A battle for No. 1, a loaded LPGA field and more to watch in golf this week

While the LIV Golf League will take a three-week hiatus after its first 54-hole event in Mexico, the PGA Tour will pick up steam ahead of the Masters over the next month.

There will be three scheduled tournaments in the next four weeks. First up is the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida, the fourth prestigious event of the season with a $20 million prize pool. The Players Championship will have a $25 million cash prize next week, the largest ever on the PGA Tour. After the Valspar Championship, a non-leveled tournament, another $20 million will be at stake when the final WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play takes place possibly March 22-25 at the Austin Country Club.

The LPGA will also play one of the biggest tournaments of the season at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore this week.

Here’s what to watch in professional golf this week:

What’s Next on the PGA Tour

Arnold Palmer Invitational from Mastercard
When: Thursday-Sunday
Where: Arnold Palmer Club and Lodge Bay Hill, Orlando
Current champion: Scotty Sheffler
Wallet: $20 million

Puerto Rico Open
When: Thursday-Sunday
Where: Grand Reserve Country Club, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico
Current champion: Ryan Brem
Wallet: $3.8 million

Three storylines worth watching:

The wind is about to howl: Bay Hill is considered one of the hardest tracks on the PGA Tour. Last year’s GPA of 73,886 made this the most difficult course to schedule for non-specialists; only the US Open (+2,507), PGA Championship (+2,458), and Masters (+1,951) had higher average scoring numbers.

With the weather forecast predicting winds of 20 to 30 mph on Friday and 15 to 25 mph on Saturday, patience and hitting the ball will be key.

“Conditions were extremely difficult last year,” said John Rahm. “I heard it gets tough on the weekends, but obviously it was really tough last year. I understand why Tiger has been so successful here. This is a golf course. and obviously, like everywhere else, you have to be good on the green.”

#1 in the draw (again): The number one spot in the Official World Golf Rankings has already changed hands three times since the start of 2023. Rory McIlroy started the year at No. 1, Sheffler brought it back after defending his WM Phoenix Open title, and then Ram finally reached the top again. taking Genesis next week.

There are scenarios where both Sheffler and McIlroy could reclaim the top spot this week.

According to research by Sportzshala Stats & Information, there were multiple changes to the top for the first time before March. In fact, it is only the eighth time since 1991 until March that there has been at least one change. Greg Norman has competed on three previous occasions, lost twice and won once. McIlroy also participated in the last change until this year when he took first place from Brooks Koepka in 2020.

“It was great,” Ram said. “It’s very nice when you become No. 1 when other players are also excellent golfers. Scotty had a great last year, Rory had a great last year, and by the end of the year I had recovered a bit. And even when Scotty won in Phoenix, I was able to be No. 1 right after that.”

McIlroy chance: After winning in Dubai in January, McIlroy is still trying to find his form in the US. It tied for No. 32 in Phoenix and No. 29 in the Riviera. Although McIlroy has only played in three PGA Tour events this season, he ranks 171st in hits scored: putting (-0.446). He ranks in the top 10 in all other scoring categories.

The current FedEx Cup winner performed very well at Bay Hill, where he won in 2018. He finished worse than 13th only once in his previous eight starts. His average of 70.31 is the second lowest in the tournament among players who have played at least 20 rounds; Woods, who won the tournament eight times, averaged 69.97.

What’s Next on the LPGA Tour

HSBC Women’s World Championship
When: Wednesday Saturday
Where: Sentosa Golf Club (Tanjong Course), Singapore
Current champion: Jin Young Ko
Wallet: $1.8 million

Three storylines worth watching:

Protection Co.: Koh won the Asian Major in her first start of 2022 and finished in the top 10 at the official majors twice, placing fourth at the US Women’s Open and tied for eighth at the Amundi Evian Championship. A five-tournament winner and 2021 LPGA Player of the Year, she missed seven weeks at the end of the 2022 season with a nagging injury to her left wrist and has not won again.

Koh, 27, told reporters in Singapore on Tuesday that she spent the off-season in Vietnam working with her swing coach and trainer. The former world No. 1 said she meditates every morning and evening, hoping to improve as a person and as a golfer.

