Jan 31

Lydia Ko falls short of win in LPGA opener, but takes No. 1 in the world

Lydia Ko didn't win the inaugural Coates Golf Championship on Saturday, but she still made a golf first. Ko finished joint runner-up to Na Yeon Choi in the LPGA opener in Ocala, Fla., but the finish was good enough to assure Ko the top spot in the new Rolex Rankings.

The 17-year-old Kiwi will become the youngest player in the history of the game to ascend to the spot of either the Official World Golf Ranking or Rolex Rankings.

Early in the final round, Ko had a four-shot edge through two holes, but Ha Na Jang and Choi caught up over the course of the round. Nevertheless, Ko was tied for the lead with four holes to play. She then drained a 60-foot birdie putt at the 15th to take the lead when Choi bogeyed the same par 3. However, on the 17th hole, Ko made a double bogey, dropping from one ahead to one behind with a par 5 to play.

On the final hole, Ko's second shot wound up short and left of the intended target and left her with a semi-buried lie for her third shot. She expected a chunk shot but caught all ball, eventually getting up and down from the bunker beyond the hole for par and history. Choi tapped in for par and her first win since the 2012 CME Group Titleholders.

Tiger Woods is the youngest man to be ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, which started in 1986. Woods was 21 years, 167 days old when he became No. 1 for the first time on June 15, 1997.

The Rolex Rankings have only been in existence since 2006. Jiyai Shin was previously the youngest women's world No. 1, earning the top spot at 22 years, 5 days old. A year later, Yani Tseng became No. 1 at 22 years, 22 days old.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Jan 31

Rory McIlroy scorches Dubai field in third round, takes four-shot lead

Since 2009, Rory McIlroy had played the first two rounds of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in a stunning 47 under par. On the weekends? Just 6 under. 

McIlroy matched that total on Saturday at Emirates G.C., shooting 6-under 66 to take a four-shot edge over the field heading into the final round. 

The world No. 1 made an early statement, going out in 5-under 30 and opening a huge lead. He largely coasted on the back nine before crushing a drive just short of the green at the 359-yard 17th hole, leading to a final birdie. Through 54 holes, McIlroy has just one bogey -- the least this week in the field. 

Dane Morten Madsen is in second, two clear of Lee Westwood. Four players are seven shots behind of McIlroy, tied for fourth. 

The astounding part may not be that McIlroy has been in complete control, but that the Ulsterman thinks he should have an even bigger lead.

"I feel like I could be a little bit more but I'm not going to complain - I'm four ahead going into the final day, so I’ve put myself in a great position to win tomorrow," he said. “I just have to go and try and play similar golf to the way I have the first three days."

It's not as though this was unexpected. McIlroy hasn't finished outside of the top 10 in Dubai since breaking through for his professional win in this event in 2009. He hasn't finished worse than second in his last six European Tour-sanctioned starts, including Open Championship and PGA Championship victories. 


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Jan 31

Lydia Ko on the verge of becoming youngest No. 1 in golf history

Lydia Ko finished the 2014 LPGA season with a win, and if she bookends it on Saturday with a victory to start 2015, she'll become the No. 1 player in the world.

The 17-year-old Kiwi made five consecutive birdies on the back nine and nine altogether on Friday at Golden Ocala G&EC to take a one-shot lead over Ha Na Jang heading into the final round of the inaugural Coates Golf Championship in Ocala, Fla. The third-round 65 ties the low round of the week with Amy Yang.

Ko came out guns blazing on Friday, making four birdies on her opening nine. However, a pair of short par misses on the 10th and 11th holes set her four back of Jang. It also spurred her on to the birdie streak that gave her the outright lead.

“It kind of got me fired up," Ko said. "I kind of jammed my putter in my bag, and I said, `OK, you’ve got to start working again.’”

