TOLEDO, Ohio — Danielle Kang went more than six months without competing and looked as though she had never been away, playing bogey-free at Inverness Club for a 6-under 66 and a one-shot lead in the LPGA Drive On Championship.
The LPGA Tour’s much-awaited return from the COVID-19 pandemic brought an immediate sense of its new world. Kang had no idea where she stood after a closing birde.
“There aren’t any leaderboards on the golf course,” Kang said.
Inverness, where Paul Azinger beat Greg Norman in a playoff at the 1993 PGA Championship, is hosting the Solheim Cup next year and offered to stage the first event back for the LPGA Tour since the Women’s Australian Open on Feb. 16. The LPGA Tour remains in northeast Ohio next week before heading to Scotland.
Jodi Ewart Shadoff of England also played bogey-free for a 67. Celine Boutier of France and Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa also were at 5 under until both made bogey on the closing hole. They settled for a 68.
The foremost global tour in golf attracted 130 players from some 30 countries, though it was missing the leading stars from powerhouse South Korea. Jin Young Ko, the No. 1 player in the world, and Sung Hyun Park have stayed home and are playing on the Korean LPGA. Neither is expected to travel to Scotland for the Women’s British Open in three weeks.
The lone Korean among the top 10 — a rarity given the country’s strength in women’s golf — was Hee Young Park at 70.
Kang, a former Women’s PGA champion, paid particular attention to the speed of the greens at Inverness, making six birdies and a number of key par putts to keep her round going.
“Even if you hit a good shot, it’s not an easy putt,” Kang said. “I almost three-putted from 9 feet. Definitely had a really good attitude, and it was really fun to be back.”
The LPGA Tour is not allowing spectators, though that wasn’t a problem for Kang. She was more concerned about her etiquette with two other players, different from a more casual attitude at home. Kang played only twice at the start of the year in the Florida events, including a third-place finish Jan. 23 at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio.
The field attracted four of the top 10 from the world ranking, and Kang (No. 4) Minjee Lee of Australia (No. 8) were the only ones to break par. Lee shot 69.
Nelly Korda, the highest-ranked player at No. 2 in the world, opened with two birdies in three holes and closed with another birdie. It was the part in between that cost her, and she had a 76. Lexi Thompson, who has slipped to No. 9, opened with a 73.
For most of them, it was simply good to be back.
Lydia Ko made a long birdie to close out her round of 69, joining Lee and Amy Olson.
“I saw some of the girls and I was like, ‘Man, it’s nice to not see you through a virtual app or on social media,’” Ko said.
Pair share Barracuda lead
TRUCKEE — Ryan Moore curled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th for a share of the lead with Adam Schenk on Thursday in the PGA Tour’s Barracuda Championship at Tahoe Mountain Club.
Moore and Schenk had 14-point rounds under the modified Stableford scoring system. They each had seven birdies in bogey-free rounds in high altitude on the Old Greenwood Course, the first-time venue after 21 years across the border in Nevada at Montreux Golf and Country Club.
“It was tough,” Moore said. “The wind was kind of up and down out there. So, distance control was everything, and we did a really good job figuring out early in the week kind of what stock clubs are going up here, and we did a great job all day today of just getting it right around pin high and controlling our distances really well, which is just really important on a golf course like this.”
Players receive 8 points for albatross, 5 for eagle, 2 for birdie, zero for par, minus-1 for bogey and minus-3 for double bogey or worse.
Robert Streb, Seamus Power and Patrick Rodgers were tied for third with 11 points. J.J. Spaun was another point back with Cameron Percy, Branden Grace, Peter Uihlein, Maverick McNealy, Kevin Tway and Emiliano Grillo.
Moore has five career PGA Tour victories. After missing the cuts in his first three events following the coronavirus break, the 37-year-old former UNLV player tied for 40th two weeks ago in the Memorial in Ohio and tied for 12th last week in Minnesota.
“I thought I was more ready coming out of the quarantine than maybe I was,” Moore said. “I came out and kind of felt a little uncomfortable and just didn’t feel like myself for the first few weeks, so I kind of honed in on what I felt like I needed to do, and just been grinding on that for the last few weeks.”