Yes, all players [have] high expectations and it makes [it] hard and tired,” Ko said. – That’s why I don’t want to [put] high expectations [on] myself. Take a look [at] ball and just hit it, just walk around and then hit it again, that’s it.”

Ko began to see positive results last week when she scored 8 points under 64 in the final round for a sixth-place finish at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

Loaded field: There’s a reason the HSBC Women’s World Championship is affectionately referred to as the Asian Major. Nine of the world’s top 10 players are on the field, including all five of last year’s major champions: Jennifer Cupcho (Chevron), Minji Lee (US Women’s Open), Ying Ji Chun (KPMG Women’s PGA), Brooke M. Henderson (Amundi Evian ) and Ashley Boohay (AIG Women’s Open).

“This is a major in Asia, so getting an invitation to play here is a really big deal,” Henderson said. “I work hard all year so that I can be invited again. So I always really like the opportunity to be here. There have been so many incredible champions in the past. I hope to add my name to this list someday.”

Not convenient: World number one golfer Lydia Koh has won three of her last five starts, most recently in the Saudi Women’s International, but says she takes nothing for granted.

“You can never be too cocky about what kind of ranked player you are because it’s so crowded at the top,” Ko said. “Everyone plays very well and you can’t say, ‘I’ll be there forever.’ When I was younger, it seemed to me that being number one meant that I had to win or fight week after week, but this is not always the case.

“Everyone will have their ups and downs, but you have to manage it by making sure those lows aren’t too low and you aren’t rising too high from the highs.”

Koh has won 19 LPGA Tour victories but has never won the HSBC Women’s World Championship. In her last eight tournament starts, she is 69 under, the best of any player, and her average of 69.84 is more than 2 strokes better than her game average of 72.12.

Koh, who got married in December, said the recent changes in her life also made her think about golf.

“It is very important to know that at the end of the round, no matter what I shoot, there is someone who supports me and just thinks of me and not [as] golfer Lydia Ko, but Bo-gyung is my Korean name,” Ko said. “I think that’s something you’re very grateful for, and I think it can be very lonely there sometimes. You have your caddies and your team and your family, but there are things that you kind of just put in and keep to yourself. My husband has been the biggest influence on me.”

Is the field smaller?

As the PGA Tour continues to adjust its schedule and the number of boosted events in future seasons, field sizes and cuts in these events are becoming a controversial issue.

The top players, including McIlroy and Woods, seem to be in favor of smaller fields that will help ensure the best and most recognizable players are on the weekend. In their opinion, this would also help secure sponsorships and TV ratings. On the other hand, some players outside the top 50 are afraid to be left out.

Xander Schaufele, the world’s No. 6 player, had a different take on Tuesday.

“I’m always for a share,” Schauffele said. “Emotionally, I’m in favor of downsizing. There is one aspect that I would say is really interesting for some. But at the end of the day, a lot of people love it, and a lot of kids love watching the best players. play in the world. If they have a baseball game on Saturday, Timmy can still come over with his dad and watch Rory play on Sunday, no matter what.”

Schauffele said smaller pitches also shorten the length of competition days. At Genesis, a prestigious event, rounds were suspended due to darkness despite good weather in Los Angeles.

“I think it’s also easier to sell to sponsors if you let them know that 20 of the top 20 players in the world will be there Thursday through Sunday,” Schauffele said. “I think this package is easier to sell when it comes to choosing what makes the product the best.

“And then the size of the field, I mean, you start looking at the problems we’re starting to have on the West Coast. We can’t even finish tournaments on time. We wake up at 5 am, we start earlier. , we don’t have enough windows on TV.”

Best rates

Anita Marks

Rory McIlroy to win (+900)
Rory just loves this place. The 2018 winner, with four additional top 10 spots, McIlroy feasted at Arnie’s house. He’s in the top 10 in approaching shots and loves to wear Bermuda shorts to heal the wounds he’s had in the past few weeks.

Willy Zalatoris in the top 10 (+200)
I probably would have picked him to win if he hadn’t picked an early Thursday game, which means late Friday when the wind should be bad. He finished T-10 here in 2021 and T-4 a few weeks ago in LA. It thrives in tough conditions on tough trails and you have both here.

David Bierman

Rory McIlroy to win (+900)


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