If Ko wins on Saturday and earns her sixth LPGA Tour title (fourth as a professional), she will take over the top spot in the Rolex Rankings from Inbee Park. Even if Ko doesn't win, she could take over No. 1 if she finishes alone in second place and Park, who is 11 shots back of Ko's lead, finishes no better than a three-way tie for third place.

The accomplishment would be another in a string of mind-blowing efforts from Ko. At 15, she became the youngest player to win on the LPGA Tour, taking the Canadian Women's Open. She defended that title a year later. Ko closed the 2014 LPGA season by winning the CME Group Tour Championship and its $500,000 first-place prize, as well the inaugural Race to the CME Globe and its $1,000,000 payoff. Taking over the top spot in the world seems a natural progression.

After her Friday 65, Ko took care to at least publicly temper expectations of a Saturday coronation.

“There are so many great players, one to four shots, you just never know what's going to happen,” she said. “I'm just going to concentrate on my game, just stay really positive, and if somebody else shoots a much better score than I do, I can't really do much about it. Just going to focus, and, hopefully, I'll go out and shoot a good score tomorrow.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Jan 30

Tiger Woods shoots 82 in Phoenix Open for worst round as a pro

Tiger Woods has never scored worse as a pro than he did on Friday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Woods shot and 11-over 82 at TPC Scottsdale for his worst-ever round as a professional, worse than the 81 he shot in the third round of the 2002 Open Championship. It was raining on that day, too, at Muirfield, but gale-force winds didn't whip up at TPC Scottsdale.

Tiger Woods stands in a cactus while searching for his ball. (USAT)

His second round was like the first but with more lighter fluid. The same things plagued Woods on Friday: cluenessless with the driver and a complete mental block in his short game. 

The first four holes weren't good, but a good-enough 1-over-par start. Then he took an unplayable lie after his drive at his fifth hole, the 14th after starting on the back nine, leading to a double-bogey 6. Woods followed with a duck hook into the water at the par-5 15th, the total opposite of where his drive went on Thursday. Triple bogey. 

When Woods made a 20-foot putt to save par – par! – at the par-3 16th, the roar from the crowd made it seem like a birdie. It was almost as if they were trying to will him to something better.

Then Woods couldn't get up-and-down in three from 40 yards away at the drivable par-4 17th. Deflated, Woods came up short from the fairway with his approach at the 18th. Bogey, why not. The outgoing 8-over 44 tied his worst-ever score for nine holes as a professional, equaled in the third round of the 2013 Memorial Tournament. 

At that point, what was Woods to do? He wasn't going to shoot a back-nine 26 to miraculously make the cut. 

"Just keep fighting," Woods said after the round. "Just keep grinding over each and every shot."

He deserves credit for that, taking the turn and not walking directly toward his jet and flying home. He played the back nine, and it was equally ugly, even if the score was six shots better. At the par-3 fourth, Woods skulled a chip shot from back of the green into a bunker in front of it, leading to a double-bogey. Woods birdied the fifth, the hardest hole on the course for the second day in a row, then dropped shots with a bad bunker shot at the sixth and a three-jack at the seventh. Another birdie at No. 8 gave a glimmer of hope that he'd have a chance to avoid a historic low, but a limp effort at the ninth locked up history.

Tiger Woods has played over 1,000 rounds as a professional. He now has two rounds in the 80s. 

"We all have days like this," Woods said. "Unfortunately, mine was in a public forum. We take the good with the bad."

Woods again blamed changes in his technique and his lack of trust in them for the debacle. This was mental. This was mentally jarring. Woods isn't sticking around for the Super Bowl on Sunday, instead flying home and practicing before he flies cross-country on Monday for the Farmers Insurance Open.

Woods' peers have repeatedly said on Twitter that the 14-time major winner looks great on the range. It's taking it to the course that's the problem. Perhaps that means Woods needs to play more to work through the mental flubs that are worse than the physical skulls, blades and chunks. 

