Nelly Korda faces her toughest test at US Women’s Open

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Updated 30 May 2024
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Nelly Korda faces her toughest test at US Women’s Open

  • The 79th edition of the Women’s Open gets started on Thursday, and Korda is as big an attraction as the course itself
  • Among those who could challenge is Rose Zhang, the decorated amateur at Stanford who won in her LPGA debut as a professional last year

LANCASTER, Pennsylvania: No matter how easy Nelly Korda has made golf look over the last two months, not even the best player in her sport can expect an easy time at the US Women’s Open.

The biggest and richest event in women’s golf prides itself on being the toughest test, and Lancaster Country Club has all the trappings with its hilly, tree-lined terrain, partially blind shots into some of the greens and a routing in which holes constantly change direction.

“A beast,” Korda called it.

Whether the toughest test identifies the best player is up for debate.

Since the women’s world ranking began in 2006, only two players at No. 1 captured the US Women’s Open — Annika Sorenstam in 2006 at Newport (an 18-hole playoff win over Pat Hurst) and Inbee Park in 2013 at Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island, the year Park won three straight majors.

Now it’s Korda’s turn, and she arrived at Lancaster on a stretch of winning not seen since Lorena Ochoa in 2008, the last person to have six victories before the calendar turned to June.

“It just tests every aspect of your game,” Korda said. “It’s tight off the tee. Visually it looks so much shorter than it is. There’s bunkers that visually you see that you think you’re going to carry that you end up maybe 10 yards short.

“If you’re in the rough and you miss fairways, the greens are very small and very slopy, and the rough is thick around the greens, too.”

The 79th edition of the Women’s Open gets started on Thursday, and Korda is as big an attraction as the course itself, which previously hosted the Open in 2015.

Korda tied an LPGA record by winning five straight tournaments, a streak capped off at the Chevron Championship in the first major of the season. She is coming off a win in her most recent tournament — that makes six wins in seven starts — at the Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National in New Jersey.

“Right now I think Nelly is just in a league of her own,” said Allizen Corpuz, the defending champion who picked up her first major — and first LPGA title — last year at Pebble Beach.

There has been plenty of buzz around Lancaster beyond Korda. The purse is $12 million, and the USGA decided to follow the model of the PGA Tour’s elevated events by paying 20 percent of the purse to the winner — $2.4 million.

This also figures to be the last US Women’s Open for Lexi Thompson, who is playing it for the 18th time and she still is only 29. Thompson said she is retiring from a full schedule after this year. Barring a high finish, she won’t be eligible next year and is unlikely to get a special exemption because she has never won.

Among those who could challenge is Rose Zhang, the decorated amateur at Stanford who won in her LPGA debut as a professional last year, and then ended Korda’s winning streak with a victory at the Cognizant Founders Cup.

Zhang just turned 21 and has not even spent a full year as a pro. She still can appreciate what Korda is doing, and how tough the 25-year-old American will be to beat.

“I’m witnessing some crazy history, and it’s really, really inspiring to see her,” Zhang said. “She’s almost looking unfazed. ... Even though she’s not acting like a human being right now — or playing like it — I think she has a lot of pressure on her. And that’s why I’m saying she’s so incredible, because she’s able to handle all that pressure.”

Korda has two majors among her 14 titles on the LPGA, the other coming in 2021 at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship that first elevated her to No. 1 in the world.

In the two years that followed, there was a revolving door at No. 1 among five players. Korda had a health scare with blood clot in 2022. She now is back to full strength and dominating.

“Nelly is almost what we are trying to aim for, because if you beat her you’re probably going to have the trophy in your hands,” said Hannah Green, the only other multiple winner on the LPGA Tour this year.

But the Women’s Open can have a mind of its own, and there have been plenty of surprises over the years, from Corpuz at Pebble Beach last year to A-lim Kim at Champions in Houston during the COVID-19 pandemic in December 2020, even back to Hilary Lunke in 2003.

Korda has only two top 10s in the Women’s Open — a tie for 10th at Shoal Creek in 2018 and a tie for eighth at Pine Needles in 2022. Both times, she finished 11 shots out of the lead.

The US Women’s Open doesn’t discriminate. It’s tough for everyone.

“It’s important not to get ahead of yourself and just think, ‘Oh, I have to beat Nelly.’ You’ve got a lot more people out here who are really just as driven,” Zhang said. “Because to get to the US Open, it doesn’t just take a lucky chance. It requires a lot of years of playing and being able to practice for this moment. I mean, Lancaster is a difficult place.”


PGA Tour grants Woods entry to top events with ‘lifetime achievement’ exemption — report

Updated 20 June 2024
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PGA Tour grants Woods entry to top events with ‘lifetime achievement’ exemption — report

  • ESPN, citing a memo to tour members, reported on Wednesday that the PGA Tour policy board approved the special sponsor exemption
  • Woods said he planned to compete in the Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland next month

LOS ANGELES: The PGA Tour has created a special exemption recognizing Tiger Woods’s “exceptional lifetime achievement” that will allow the 15-time major champion entry into the tour’s top events.