Schenk is winless on the PGA Tour. The 28-year-old former Purdue player birdied five of the final seven holes on his opening nine, parred the next seven and closed with birdies on Nos. 8 and 9.
“Had a couple nice par saves, which always makes it easier to add up these points,” Schenk said. “You’re not going backwards at all. Hit hit a couple wedges close and pretty much kept it out of trouble. There’s some room to drive the golf ball, but if you do drive it considerably off the fairway you can find some trouble.”
He likes the new venue.
“I liked the last golf course, and I like this one a little better, in my personal opinion,” Schenk said.
The winner will earn a spot in the PGA Championship next week, if not already eligible. The top two from the top 10, not already eligible, will get spots in the U.S. Open in September at Winged Foot.
Todd leads with 65 at WGC
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Brendon Todd’s putter is more than making up for any lack of power off the tee at the World Golf Championship.
Todd shot a 5-under 65 Friday and grabbed a two-stroke lead through 36 holes of the FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
“I have not hit the ball as crisply the first two days and maybe some other tournaments this year, but I’ve probably putted the best of any tournament this year so far,” Todd said. “I’m really excited about how I played and looking forward to the opportunity this weekend.”
Todd trailed defending champion Brooks Koepka after the first round by two strokes. He quickly erased that deficit and took the lead to himself with a bogey-free, five-birdie round for a 129 total at the World Golf Championships event at TPC Southwind.
Rickie Fowler closed with birdies on his final two holes for a 67 and 131 total just behind Todd thanks to his own putter.
“I feel like I’m heading in the right direction,” Fowler said. “I think that’s been my main goal is go through some changes for the better. Sometimes you’ve got to take that step back to take two steps forward. I feel like we already made the step back. I feel like we’ve made a step forward. I’m looking for that next step.”
Koepka had the lead to himself at 10 under before falling apart on his back nine with a double bogey and two bogeys. He finished with a 71, his first time over par at this course in seven rounds. He was four strokes back, tied with Byeong Hun An (65) and Chez Reavie (67).
But Koepka said he wasn’t worried with 36 holes remaining.
“I just putted bad,” Koepka said. “It wasn’t really anything other than that. Felt stress-free other than just missing some short ones. On the back nine they felt good, they were just missing, and on the front they just weren’t good putts.”
Jon Rahm shot a 74 and now is 4 over in his first event as No. 1 in the world.
Justin Thomas, who could go back to No. 1 in the world with a win, was seven strokes back after a 70. Rory McIlroy’s bid to be No. 1 again may have to wait until the PGA championship next week. He shot a 66, but is 10 strokes back.
This round started early Friday morning to avoid expected thunderstorms in the afternoon.
Todd won back-to-back tournaments last November for his first win on tour since winning the Byron Nelson in 2014. Since the return to play in June, Todd missed two cuts with his best finish a tie for 11th at the Travelers Championship.
On Friday, his putter worked well enough that he needed only 24 putts in a round that featured a 50-footer for birdie on the par-3 No. 14. Todd hit a 6-iron to the left side of the green, and he had to roll the ball over a mound breaking left at least 5 feet.
“My caddie really kind of set me up with a good spot there beyond the hole to aim at, and I just focused all on speed,” Todd said. “It happened to just drift right there in the middle of the hole. Bonus birdie there, but that’s what you’ve got to do to win golf tournaments sometimes, and that’s how you shoot low rounds.”
Todd sunk a 13-footer on the par-3 island green of No. 11 to go 9 under just as Koepka became the first to reach double digits under par.
Koepka then double-bogeyed No. 2 when he three-putted after missing a par putt from 3 feet. His putter cost him a birdie chance on the par-5 No. 3.
That put Todd atop the leaderboard at 9 under, and his putter helped him birdie consecutive holes including the big putt on No. 14. He sunk a 12-footer on No. 15 to go 11 under and a four-stroke lead until Fowler’s birdie-birdie finish.
Fowler might’ve had a piece of the lead if not for hitting his tee shot into the water in front of the island green at No. 11. He rebounded by hitting his approach 175 yards on No. 17 to 3 feet for birdie, and he chipped in from just off the front of the green on No. 18.
