It’s a splendid fortnight in golf. The first weekend of April brings the first major championship of the year, on the LPGA Tour. It also shines a light on the finest female amateurs in the game as they compete at the Augusta National Golf Club. The PGA and Korn Ferry tours make their final stops before a week off for the men at Augusta. Spring has touched down in most of the lower 48 of the USA, and we are ready to run down more results in this week’s Tour Rundown.
LPGA: ANA Inspiration welcomes Tavatanakit as 2021 champion
Patty Tavatanakit should make the UCLA faithful forget about recent close calls. She is a major champion on the LPGA Tour, and the former Bruin closed out her first win on tour in style. The 21-year old tapped in for par at the 72nd hole for an 18-under total. Tavatanakit was the only golfer to post four rounds in the 60s this week, and she held off a ravenous Lydia Ko, who came charging fast and nearly caught the third-round leader.
Once upon a time, Lydia Ko was the darling and the face of the LPGA Tour. Her teenage years were spent raising trophies and causing all to wonder, how many will she win? From 2012 to 2016, Ko won 14 times on tour; since then, she has one victory, which came three years ago. Ko changed everything in her game, from caddie to instructor to clubs. Now, in 2021, she appears poised to challenge for a place on the podium that once seemed so familiar.
Ko posted five birdies and an eagle on the front nine and turned in 29. Two more birdies at 10 and 11 brought her to nine-under on the day and had fans thinking 59 and another major title. Alas, Ko’s raging run slowed, and she managed one more birdie coming home, at the 15th. She reached 16-under par, but Tavatanaki gave little evidence of capitulation.
The former UCLA Bruin from Thailand debuted on the LPGA Tour in 2020. Her first campaign was one of learning and patience, and she entered the week ranked 103rd in the world, and 17th in the Race to CME Globe. In her first tour around the Mission Hills course, PattyT posted a total of four bogeys on the week. She counter-balanced them with two eagles on the week, one coming at the second hole on Sunday. No bogeys came her way on day four, and she added two birdies to the eagle and remained composed throughout the round. It’s a rare feat for a veteran to play bogey-free golf under the bright klieg lights of a major championship. To do so, essentially, as a rookie, is nearly miraculous.
Amateur: Augusta National Women’s Amateur to Japan in extra time
The first playing of the ANWA, in 2019, featured a two-woman showdown between winner Jennifer Kupcho and runner-up Maria Fassi. The two did battle the entire third day, until Kupcho separated on the back nine, for a four-shot win. The 2021 edition tossed a different twist into the young history of the event: a playoff. Tsubasa Kajitani of Japan made par at the 18th hole, the first in extra time, to defeat the USA’s Emilia Migliaccio, who stumbled with a bogey.
The first 36 holes of the event took place at the Champion’s Resort, in nearby Evans, Georgia. Five players tied for the 30th spot, necessitating a five-for-one playoff at plus-seven. Emilie Paltrinieri made birdie on the first extra hole to earn a spot in the final 18 holes, at Augusta National. On the other end of the leader board, Rose Zhang and Ingrid Lindblad shared the lead at one-under par. Nearly every one of the thirty competitors had a shot at the win, especially when Zhang and Lindblad struggled on day three.
Lindblad had five bogeys on the final day but nearly snuck into the playoff with a birdie at the 17th. She was unable to make three at the final hole and tied for third with five others at plus-two. Zhang had a tenuous lead until the 13th hole, where she hit two balls in hazards and scratched a triple-bogey eight onto her scorecard. She bounced back with birdie at the difficult 14th but made bogey at 17 to join Lindblad in third position.
Making moves on day three were Kajitani (even par) and Migliaccio (two under). Migliaccio was bidding to become the second consecutive Demon Deacon from Wake Forest to win but missed a four-foot birdie at the last, which would have won the tournament in regulation time. Kajitani stood two-under on the day on the 17th tee in first place and proceeded to make double bogey at the penultimate hole. Her par at the last matched her with Migliaccio, and then they waited for the field to decide their fate.
In the playoff, Migliaccio missed the 18th green right and was unable to save par from a dicey position. Kajitani tapped in for par, and the seventeen-year-old lifted the champion’s trophy in delight.
PGA Tour: Valero Texas Open is Spieth’s 12th tour title
Four years ago, Jordan Spieth won the Open Championship in England. It was his third unique major championship, and many expected that he would soon add a PGA Championship to his tally. The Texan went into a tailspin brought on by a chase for more distance (and a previously undisclosed injury), and players like Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, and Justin Thomas jumped up and claimed his place among the winners.