ESPN, citing a memo to tour members, reported on Wednesday that the PGA Tour policy board approved the special sponsor exemption during a joint meeting with the PGA Tour Enterprises board of directors on Tuesday.

Woods, whose playing schedule has been severely limited since he suffered serious leg injuries in a February 2021 car crash, plays too little now to otherwise qualify for the eight signature events.

But from 2025 he will be welcome in those tournaments, which feature smaller fields, larger purses and bumped up points toward the FedEx Cup playoffs.

“An additional sponsor exemption will be created to recognize Tiger Woods in his own category as a player who has reached an exceptional lifetime achievement threshold of 80+ career wins,” the memo said, according to ESPN.

With 82 PGA Tour wins, Woods shares the all-time record with Sam Snead.

Despite his physical limitations, the 48-year-old has said he still feels he has more titles in him, although he has played in just nine official PGA Tour events in the past three seasons.

The only non-major he has competed in was the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, which he hosts for the benefit of his charitable foundation.

Woods withdrew in the second round at Riviera this year because of illness. He finished 60th at the Masters and missed the cut at the PGA Championship and the US Open last week at Pinehurst.

Woods said he planned to compete in the Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland next month.

He indicated at Pinehurst he expected it to be his last start of the season.

“I’ve only got one more tournament this season,” he said. “I don’t think even if I win the British Open I’ll be in the playoffs.”


McIlroy, Scheffler qualify for Paris Olympics

Updated 19 June 2024
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McIlroy, Scheffler qualify for Paris Olympics

  • The qualifying period for the event came to an end after the US Open at Pinehurst at the weekend
  • The top 15 players in the world rankings qualify for the Games, up to a maximum of four golfers from a single country

LONDON: Rory McIlroy is set to play at the Paris Olympics alongside world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler after taking a break from golf following his dramatic late collapse at the US Open.

The qualifying period for the event came to an end after the US Open at Pinehurst at the weekend, when McIlroy finished as runner-up to US star Bryson DeChambeau after squandering a two-shot lead with five holes to play.

The final men’s Olympic Golf Ranking, published on Tuesday, features 60 qualifiers representing 32 different countries.

The top 15 players in the world rankings qualify for the Games, up to a maximum of four golfers from a single country.

Below the top 15, players qualify based on their world ranking, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top 15.

The host country, France, was guaranteed at least one spot, as was each of the five continents of the Olympic movement.

McIlroy, second in the world rankings, is set to represent Ireland at the former Ryder Cup venue, Le Golf National, from Aug. 1 to Aug. 4, alongside former British Open champion Shane Lowry.

Scheffler, defending champion Xander Schauffele, Wyndham Clark and Collin Morikawa have qualified to represent the USA.

Former US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood have qualified for Britain, with two-time major winner Jon Rahm and David Puig set to represent Spain.

Each National Olympic Committee will have until June 27 to officially confirm their athletes to the International Golf Federation.

Northern Irishman McIlroy, a four-time Major winner, said Monday he plans to take time off after one of the “toughest” days of his professional career at Pinehurst.

The 35-year-old said his next event would be the Scottish Open starting on July 11, the warmup for the British Open at Royal Troon.

The 60-strong women’s field for their tournament, starting on Aug. 7, will be announced after the June 24 qualification cut-off date.

Both the men’s and women’s events are 72-hole individual stroke play events.


DeChambeau outlasts McIlroy to win second US Open crown

Updated 17 June 2024
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DeChambeau outlasts McIlroy to win second US Open crown

  • The 30-year-old American became the second active player of Saudi-backed LIV Golf to win a major title after Brooks Koepka in the 2023 PGA Championship

