gaining sole lead after a few holes before grabbing six birdies in seven holes from the fourth hole onwards and win easily.

 

Wise, 21, is a recent NCAA Champion from Oregon who already has a great knowledge of the game and different venues (we’ll get to that later) and showed the confidence of a seasoned pro. For context, multiple major winner Jordan Spieth spent time bemoaning some of his luck on putt reads before he eventually finished 12 shots back from Wise’s 23 in T21 at a venue where he is a member. This week the PGA Tour stays in Texas for the Fort Worth Invitational.

 

In an event shortened to 54 holes, which actually ended up 56 after the playoff, Ariya Jutanugarn prevailed over In Gee Chun and Nasa Hataoka for a second triumph in the Kingsmill Championship following her win two years ago. Jutanugarn, 22, has now won nine times as a professional and in a good sign with the next major of the year two weeks away her only major win to date (the Women’s British Open) was the year she won the Kingsmill in 2016. Next week An Arbor Michigan hosts the LPGA Volvik Championship.

 

Adrian Otaegui has shown a great touch in modified events and proved adept at this again winning the Belgian Knockout over Frenchman Benjamin Herbert in the final at the Rinkven International Golf Club in Antwerp. Otaegui, who won this nine-hole stroke-play final by two strokes, won his only other ET title in the Paul Lawrie Match Play in August last year.

 

Disappointingly, the confusing nature of the BKO format with the (ET website and tournament website giving our differing explanations) made the event slightly hard to follow just before the knockout stage. As mentioned last week an consistent format for the modified stroke play events would clear things up.

 

Player Performance Notes 

 

After going close with Leishman we duck back across the pond for some notes and thoughts in England this week. The first of the eight Rolex Series events the BMW Championship is the European Tour focus this week with the Wentworth Club in Surrey the venue.

 

Under 20: Alex Noren. With three top three finishes in 2018 in the USA Noren has been close to adding to his ten career titles. Last time out the defending champion here was T17 at The Players and bookended his tournament with a pair of 66s.

 

20 to 50: Matt Fitzpatrick. The world number 40 returns to ET events since the Middle East swing at the start of the year when he mixed results (missed cut in Dubai, T3 in Abu Dhabi.) This time last year when he finished T12 he was coming into the event off the back of two missed cuts in the USA but this time around he has a T14 two starts ago so is playing better.

 

50 to 100: Alexander Bjork. Last month’s China Open victor Bjork held his form into that tournament after a third place in Morocco. The Swede was 14th at his debut at the Wentworth venue last year and since then Bjork has risen from 154 to 73 in the rankings.

 

100 to 200: Dean Burmester. At his tournament debut here last year Burmester closed his tournament with a 65 to finish T9 in an impressive opening foray at the venue. The South African was third two weeks ago in South Africa on the Sunshine Tour so has some good recent form.

 

Greens in regulation

 

This isn’t a criticism of other PGA Tour venues per se just pure praise for the variety of golfers who thrived at the venue on the weekend in the Byron Nelson Classic at the Trinity Forest venue. Wise ranked second for driving distance as stages of the tournament whilst Kevin Na entered the week ranked 183 in that statistic and he finished T6. The venue also showed to be of benefit to those familiar with famous Victorian golf courses.

Wise stated the complex was like the Royal Melbourne layout (where he won the Australian Masters of Amateurs event in 2016) which may explain why Leishman was joined by fellow Aussie’s Adam Scott and Matt Jones finishing inside the top 13. More venues like this will bring out a deeper variety of player and as much as I am a fan of tournaments returning to certain venues each year this is already a great move. Next year we just need Tiger Woods, Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson to play here, oh and Rory McIlroy. You get my drift.

 

Tap in

 

Dimitrios Papadatos exited the Belgian Knockout at the first medal match-play phase but it has been a red-letter month for the Central Coast golfer. Papadatos, who turns 27 next month, won for the first time outside of the Australasian PGA Tour when he claimed the Open de Portugal. Lost in the maelstrom of action I omitted this result in last week’s wrap but it bears mentioning as Papadatos is now ranked a career best 224. The victory at Portimao moved him to ninth in the season-long second tier Challenge Tour rankings and the top 15 get ET qualification for 2019 so Papadatos is well placed heading into the European summer.

 

 

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Golf Capital: Simpson blitzes The Players, Belgium back on the European Tour

@hamishneal

Webb Simpson became another drought-breaker in 2018 as did Joakim Lagergren. Golf Capital has some news, thoughts and notes from the last week. This week the PGA Tour tackles a new venue and the European Tour introduces another new format.