Spieth went through many trials during the ensuing three years, struggling with all facets of his game. He showed signs of a return to his lofty, mid-2o10s stature in early 2021, but was unable to put four rounds together for a title. That changed this week in his home state, as Spieth took the 54-hole lead, then held off a fast-charging Charley Hoffman for a two-shot victory.
When he needed it most, Spieth’s drive came through. Averaging less than fifty percent fairways hit on the week, Spieth nailed 71 percent of the short grass on day four. His lone bogey came at the fourth, where he missed right and was forced to pitch into the fairway. Seven birdies on the day made up for the one miscue, and the UTexas alumnus posted the second-lowest score on the day, a 66.
Hoffman was perfect on the day, posting six birdies and zero bogeys to match Spieth’s number. He simply ran out of holes, but the runner-up finish casts the Californian as an interesting foil for this week’s Masters. Hoffman typically plays well at Augusta National, and riding a wave of great play at the Valero portends possible success for the San Diego native. Spieth would like nothing more than to add a second green jacket to his 2015 model, and his play this year certainly places him in the top five of pre-tournament contenders.
Korn Ferry Tour: Emerald Coast Classic playoff goes to Jaeger
Andrew Novak played the Sandestin course like no other this week. He didn’t win, but goodness, he amassed a passel of birdies. Novak staked himself to a three-shot lead over David Lipsky, courtesy of 14-under play over the first three days. On Sunday, the North Carolina native and Wofford College alumnus scribble six birdies on his scorecard. Unfortunately for Novak, a pair of front-nine doubles and three bogeys joined those birdies. His plus-one was not the kind that anyone wants, and Novak ended the week in solo third position.
No one escaped Sandestin without a bogey on Sunday. Stephan Jaeger, a Korn Ferry Tour legend, posted a 66 and reached 14-under par, one better than Novak. Jaeger once shot 58 on the Triple-A tour, and had completed five prior victories on the prep circuit. David Lipsky had spent years honing his game in Europe, and joined Jaeger at 14-deep with a pair of closing birdies. The duo returned to the watery finishing hole, and each reached the green in regulation. Jaeger was able to two-putt for par, but Lipsky needed three putts to get home. Jaeger earned a return trip to the PGA Tour with his sixth career triumph on the developmental circuit.
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Tour Rundown: It’s a tie!
Before we dive in to this week’s tour events, allow a bit of latitude for an opinion piece. Those who do not coach believe that it is proper to place the results of a team tie in the hands of one or two golfers. In our high school leagues, we used to do just that, and it was a dramatic and rotten way to resolve things. After hours of toil, most participants were cast aside, unable to help resolve the overtime. For those who believe that a Solheim, Ryder, Curtis, or Walker Cup tie should be resolved by any fewer than the entirety of each side, imagine being one of the cast-asides. There is a better way.
The Solheim Cup could not have been more lopsided, yet evenly matched, this year. More on that in a bit. The Korn Ferry Tour held its penultimate event in the capital city of Ohio. Tour Champions headed west to the Monterey peninsula of northern California, and the DP World Tour held its French Open on the Ryder Cup course near Paris. With that roster of events in place, we may now advance to this week’s Tour Rundown. Anchors, away!
Solheim Cup @ Finca Cortesin: It’s a tie!
Not since the 1960 baseball World Series has a multi-day competition been so lopsided, yet so close. In that ancient match-up, the Yankees pummeled the Pirates by 35 runs in three of seven games, yet somehow found a way to lose the other four by a total of seven runs. In Spain’s southernmost province of Andalucia, something similar took place.
On day one, the visitors from the USA won all four matches in the Friday morning foursomes, the format least associated with American success. Alternate shot is not their forte, yet there lay Team Europe, in a 0-4 hole. Galvanized, the host squad nearly squared things in the afternoon four-ball matches. Two European sides won their matches outright, while the other two earned half points to close the four-point gap to two, after one day of competition.
Day two anticipated the same sequence of foursomes, followed by four ball. USA won two of the first three matches, with Europe claiming the third. With momentum squarely on the line, the final sides of Andrea Lee/Danielle Kang (USA) and Maja Stark/Linn Grant (Europe) played a match for the ages. After each side won one hole over the first seven holes, the next 10 holes saw nine lead changes. Europe won the 8th, then lost the 9th. This win-then-lose sequence happened three more times until Europe won the 17th hole the final decided hole. Both sides parred the 18th, Europe escaped, one-up, and the matches stood at 7-5, in favor of Team USA.
