Monday, November 17, 2014

Xtina Returns To The Winner's Circle, And Inbee Almost Catches Stacy

- It has been nine years since Christina Kim has won an LPGA event. In those nine years, Kim went from being a bright young star, to a Solheim Cup superstar, to nearly losing her card. She has opened up about her battle with depression, had to ask for sponsor exemptions into tournaments, and had to watch from the announcers booth as the US Solheim Cup team lost without her. Christina Kim has gone through several iterations of her career, but now she's back in the winner's circle once again. I don't think it's a coincidence that Kim's first win in almost a decade came the same year that good friend Michelle Wie broke her winless streak, or that it took place as another good friend, Lorena Ochoa, hosted the event. Perhaps a more relaxed, happier Christina result in her being towards the top of more leaderboards.

- It is impressive when you dominate a tournament from start to finish, but it shows more of your character when you have to rebound from a rough day and still walk away with the tournament. Several times, Kim looked like she was going to fold and hand the tournament to Shanshan Feng, but she steadied herself, both on the 16th hole and again in the playoff to be able to win. It wasn't like she was playing against a nobody, either - Shanshan is one of the top 5 players in the world. Kim may have been rattled, but she hung in there and finished the job, which is an incredible accomplishment. How fitting that a woman who has had to overcome so many obstacles in her life had to overcome a tough day in order to win?

- It all comes down to this - Inbee Park Vs Stacy Lewis for Player Of The Year. Park got off to a slow start to her week, but had a great rally on the weekend to finish solo third. Meanwhile, Lewis backed up her poor performance in Japan with another one in Mexico, so now Lewis leads Park by only three points in the Player Of The Year race. The math is somewhat simple - if Lewis gets a top 10 next week, then Park would have to win in order to take POY. If Lewis finishes outside the top 10, then Park would need to finish 8th or better. Park is a top 10 machine, so it is really hard to imagine her finishing outside the top 10. It will be up to Lewis to turn things around if she wants to prevent Inbee from winning her second straight Player Of The Year award.

- It may not have been nine years, but Charley Hoffman broke his own winless drought, winning the OHL Classic after not hoisting a trophy in four years. Hoffman has been incredibly close on numerous occasions over the past four years, most recently with a tie for third finish last year. Hoffman didn't enter this tournament playing particularly well - he only had one made cut in three events this season - but sometimes it doesn't matter how you're playing entering a tournament. It only matters how you're playing that week.

- Danny Lee looked like he was on his way to breaking some records and soaring to his first win on the PGA Tour after seven birdies in a row got him the solo lead. A birdie free back nine 38 ended those chances, and Lee, who has played all over the world and has worked hard to for his first victory, will have to way two months to try again. Still, Lee shot four rounds in the 60's and played well all week until that back nine on Sunday, so perhaps this is a sign that Lee has things turned around. He's made four of six cuts this season, including a T13 in Malaysia. Lee is a global player who has wins in New Zealand, Asia, and the Tour, and is only 24 years old, so the best may be yet to come.

- There were several players in their 40's who contended this week in Mexico, but perhaps the most impressive was 58 year old Fred Funk, whose second round 65 lead him to a top 10 finish. Funk became one of the oldest winners in PGA Tour history when he won this event at the age of 50, but after injuries and poor play kept him primarily on the Champions Tour, it is rather impressive that he was able to still play with the big boys this week. I don't know how much we'll see Fred Funk on the PGA Tour this year, but he has always been an interesting personality and great to watch, so hopefully he isn't done playing in the big leagues yet.

- Two players from Mexico finished in the top 10 this week, and they also happen to be Mexico's brightest young stars. Carlos Ortiz was unafraid of the attention he received entering this week, and Oscar Fraustro slipped past everyone's radar to finish T9. Both of these players are rookies on the PGA Tour this year, and both represent the best opportunity Mexico has had for a PGA Tour champion in a decade.

- If Brooks Koepka doesn't qualify for the President's Cup on his own, then Jay Hass better make sure he saves a spot for him. If the PGA of America want to point to someone who could help with their Ryder Cup woes, look no further than Koepka, who won the Turkish Airlines Open this week on the European Tour. Koepka plans on playing full time on the PGA Tour next year, but he may still have a part time schedule in Europe, as well. Koepka plays all over the world and now has a trophy to show for it. Many other American players don't play a global schedule, as opposed to the European players, who travel constantly. I want to make sure, as long as Koepka keeps playing well, that he is on this US Team for years to come. Though, if he plays to his potential, he may secure himself a spot regardless.

- What is it with 50 year olds notching top 10's this week? First it was Fred Funk in Mexico, and then it was Miguel Angel Jimenez in Turkey, who opened with a 63 and held on for a T4 finish. There has been talk of Jimenez being the next European Ryder Cup captain, but I wonder if he doesn't have one last event in him. He seems to be playing at a high level, and shows no signs of slowing down. As long as he continues contending, who knows?

- Congratulations to Rory McIlroy, who locked up the Race For Dubai despite not playing in the first three events of the playoff. It is hard to argue against McIlroy for the award, as he won two majors, plus a European Tour exclusive major, and a World Golf Championship event all in the same year. Still, after a third round 66, it looked like Marcel Siem was going to put some pressure on McIlroy, but a final round 71 ended those chances. McIlroy will be playing in Dubai this week, so perhaps he can cap off his season with another victory.

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