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Opening Drive 

A slashing second round 63 at TPC Sawgrass set up Webb Simpson’s first triumph in five years and gave the 2012 US Open winner his fifth career title on the PGA Tour. Simpson, who is still only 32, eventually won by four strokes as he navigated the final round in one over 73 to win from South African Charl Schwartzel plus American duo Xander Schauffele and Jimmy Walker. After only barely making the cut Tiger Woods shot a 65 on Saturday before eventually finishing T11 seven strokes behind Webb’s total of 18 under 270, an impressive turnaround.

 

A week after falling to Team Ireland in the Golf Sixes final representing France Mike Lorenzo-Vera wobbled and lost in playoff representing himself as Swede Joakim Lagergren won at the first playoff hole to claim the European Tour’s Rocco Forte Open in Sicily. MLV came back into a share of the lead on 17 during a compelling final round. The victory is Lagergren’s first in 151 attempts on the ET.  A stroke adrift of that pair was Victorian Lucas Herbert who shot the final round best of 63 to send him to a career high of 143 in the rankings. The 22-year-old only has partial status on the ET so it will be of great help to him as he heads to Belgium.

 

This week the LPGA resumes in Williamsburg, Virginia with the Kingsmill Championship, an event won last year by Lexi Thompson.

 

Player Performance Notes 

After going three for three we dipped last week and it’s a tricky proposition to redress the balance of last week. It’s a rare new venue for the PGA Tour as Trinity Forest Golf club near Dallas hosts the Byron Nelson for the first time. This is a very un-PGA Tour like venue though. It’s described as ‘US Links’ and thus features not water hazards or rough. Accuracy and links venue familiarity do look to be important.

 

Under 20: Jordan Spieth. The American’s last win was the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale but his accuracy and record around Augusta suggests the Texan will go well here. He is also a member of this venue.

 

Under 20: Marc Leishman. Extending the links-record Leishman as T6 in the Open last year behind Spieth and has won since. The Australian was also the 2014 winner of this event at Irving, Texas.

 

20 to 50: Jimmy Walker. Another Texan Jimmy Walker doesn’t have a great record in links golf but he is in form after a fourth at the Texas Open followed by a T2 on the weekend at The Players.

 

100 to 200: Padraig Harrington. The Irishman is not in great form (we have to go back to November last year when he came fourth to Justin Rose in the Turkish Airlines Open for his last result of note) but he has won two Opens (2007/08) and his vast links experience should suit this venue.

 

Greens in Regulation 

The latest modified format of golf sees Belgium host its first top level event in 18 years when the Belgian Knockout takes places at Rinkven International in Antwerp. Similar to the Perth Super 6 and the Golf Sixes this format has nine holes per match in the knockout phase. After the 36 holes of strokeplay reverts to Medal Matchplay with the lowest score over the nine holes winning each match. It’s a bit of a marathon with the two finalists playing 90 holes (at least) over the four days.

 

In the week of finding out baseball5 exists (yes it does look like playground handball with padding) I think the ET is extending the format tinkering a bit too much. Why not just model the Belgian Knockout) on the six-hole format of the Perth Super 6 tournament? Make six holes the branded short format.

 

Tap in 

Recent returns to the winner’s circle for Phil Mickelson, 47, and some near misses for Tiger Woods, 42, highlighted golf isn’t still just a young man’s game but we got an emphatic reminder this week in Australia and Japan of this. Kiwi Michael Long won the Australasian PGA Tour’s WA PGA Championships in Kalgoorlie whilst Toru Toniguchi won the Japan PGA Championship for his 20th Japan Tour victory. Both golfers reach the milestone birthday of 50 this year. Long turns 50 in August and Toniguchi reached the half century in February. Something about old age and experience…

 

Image via chicago.suntimes.com

 

 

Golf Capital: Day wins again, Irish delight at Golf Sixes

@hamishneal

Jason Day’s second win of the year plus a terrific second edition of the Golf Sixes highlight the news, thoughts and notes from the last week. Day’s win at Quail Hollow sets the scene for this week’s PGA Tour event, The Players Championships – dubbed the fifth major.

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Opening drive

Jason Day moved back into the top ten (now ranked seven) as he picked up his 12th PGA Tour triumph winning by two strokes at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte. Day finished two clear of five-time PGA Tour winner Nick Watney and 2015 NCAA College champion Aaron Wise. The two stroke buffer for Day, who was wayward off the tee over the four days, was what he started the final round ahead by which means he moves to a 50% record (9/18) when leading or co-leading heading into the final round of a tournament.

 

Coupled with his Famers Insurance Open triumph Day is now the fourth player to win twice this season on the PGA Tour and this sets him up well ahead of this week’s tournament in Florida.