Saturday afternoon’s fourball matches saw Team USA again struggle in the better-ball format. Only Cheyenne Knight and Angel Yin were able to secure a point for the visitors, by a two-up margin. In each of the other three matches, Europe won without seeing the 18th hole. With three points in their favor, Europe had squared the matches at 8 points each. Only the Saturday morning matches were close; in each of the other three sessions, one side won by at least two points.
With 12 singles matches scheduled for Sunday, the winning side was anyone’s guess. The first four matches were won, but each side struck twice, meaning the final eight matches would decide the keeper of the Solheim Cup. The next two matches were halved, with the host side squandering two-up leads with four to play in each. Match seven went to the visitors, and then came the greatest comeback of the three days. Down three holes with six to play, Caroline Headwall made birdie or eagle at five of those holes, and overtook Team USA’s Ally Ewing. Still square, with four matches to play.
Despite a Team USA win in match nine, Team Europe clinched a tie for the cup, when Maja Stark and homebred Carlota Ciganda won by 2 & 1 totals. Lexi Thompson’s final-match victory meant nothing in the end, as the defending champion’s retained possession of the cup until 2025. For anyone who paid for admission this week, the money was beyond well spent.
— The Solheim Cup (@TheSolheimCup) September 21, 2023
DP World Tour @ French Open: Japan’s Hisatsune stands tall
It was a rough day for the final trio. Ewen Ferguson posted 76 to drop nine spots, from T1 to 10th. Co-leader Jordan Smith was in for 72, and fell one spot to 2nd position. Kazuki Higa signed for 74, and tumbled to a sixth-place tie. With those golfers out of the way, the stage was cleared for someone to jump and take control. That someone was 21-year old Ryo Hisastsune. The Japanese golfer pulled away from the chase pack with five birdies for an inward 30, ultimately winning by two over Smith.
Day four had to be especially frustrating for Smith. He opened with two birdies, and must have felt that this might be his day. He had exhausted his ration of birdies for the day, and could only muster 13 pars and three bogies the rest of the way. The victory moved the champion up 26 spots of the season-long money ranking, nearly into the top ten.
— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) September 24, 2023
Korn Ferry Tour @ Nationwide: Xiong not wrong on Sunday in Ohio
Despite a stellar amateur record, the professional go has not been easy for Norman Xiong. The former Palmer and Walker Cup participant has won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour but has not been able to gain traction on the PGA Tour. He’ll have another go at it next year, thanks to his win in Columbus. Xiong stood even with Chandler Phillips through 54 holes over the Ohio State University’s Scarlet course. Phillips headed down the wrong roadway on Sunday, posting a 3-over 74 for a T7 finish.
Closing fast was Australia’s Curtis Luck, whose day-four 66 was the low, fourth-round total. Luck needed more than just his last name, and bogeys at 13 and 18 kept him from reaching 8 under and pressuring Xiong. With a clean card through 17 holes, Xiong needed merely to remain upright over the final 425 yards, to claim the prize. His last-hole bogey made his margin four shots, and his performance moved him to 12th position on the season-long points list.
— Korn Ferry Tour (@KornFerryTour) September 24, 2023
PGA Tour Champions @ PURE Insurance: Jaidee over Leonard in playoff
Justin Leonard has had a diverse career in golf since turning professional out of the University of Texas. He earned multiple wins on the PGA Tour, including an Open Championshp at Royal Troon. Leonard took to broadcasting, and has reported extensively on the PGA Tour since then. Despite numerous starts on the PGA Tour Champions, Leonard has been unable to secure a first, senior victory. This week, he came oh-so-close, reaching a playoff against Thongchai Jaidee.
Leonard held the round-two lead on Saturday evening but still needed a 54th-hole birdie to reach overtime with the Thai champion. The pair played the 18th hole twice, then the 17th, without deciding a winner. On the fourth playoff hole, Leonard tugged his drive into the Pacific ocean, ultimately making double bogey. Jaidee was able to stay on dry land, made par, and won the second event of his Tour Champions career stretch.
— PGA TOUR Champions (@ChampionsTour) September 25, 2023
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