The classic advice from wise investors is to buy low, at rock bottom if you can. But you'd be hard pressed to find someone right now that would buy stock in Woods – that is, except Woods.

"I was player of the year only a year ago," Woods said. "Got to keep things in perspective."

Related video from the Waste Management Phoenix Open


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Jan 30

Rory McIlroy’s bogey-free 64 has him atop the Dubai leaderboard

Here's the recipe for pro golf success: make a lot of birdies and very few bogeys. Consider Rory McIlroy a master chef.

McIlroy owns the lead at the halfway mark of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic after firing a bogey-free, 8-under 64 at Emirates G.C. He's a shot clear of Marc Warren and two clear of Graeme McDowell and Seve Benson. 

Through two rounds, the world No. 1 has 15 birdies and a bogey. Sure, McIlroy hasn't finished outside the top 10 in the European Tour's first Dubai stop of the year since earning his first pro win there in 2009, but that kind of pure golf will play anywhere.

The question for McIlroy is if he can get over his weekend woes in Dubai. In his last five Dubai Desert Classic starts before this year, McIlroy was a perfect 10 for 10 in under-par rounds before the weekend cut. After? McIlroy has posted five rounds of par or worse.

McIlroy knows he'll have to keep up the pace he's on to assure a chance at a win.

“Even though I'm in the lead, there's so many people still in with a chance if they shoot a good round tomorrow," he said. "I’ve just got to go out there, stay aggressive, stick to the game plan and try to make as many birdies as I can.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Jan 30

So far, Allenby greeted with few hecklers at Phoenix Open

When Robert Allenby called a news conference ahead of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a lot of people wondered why the Aussie would subject himself to the merciless fans at TPC Scottsdale's par-3 16th.

They boo if you back off your shot, miss the green or do anything that's not entertaining. They research for chants. That sounded like a recipe for a miserable experience for Allenby, whose version of events after missing the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii has been lampooned, poked at and contradicted without resolution.

Turns out, the fans were good to the 43-year-old on Thursday as Allenby shot 1-under 70.

“I was a little bit, you know, a little bit nervous going into 16,” Allenby said. “I was actually really surprised. They were fantastic, you know. There was nothing mean at all. … I think some of the comments were actually pretty funny.”

Allenby's story may not entirely add up, but ultimately he was the victim of a robbery, losing his credit cards to at least one person who has used them to rack up over $20,000 in fraudulent charges. Besides, the crowd at 16 wants to have a good time, not give someone a hard time.

If the Aussie duplicates his opening 70, he'll have made the cut for the 10th time in 12 career Phoenix starts.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Jan 30

In contention in Phoenix, Bradley may have to speed to Super Bowl

Keegan Bradley shot 6-under 65 on Thursday to open the Waste Management Phoenix Open and trail clubhouse leader Ryan Palmer by a stroke. Certainly that's a good thing, but for Bradley, a raging New England Patriots fan, there's a tinge of bad, too. 

If Bradley contends throughout the week down to the final stroke, he's going to have a hard time making the kickoff of Super Bowl XLIX in nearby Glendale, Ariz. After Bradley wrapped Round 1, he explained the lengths he'd go to make sure he's there for the start of the Patriots-Seahawks tussle. 

“I will do whatever it takes to get to that game, so if I have to get in a car and go 150 miles an hour, I'm going to do it," Bradley said. "I can't be this close to a Super Bowl with the Patriots playing and not go. So I will be there at some point.”

Some of Bradley's peers on tour have been poking fun at him on Twitter, including Washington native Andres Gonzalez, who imagined the 2011 PGA champion as one of the so-called 12s.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Jan 30

Tiger Woods pulls out 73 in Phoenix Open first round

The first 12 holes of Tiger Woods' season-debut round at the Waste Management Phoenix Open were a certifiable car wreck.

The last six holes, however messy, salvaged a 2-over 73 at TPC Scottsdale. It could have been a lot worse.