 

Team Ireland claimed the Golf Sixes title at the Centurion Club in St Albans with the duo of Paul Dunne and Gavin Moynihan losing only once across the two days, ironically to the French team (Mike-Lorenzo Vera and Romain Wattel) in the group phase who they beat 2-0 in the final. The six-hole greensomes format saw some great tactical golf with the shorter hitters responsible for often getting the ball on the fairway on the longer holes before the ‘bombers’ on each team unleashed. This was highlighted by the Australia duo of Wade Ormsby and Sam Brazel with Brazel using the experience of having made last year’s final to put in another strong performance before losing to France in the semi-finals. Both all-female teams made the quarter finals and the Irish winners were late wildcard entries. This week the European Tour heads to Sicily for the Rocco Forte Open won last year by Spain’s Alvaro Quiros.

 

The regular LPGA tour players endured a frustrating week in the USA as Sung Hyun Park won the LPGA Texas Classic in an event shortened to 36 holes. The 2017 LPGA Rookie of the Year was teeing off well after India’s Aditi Ashok set the clubhouse lead mark of six under on Sunday. Park went on to win by a stroke from American Lindy Duncan as half the field finished their tournament on the ninth hole (how deflating?) with the weather playing havoc at The Colony course in Texas all week. After a week off the LPGA moves to Virginia for the Kingsmill Championship

 

Player performance notes

Players I’m interested to see how they go with notes related to capital investment if that’s your thing. Can we go much better? Three of the four picks last week topped their group and the Irish won the event. With The Players Championship taking place we look at the tournament at TPC Sawgrass which saw a shock win for Si Woo Kim.

 

Under 20: Justin Thomas. Two years ago the American was T3 in this Florida event. This result came after he missed the cut at the Wells Fargo so maybe his T21 last weekend at that tournament is a good lead-up.

 

50 to 100: Francesco Molinari. The Italian has consecutive top seven finishes here (T7 followed by T6 last year), four top tens in total at TPC Sawgrass and also finished T16 last week in North Carolina.

 

50 to 100: Alex Noren. The Swede, who won four times in 2016, played this event last year for the first time and logged a very solid T10 finish including opening with a 68. Following that result he won the BMW PGA Championship in Surrey.

 

500 to 100: Ian Poulter. The Englishman won the Houston Open to get into the Masters and then followed his T44 at Augusta with a T7 at the RBC Heritage. Poulter, 42, was T2 here last year.

 

Greens in regulation

I really enjoyed what I saw of the Golf Sixes this week. From the England men’s team wearing a different replica football kit each day (England 1982 on the Sunday) to the fact junior players got to tee off on each hole after the pros was a great way to engage fans. England’s Eddie Pepperell has floated the option of adding amateur teams next year which has merit but additional women’s sides would also be useful. The TV coverage missed some key action, especially early in the quarter finals on Sunday, and given you are following four matches that really shouldn’t happen. However this is only really a small quibble about what continues to be a fun event which should offer a template for other tours to follow more often. The format shows stars are useful but not a necessity given the point of difference it offers.

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Tap In

Whilst the Golf Sixes bought some further promotion to elite female players in the UK such as English duo Charley Hull and Georgia Hall there is still more to do in the game as the push towards equality continues.

 

In the week New Zealand Football joined Norway in paying their female players the same as the males Melissa Reid, who played the Golf Sixes as part of the European Women duo with Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, highlighted the fact several Ladies European Tour players also have part-tine jobs.

 

There are a limited amount of events for the females to play in Europe. The LET features only 14 events this year. Even more amazingly only three events are in the northern summer – one in July and two in August (which includes the Ladies British Open.)

 

In January we wrote about the higher prizemoney on offer in men’s golf compared to men’s tennis but Reid’s points about equality are further highlighted when it’s noted only the top 50 players on the LET earn greater than the average UK salary for a female of GBP25,000.

 

Golf Sixes provides a greater opportunity for showcasing golf but it’s tournaments, tours and the leading golfing bodies need to do more around equality in the sport. A bigger schedule of tournaments for the LET would be a good start.

 

 

Image via golfchannel.com

Golf Capital: Ko’s Daly City delight, Golf Sixes is back

@hamishneal

The golfing comebacks continue as we look at some news, thoughts and notes from the last week. Kiwi Lydia Ko snapped her winless streak, Alexander Bjork won in China as did Daniel Gale in Papua New Guineas whilst Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy claimed one the PGA Tour’s teams event – the Zurich Classic.

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Opening drive

Having not won since July 2016 former world number one Lydia Ko returned to her most successful venue as a professional winning the LPGA Mediheal Championship at the Lake Merced Golf Club in a playoff over Australia’s Minjee Lee. Ko’s win at the Daly City venue, her third win here as a professional, came after Lee finished birdie-birdie to force a playoff. Ko nearly fired and albatross as the duo went up 18 again but her birdie gave the 21-year-old her 15th (!) LPGA title.