PINEHURST, United States: Bryson DeChambeau captured his second US Open title on Sunday, outlasting Rory McIlroy in a dramatic back-nine duel to win by a stroke at Pinehurst.
Overtaken by McIlroy with six holes remaining to play, DeChambeau kept his poise over the dome-shaped greens and sandy waste areas of Pinehurst to rally for the crown.
McIlroy, thwarted in a bid to end a 10-year major win drought, led by two strokes with five holes to play.
But the four-time major winner from Northern Ireland made bogeys on three of the last four holes to help hand the trophy to DeChambeau.
“I still can’t believe it,” said DeChambeau. “It’s unbelievable.”
DeChambeau, who also won the 2020 US Open, fired a one-over-par 71 to finish on six-under-par 274 while McIlroy shot 69 to stand on 275 after 72 holes.
The 30-year-old American became the second active player of Saudi-backed LIV Golf to win a major title after Brooks Koepka in the 2023 PGA Championship.
In a collapse mindful of Greg Norman’s epic 1996 last-round loss to Nick Faldo at the Masters, McIlroy missed par putts from 2.5 feet at the par-3 17th and just inside four feet at the par-4 18th — tension-packed bogeys that left McIlroy one behind.
DeChambeau found dirt and weeds left and a bunker at 18 but blasted his third shot to four feet and sank his pressure-packed putt for the victory.
“I was not great today but I got out of trouble really well and then, man, I can’t believe that up and down the last — that was All-World, probably the best shot of my life.”
Raising his arms in triumph, DeChambeau screamed and jumped for joy, then paid tribute to the late Payne Stewart, the 1999 US Open winner at Pinehurst who died only a few months later.
“That’s Payne right there, baby,” DeChambeau said into a television camera, pointing to a pin of Stewart on his cap.
Americans Tony Finau and Patrick Cantlay shared third on 276, two off the pace, with Finau firing a 67. France’s Matthieu Pavon was fifth on 277 after a 71, one stroke ahead of Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who fired a 70 to stand on 278.
DeChambeau answered bogeys at the fourth and 12th holes with birdies at the par-5 10th and par-4 13th to keep the pressure on McIlroy until he cracked.
“I felt like I was hitting the driver pretty well. It just wasn’t starting exactly where I wanted to hit to,” DeChambeau said.
“Ultimately on 13 I knew I had to make birdie there to give myself a chance, because Rory was going on a heater.
“He slipped up a couple on the way coming in and I just kept staying the course, focused on trying to do as many fairways as I could.”
McIlroy settled for his second US Open runner-up effort in a row and his 21st top-10 finish since he last won a major at the 2014 PGA Championship.
DeChambeau and McIlroy shared the lead at seven-under when the drama seemed to turn.
McIlroy sank a five-foot putt at 13 for his fourth birdie in five holes while DeChambeau found sand and weeds off the tee and made bogey at 12, a two-shot swing leaving McIlroy on eight-under and DeChambeau two back.
But DeChambeau birdied 13 from just outside 27 feet and McIlroy went over the green at the par-3 15th and missed a 31-foot par putt, leaving them deadlocked at the top again.
DeChambeau then suffered his first three-putt bogey of the tournament, lipping out a four-foot par putt at the par-3 15th to fall one back, only for McIlroy to botch his short putts at the end.
Pavon failed in his bid to become the second Frenchman to win a major title after Arnaud Massy at the 1907 British Open.
Sweden’s sixth-seeded Ludvig Aberg, who began five back, took a triple bogey at the second to fall back. He fired a 73 to share 12th on 281.
World number one Scottie Scheffler, the huge pre-tournament favorite, fired a two-over 72 to stand on eight-over 288 for what was only his second finish outside the top-10 this year.
“Didn’t play my best. A bit frustrating to end,” he said. “I definitely need to do some things better.”


Grace Kim shoots 66 to take 5-shot lead in Meijer LPGA Classic

Updated 16 June 2024
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Grace Kim shoots 66 to take 5-shot lead in Meijer LPGA Classic

  • Top-ranked Nelly Korda left Friday after missing her second straight cut following a stretch of six victories in seven events

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan: Grace Kim broke away late Saturday afternoon at Blythefield Country Club, birdieing four of the final six holes to take a five-stroke lead into the final round of the Meijer LPGA Classic.
Tied for the second-round lead with Ally Ewing, Kim shot a 6-under 66 to get to 17-under 199. The 23-year-old Australian won in a playoff last year in Hawaii for her lone LPGA Tour title. She lost a large lead in April in Los Angeles in the JM Eagle LA Championship.
“Gving myself another chance to I guess do it again and actually get it done,” Kim said. “I know I’m going to try my best for tomorrow and everyone else will. This golf course calls for lot of birdies and there are a lot of good players out here. ”
Ewing followed her second-round 63 with a 71 to drop into a tie for second with Lexi Thompson, Anna Nordqvist, Allizen Corpuz and Narin An.
“It was a little bit of a scramble today,” Ewing said. “I made some really good putts to just kind of hang in early.”
Thompson, the 2015 winner who has said this will be her last year playing a full schedule, played the final six holes on the front nine in 7 under in a 65. She has gone more than five years without winning.
“Just kind of got into a groove,” Thompson said. “This is a golf course you know you have to come out and play aggressive and make lots of birdies. Just came out feeling very comfortable, made a few good swings, and rolled in some putts.”
Nordqvist also shot 65. Corpuz had a 68, and An shot 69.
Kim had three straight birdies on the front nine on Nos. 5-7, dropped a stroke on the par-5 10th, then made the late charge with birdies on on the par-3 13th, par-5 14th, par-4 16th and par-5 18th.
“Obviously, I finished pretty strong, so hopefully I can just keep that going,” Kim said. “Have a good night meal. Watched a movie yesterday. That’s probably helped a little bit as well. Maybe do that again tonight and see. Fresh for tomorrow.”
Lilia Vu, a former No. 1 player and double major winner last year, was tied for 14th at 9 under in her return from a back injury that sidelined her since the Ford Championship in late March. She shot 68.
Brooke Henderson, the Canadian who won the event in 2017 and 2019, shot a 73 to drop into a tie for 24th at 7 under. Defending champion Leona Maguire was tied for 57th at 3 under after a 72.
Top-ranked Nelly Korda left Friday after missing her second straight cut following a stretch of six victories in seven events. She won at Blythefield in 2021 at a tournament-record 25 under.
The major KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is next week at Sahalee outside Seattle.