Woods' opening tee shot set a foreboding mood, a blast skied so far right it almost went out of bounds. He recovered, but Woods made a bizarre decision to bump-and-run a mid-iron for his third shot. It came up well short, leading to a bogey. Repeat on the second hole, but this time from the fairway.

On the third, Woods got pin-high in two at the par 5, but misjudged his distance to a tight landing area on the green with his third, leading to a disappointing par. A hole later, he repeated the messy bump-and-run after missing the par-3 green with an 8-iron. Three putts -- two that were official -- later, Woods was 4 over through four holes.

The world No. 47 rallied for a birdie at the fifth that raised hopes Woods just had to shake off rust. But when Woods came up short again with his approach from the fairway at the sixth and pulled out putter rather than wedge from off the green, it was clear the chipping yips were in his head. It was clear why on the ninth, when Woods, after hitting an excellent recovery from a poor drive off an awkward lie, skulled his chip behind the green. 

Then on the par-4 11th, Woods drive found its way into desert plantlife; he did well to make bogey. After a par at 12, Woods was two-thirds through his round and looking at an outside shot at 80. 

Perhaps sensing he needed to make a turn toward par or risk standing no chance of making the Friday cut, Woods found something on the par-5 13th. He creamed a drive 329 yards down the middle of the fairway and stuck his approach to 7 inches for a tap-in eagle. All of a sudden, Woods had a pulse. It was short-lived. Errant drives to the right -- his miss on the day -- lead to disappointing pars, including on the par-5 15th. 

At the infamous par-3 16th, Woods had to back off twice because of loud spectators among the huge throng of fans. Thankfully he escaped with par, but he had the worst score in his threesome with Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth.

Woods showed off his newfound power on 17, too, blasting a drive at the short-ish, 332-yard par 4 to 20 feet. The eagle bid came up just short. A routine par at the last brought the final tally to 73.

The thousands of chips Woods said pre-tournament that he hit in the off-season did him no good on Thursday. Woods complained of a lack of trust with a new wedge grind to fit his new-but-old short-game technique, but that wasn't the problem. It was mental. 

The driver was a big liability, too, although Woods' miss is way right under Chris Como. It's better than the snap hook he had with Sean Foley, but Woods is clearly stuck as he gets toward impact and struggles to square the face. When he does, however, as he did on Nos. 13 and 17, the power is back. 

Who knows which Woods will show up on Friday. The only thing that's clear is this is clearly a work in progress, one that Woods said earlier in the week was ahead of schedule. Perhaps so, but it's a long way from contending and even a leap from making a cut.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Jan 29

Rory McIlroy off to another good start in the Dubai Desert Classic

Rory McIlroy can't seem to break through in the United Arab Emirates during the European Tour's early season swing through the country.

Since earning his first pro win in Dubai in 2009, McIlroy has played nine times in Dubai and neighboring Abu Dhabi, finishing outside the top 10 just once and posting three runner-up finishes. It's a record that annoys the world No. 1, who lamented a lack of wins earlier in the week.

The good news for McIlroy on Thursday is he opened the Omega Dubai Desert Classic with 6-under 66. The bad news? He's tied for sixth, two off the lead of Bernd Wiesberger.

“It’s another good start here and something to build on,” McIlroy said. “Not going to grumble about a 66, although you’re not going to get the course any easier.”

McIlroy said he would have been disappointed had he not shot at least 68 at Emirates G.C. That's how strong his game has been dating back to last summer. He won three majors in a row, with a World Golf Championships event sandwiched in between the Open Championship and PGA Championship. Though he hasn't won since hoisting the Wanamaker for the second time in August, he has four runner-up finishes worldwide, including two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi.

Recent form and his record in the U.A.E. suggests a top-10 finish is a practical lock. However, walking away with anything less than a win will disappoint McIlroy, and isn't that what a player as dominant as the Ulsterman should feel?


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.