 

Like Jason Day and Rory McIlroy, who also went winless in 2017, Ko hadn’t triumphed since July 2016 but the return to the venue in outer San Francisco proved beneficial as she battled the cold and wet conditions in the middle of the tournament before ultimately seeing of world number 17 Lee who started the tournament ranked one spot higher than Ko. The top women (bar the few playing in the Golf Sixes) heads to Dallas for the LPGA Texas Classic next. American Stacy Lewis, who recently announced her pregnancy, is set to feature in this event and plans to play tournaments until mid-July with her first child due in November.

 

Alexander Bjork lived up to the promise of recent years in finally saluting on the European Tour. Bjork, 27, fired a final round 65 and got home at Topwin Golf and Country Club to win the China Open, an event co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour. After Jordan Smith set the clubhouse benchmark with the final round leaders still on the course Bjork was flawless with seven birdies and after Adrian Otaegui botched his par putt on 17 leaving the Spaniard with too much to do on 18 the Swede claimed his maiden triumph.

 

Roommates from recent weeks on the PGA Tour Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy shot a final round of 67 (the best of the day) in the foursomes format to claim the PGA Tour teams event at TPC Louisiana from fellow American duo Jason Dufner and Pat Perez.

 

A course record 11 under 61 on Saturday before he scooted clear on Sunday at the Port Moresby Golf Club saw New South Wales golfer Daniel Gale win the Papua New Guinea Open by a stunning nine strokes. Braden Becker of WA and Tim Stewart, also of NSW, trailed the winner. Next up for the PGA Tour of Australasia is the WA PGA Championship to be staged in Kalgoorlie before the Fiji International in August.

 

Player performance notes

Players I’m interested to see how they go with notes related to capital investment if that’s your thing. Following back-to-back European Tour selections saluting we go in on the Golf Sixes tournament in form, but not necessarily confident given it’s only the second edition of the event. The Centurion Club at St Albans near London hosts the format which features four-team pools playing a round-round format of six-hole matches before knockout golf on the Sunday.

 

Under 20: Aphibarnrat/Jaidee. The Thai duo are matched in group A with the defending champion Danish pair (Bjerregaard/Olesen) but Kiradech Aphibarnrat/Thongchai Jaidee actually scored the most points in the group stage last time around only to get bounced in the quarter finals. The pair also have experience in events like the President’s Cup and Aphibarnrat won in Perth in the individual Super 6s event.

 

Under 20: Brazel/Ormsby. In possibly the most even group the Australian duo with Wade Ormsby, the 2017 Hong Kong Open winner getting the nod. Sam Brazel (2016 HK Open champ) reached the final last year with Scott Hend but Wang/Lee are the rising stars in group B.

 

Under 20: Dunne/Moynihan. The Irish duo has the in-form Paul Dunne teaming up with Gavin Moynihan. Dunne across his last five starts has four top eight finishes. Moynihan’s relative inexperience, as the fifth ranked Irish player at 441, might be problematic in group C but as former Walker Cup teammates they are used to playing together.

 

Under 20: Bjork/Lagergren. Group D is stacked with recent winners but we will plump for the Swedish duo. Joakim Lagergren played this event last year and coupled with Alexander Bjork’s recent victory they should sneak throw. In the all-female England duo Charley Hull leads the LPGA for birdies which should suit the shortened format and Georgia Hall had two top ten finishes in majors last year. Eddie Pepperell and Matt Wallace are winners in the Middle East and India in the last few weeks respectively, after all that South Africans might progress!

 

Greens in regulation

Tiger Woods will return for the first time since the Masters when he takes part at the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship with the expectation he will feature at The Players Championship in Florida following the tournament in Charlotte. Woods has won here (2007) but also missed the cut last time around in 2012. Woods’ featuring in this tournament means there is no post-Masters lull. The tournament was already going to be exciting with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler playing for the first time since Augusta.

 

Tap In

Gale’s comprehensive victory in Port Moresby has moved the Sydney golfer inside the top 1000, now 814, but it was a local amateur who was capturing most of the early attention. Matching Dale Brandt-Richards opening round course record 63 (at least until Saturday) PNG golfer Brian Taikiri stayed with the pack for the next two days firing consecutive rounds of 70 before eventually finishing T7 after a final round of three over 75. Taikiri, 22, was one of three local golfers who made the cut in a great result for the local golfers. It’s no doubt a struggle for them to access other PGA Tour of Australasia events but it would be good if some of the other tournaments on the tour could allocate places for players from countries like PNG, Fiji and Vanuatu for their bigger tournaments. Different to sponsor exemptions these could be funded by the host body.  Currently, Taikiri is aiming to take up a traineeship in Australia but is having visa issues which has delayed this starting. (I assume it’s taking a while as he isn’t a white South African farmer or an au pair.)

Image via stuff.co.nz