McIlroy fires bogey-free 65 to share US Open lead with Cantlay

Updated 14 June 2024
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McIlroy fires bogey-free 65 to share US Open lead with Cantlay

  • “I’m delighted with the start,” McIlroy said

PINEHURST, US: Rory McIlroy sank a birdie putt from just inside 20 feet at the 18th hole to finish a five-under-par 65 first round and match Patrick Cantlay for the lead at the US Open on Thursday.
World number three McIlroy, chasing his first major victory since the 2014 PGA Championship, delivered a bogey-free round at Pinehurst, defying its dome-shaped greens, sandy waste areas and wiregrass.
“I’m delighted with the start,” McIlroy said.
“As the week goes on the golf course is going to get a bit faster and a bit firey, but right now, there’s opportunities out there and thankfully I was able to take advantage of them.
“I think more so this championship than the others, getting off to a good start is really important to try to keep yourself up there. Because you need to give yourself as much of a cushion as possible knowing what’s lurking around the corner.”
America’s ninth-ranked Cantlay, a back-nine starter, birdied three of his last five holes for an early 65 and with McIlroy took a one-stroke lead over Sweden’s sixth-ranked Ludvig Aberg, Masters runner-up in his major debut, with France’s Matthieu Pavon and American Bryson DeChambeau sharing fourth on 67.
“It’s the US Open. It’s supposed to be hard,” Aberg said. “That’s what we’re doing here.”
McIlroy, a 30-year-old from Northern Ireland, sank a seven-foot birdie putt at the fourth hole then chipped in brilliantly from just off the green for a birdie at the par-5 fifth.
The four-time major winner added a birdie putt from just inside seven feet at the par-5 10th then birdied two of the last three holes, sinking an 11-footer at the par-4 16th and then his tension-packed putt at 18.
“I think the one thing we got a little lucky with today was the cloud cover, so the golf course didn’t get as fiery as I expected it to get this afternoon,” McIlroy said.
“The nice thing is to go out there and take advantage of the conditions and get back out in the morning and try to keep the momentum going.”
McIlroy was second in last year’s US Open, his fifth top-10 effort in a row at the US Open with each better than the last.
An afternoon feature group with the world’s three top players was dominated by McIlroy, with world number one Scottie Scheffler, the Masters champion, firing a 71 and second-ranked Xander Schauffele, who won last month’s PGA Championship, on 70.
Scheffler has five PGA Tour wins this year, the most by any player at this stage since Tom Watson in 1980.
Schauffele snapped a two-year win drought last month with his first major triumph.
Cantlay, seeking his first major triumph, and McIlroy matched the low US Open rounds at Pinehurst, two 65s by Martin Kaymer on his way to victory in 2014.
“Played pretty solid most of the way,” Cantlay said. “The golf course played pretty difficult. But drove it well. Lot of balls on the fairways. Left the ball in the right spots, for the most part.”
Cantlay, the 2021 PGA Tour playoff champion, is a contender for a US berth at the Paris Olympics but must finish no worse than second this week to have a chance.
Aberg sank a six-foot birdie putt at the par-3 ninth to finish on 66 with six birdies and two bogeys.
“Very nice round of golf,” Aberg said. “Not a lot to complain about.”
DeChambeau, last month’s PGA Championship runner-up and the 2020 US Open champion, made a three-foot birdie putt at 13, holed out for birdie from 52 feet at 18 and birdied the fifth after putting his tee shot way right into trees.
Pavon, ranked 24th, soared with eagles at the par-5 fifth on an 18-foot putt and on a 27-foot putt at the par-5 10th hole.
“I made my four best swings of the day on the par-5s and dropped two putts,” Pavon said. “It gave me a little bit of freedom.”
Five-time major winner Brooks Koepka and seventh-ranked Collin Morikawa, a two-time major winner, were among those on 70.
Tiger Woods, a 15-time major winner, struggled to a 74. He had five bogeys in a seven-hole stretch starting at the 16th after teeing off on the back nine.