“It’s been nice to see some putts go in,” Fowler said. “These greens are about as good as they get. It’s been nice to kind of have them stay on the softer side and make it very playable when you’re driving in the fairway.”
Todd made only five of 39 cuts combined in 2016, ‘17 and ’18. He got his tour card back by finishing seventh in points on the Korn Ferry Tour Finals in 2019.
Tommy Fleetwood holed out from 106 yards to wrap up his round with a 67.
Two lead Champions’ return
GRAND BLANC, Mich. — Tommy Armour III had been playing enough golf during the pandemic to know his game was in good shape. All he needed was a spot in the Ally Challenge to show it Friday.
Armour and Billy Andrade each opened with a 6-under 66 at Warwick Hills to share the lead by one shot over Bernhard Langer as the PGA Tour Champions returned for the first time since March.
Armour wasn’t in the field until he arrived at the course Monday and learned Brandt Jobe had withdrawn.
“I played a lot of golf in this period where we haven’t been playing, and I was looking forward to playing well,” Armour said. “There’s two more rounds left. But I had a good feeling coming back when I was first hoping to get in the tournament. I mean, a lot of 50-year-olds and plus, and out of 81 p layers, somebody’s going to break down a little bit.”
Andrade played bogey-free for his 66 at the course that for years hosted the Buick Open on the PGA Tour. Andrade never had a lot of success at Warwick Hills after a runner-up finish in 1989.
It also felt like a long time since he had competed. Unlike Armour, he wasn’t sure what to expect.
“All of us I think are in the same boat,” Andrade said. “You don’t know coming out, out of the gate, how you’re going to play. I took a lot of time off, and then started playing a little bit at home. A little sloppy in some of the rounds I have played, and today I was not sloppy at all, so it was really good.”
Langer leads the Charles Schwab Cup points list, which won’t be decided until the end of 2021 because of how much time the 50-and-old tour lost to the pandemic. He made six birdies in 12 holes before throwing in a pair of bogeys that slowed his momentum. He had his 26th straight round of par or better.
Also at 67 were Tom Gillis and Wes Short Jr.
Former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk made his PGA Tour Champions debut with a 68. Furyk, former Masters champion Mike Weir and K.J. Choi each turned 50 during the shutdown. Furyk is among past champions at Warwick Hills.
Weir shot a 70, while Choi had a 72.
Ernie Els, who won the Hoag Classic the last time the PGA Tour Champions played in March, made a hole-in-one on the eight hole with a 6-iron from 192 yards. He opened with a 69.
Two leading Hero Open
BIRMINGHAM, England — Overnight leader Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez of Spain held off a spirited challenge from England’s Sam Horsfield to retain a share of the lead at the Hero Open on Friday at the halfway mark of the European Tour’s latest stop in England.
After setting a course record 10-under 62 in the opening round at the Forest of Arden Marriott Hotel and Country Club, Garcia Rodriguez cooled somewhat in the second with a 3-under 69 that included birdies on the last two holes.
“The key yesterday was the putter, today it was difficult with the irons to get it pin high because it was so windy, but I’m so happy with my round today,” said Garcia Rodriguez. “It was very important to birdie the last two holes. It was in my mind to hit a good drive on 17, it wasn’t perfect but a good line. I had an eagle in my mind with an eight iron in my hand, but it was a little right so it was a good birdie.”
Horsfield, meanwhile, completed a sparkling 9-under 63 that included an eagle and seven birdies for a share of the lead with Garcia Rodriguez at 13 under.
“Holing a wedge from 110 yards on four (for an eagle) was an obvious highlight and I just got on a bit of a roll and ended up with a 9 under round,” said Horsfield who has yet to win on the tour. “I’m just having fun, it’s nice to be playing tournament golf again, it’s been a while for everyone and I’m just thankful of that, to get some tournaments going. I’ve been looking forward to it for a while and I’m just enjoying it.”
Thomas Detry was third after a 5-under 67 that matched his first-round score and leaves him three shots back of the leaders on 10-under.
Alexander Bjork of Sweden and Antoine Rozner of France share fourth place another stroke back after both shot 67s.
Miguel Angel Jimenez, making his record 707th European Tour appearance, shot an even-par 72 for a five-way share of sixth place on 8 under.
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