Golf: Women start off with a major, men to follow
Golf: Women start off with a major, men to follow
Lydia Ko took the plunge last year when she won the ANA Inspiration over a badly faltering Ariya Jutanugarn. Victory at Mission Hills means jumping into Poppie’s Pond, which fronts the par-5 18th green that so often decides the LPGA Tour’s opening major.
Ko returns in something of a slump. It is not just that she missed the cut last week at the Kia Classic — the 19-year-old from New Zealand has not won a tournament since the Marathon Classic last July.
Jutanugarn, meanwhile, learned well from that meltdown last year. The powerful Thai went on to win five times, including the Ricoh Women’s British Open, and she beat out Ko for all the top LPGA Tour awards, from the money title to player of the year.
Over on the PGA Tour, 29 players at the Shell Houston Open are already in the Masters. It would have been 30, except that Dustin Johnson decided to take the week off after winning the Dell Technologies Match Play for his third straight victory.
That is good news for the 144 players at the Golf Club of Houston, specifically for the 115 players who need a victory to get into Augusta National. The Masters field is set, so the only way in now is to win the Houston Open.
And yes, there is another Masters tune-up going on in Mississippi, where the PGA Tour Champions has three players in the field who will be at Augusta National, including Bernhard Langer.
For a major that dates to 1983 and is played on the same golf course, remarkably there has only been one back-to-back winner. Annika Sorenstam won in 2001, and then she boldly wore red shoes in the final round and won in 2002.
That’s what Ko will try to match.
Even though the 18th hole at Mission Hills can be dramatic as a par 5 with water wrapped around the green, Ko won last year by choosing to lay up with an 8-iron, and then stuffing a wedge in close to make birdie. She wound up winning when Jutanugarn completed her collapse with one last bogey.
The 18th green has seen plenty of action, most notably in 2006 when Karrie Webb holed a pitching wedge from 116 yards on her last hole for a 65. That got her into a playoff with Lorena Ochoa, who made eagle with a 5-wood into 6 feet. Webb won in the playoff.
Michelle Wie was 15 at the time and looked like a winner. She had a chance to win with an eagle chip on the 18th green, hit it too hard and missed the birdie putt to lose a spot in the playoff.
It could have been worse. I.K. Kim had a 1-foot putt to win in 2012. She missed, and lost in a playoff.
Wie is alarmed to be playing this event for the 14th time. And this will really make her feel old — she is paired with Lucy Li, who is all grown up now at 14. Li was 11 when she qualified for the US Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
Juli Inkster, meanwhile, sure does not act her age. Inkster, who two weeks ago shot 64 in the Founders Cup, is playing the ANA Inspiration. She won the second edition of this major in 1984, so long ago it was known as the Nabisco Dinah Shore.
The Houston Open used to be in what was called the “dead zone” of the PGA Tour — a few weeks after the Masters when no one was paying attention. It made a bold move to take the spot a week before the Masters, and the decision paid off when Augusta National resumed its practice of inviting PGA Tour winners.
Johnson Wagner was the first to take advantage when he won in 2008 and headed for Magnolia Lane.
Matt Jones earned his spot in Augusta in far more dramatic fashion . He holed a 45-foot birdie putt on the last hole to get into a playoff, then holed out a chip from 40 yards in a playoff to beat Matt Kuchar.
A year ago, Jim Herman made a tough par on the final hole to preserve his one-shot lead over Henrik Stenson and get to the Masters for the first time. Herman is not eligible this year, so a repeat performance would be in order.
Jordan Spieth is hoping for good vibes, too, even if he doesn’t win. He was runner-up two years ago, went to the Masters and won by four shots.
Al-Hilal boss Jorge Jesus reveals Omar Abdulrahman will make debut in Super Cup clash in London
- New boss Jorge Jesus to give start to new star signing after $17 million move from Al-Ain last week.
- Al-Hilal coach keen to put on a good show in London and start season with silverware against Al-Ittihad.
LONDON: Jorge Jesus confirmed Omar Abdulrahman will make his Al-Hilal debut in the Saudi Super Cup final against Al-Ittihad on Saturday.
The UAE playmaker joined the Saudi Pro League champions last week in a loan deal from Al-Ain that was worth $17 million, a fee that has only been surpassed once in football history.
The 26-year-old has been training with his new teammates at English football’s HQ at St. George’s Park this week and traveled down to London on Friday with the rest of the team ahead of the showpiece game at Loftus Road.
Abdulrahman has not played since May, when Al-Ain were dumped out of the AFC Champions League by Lekhwiya, and he was not considered for the Arab Club Champions Club on Sunday, but Jesus said the 2016 Asian Player of the Year is line to make his first appearance for his boyhood club this weekend.
“Omar is training with the team for five or six days,” said Jesus. “Intelligent players like Omar learn fast, so that’s why he will be part of the game.”
There are various subplots to the game in west London, not least the fact that Al-Ittihad coach Ramon Diaz comes up against the club that fired him in February. He won the double in the first season in Riyadh and then choreographed Al-Hilal’s run to the final of the AFC Champions League in his second. Now he goes up against Jesus, the Portuguese tactician who replaced him this summer.
“It’s true Diaz could know the players more and this could influence the match, but they are working with my ideas today and I expect the match to be an excellent game,” said Jesus.
Al-Hilal lost the Super Cup the last time it was held in London, losing to Al-Ahli on penalties in a thriller at Fulham’s Craven Cottage ground. Jesus knows this year’s match could provide a launchpad for the season ahead and broaden the appeal of football in the Kingdom.
“Everybody knows the importance of this match, because we play outside Saudi Arabia,” he said. “It represents the image of our football. We are happy to be present in London and play the Saudi Super Cup here. The eyes of Europe sees London as the center of football, so we need to create a good image of Saudi football.”
Jorge Jesus is looking to get his reign as Al-Hilal coach off to a winning start at QPR's Loftus Road ground on Saturday.
Jesus will be without the injured Salman Al-Faraj, Abdullah Otayf and Nawaf Al-Abed while national team full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani will undergo a late fitness test.
“We are missing some players but that should not reduce the importance of some players we have in the squad,” said Jesus. “We have to find our best combination of players to go to the match with.”
Mohammad Al-Shalhoub will captain the side from midfield following the departure of Osama Hawsawi and knows bragging rights are up for grabs on Saturday between Saudi Arabia’s two most successful clubs who have won the top prize in the Kingdom 23 times between them.
“It’s one match, there is no other chance,” he said. “We will do our best to win the cup. We can start the season well if we win this cup. We will fight hard to win, but Ittihad is doing their hardest to win it, too. We are super motivated to show a good level and start with a Saudi Super Cup victory.”
Al-Hilal labored to a 1-0 win over Al-Shabab on Sunday night and know they will need to be much nearer their best against last season’s King’s Cup winners.
“In the beginning of the season, you can have some difficulties,“ Al-Shalhoub said. “Our first home game in the Arab Cup we showed a good level, but we have to me more ready against Ittihad.”