LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Having already battled for five extra holes into darkness without producing a champion a day earlier, Gaby Lopez and Nasa Hataoka showed up to work at 8 a.m., just like regular folks.
The early wake-up call and extra golf was worth it for Lopez, who rolled in a 30-foot putt for birdie to prevail on the seventh playoff hole Monday and capture the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.
It was the second LPGA title for Lopez, who 14 months ago became only the second player from Mexico to win on tour, joining World Golf Hall of Fame member Lorena Ochoa. She earned $180,000 for the victory.
The elite field featured 26 LPGA tournament champions who had won tournaments in the last two seasons.
This was the LPGA’s fourth-longest playoff. The longest was 10 holes at the 1972 Corpus Christi Civitan Open, where Jo Ann Prentice beat Hall of Famers Sandra Palmer and Kathy Whitworth.
Lopez and Hataoka wound up playing the difficult 197-yard 18th hole at Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando eight times over two days, with two birdies from Lopez the difference.
Lopez birdied from 18 feet on her final hole of regulation Sunday to earn a spot in a playoff alongside Hataoka and Inbee Park, who was eliminated on the third playoff hole.
Hataoka, who had made a deft up-and-down from 30 yards for par to extend the playoff to a seventh hole as play resumed Monday, had the edge on the final hole after hitting a 4-hybrid that rode a slope along the right side of the green and curled to 12 feet from the hole.
But Lopez, whose ball barely made the putting surface, went first, her putt up the hill slowing and tumbling into the cup on its last rotation. Hataoka, ranked sixth in the world, made a poor stroke, pulling her birdie attempt left.
After a week of warm Florida weather, temperatures in the mid-40s greeted the women Monday and morning shadows covered the green as they returned to the 18th. The par 3 is long and tough, with a deep bunker in front and rocks and water guarding the left side of the green. Players require hybrids and fairway metals to reach the green. There were only six birdies total made on the hole all week; Lopez owned three of them.
Hataoka had enjoyed her week playing alongside athletes and celebrities — the 49-player celebrity division was won by pitcher and Hall of Famer John Smoltz. But the pressure amped up once the playoff began.
“Being a celebrity pro-am, I thought I was going to just enjoy it and have fun. But then being able to be in the final and do the playoff, that was a really good experience, and I think this would help me in the future,” said Hataoka, whose 2020 goals include a No. 1 ranking and an Olympic gold medal in her home country of Japan this summer. “When the tournaments start to get harder and harder, it will be a good lesson for me.”
Lopez charged into contention with a 5-under 66 Sunday, and played with confidence in the playoff. She entered the week ranked 56th but now has momentum to start her fifth LPGA season. In her first LPGA victory, the 2018 Blue Bay LPGA Championship in China, she had the lead and was grouped with the world’s top two players at the time, Ariya Jutanugarn and Sun Hyun Park. This time, victory took a different route.
“I proved to myself that I can win in any situation,” Lopez said. “My first win was in the lead. My second win was coming from behind. And being able to put all those moments together and recall them while I’m walking on the fairway here and try to stay patient. That’s what I proved to myself the most, my ability to stay in the moment.”
Park, seeking her 20th LPGA victory, was ousted on the playoff’s third hole when her tee shot hit off rocks along the left of the green and bounded into water. Park, Lopez and Hataoka finished 72 holes at 13-under 271.
The victory qualifies Lopez for the 2021 Tournament of Champions. She was asked if she were relieved she wouldn’t have to see Tranquilo’s well-worn 18th hole for another year.
“Not really. I mean, I do have a feeling for this hole,” Lopez said. “I like it. It was a perfect number for me yesterday, to be honest.”
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Lee Westwood secured his 25th European Tour win with victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Sunday.
Westwood, who had a one-shot overnight lead, has now won in four different decades starting in the 1990s. The Englishman’s 5-under par final-round 67 gave him a two-shot margin over a chasing pack of France’s Victor Perez (63) and England’s Tommy Fleetwood (63) and Matthew Fitzpatrick (67) who all finished on 271.
Top-ranked Brooks Koepka finished joint 34th with an 8-under 280 after a 69 in the final round, 11 back of Westwood.
It was Koepka’s first tournament since returning from a knee injury he aggravated in October when he slipped while walking off the tee at the CJ Cup in South Korea. He previously had stem cell treatment for a partially torn tendon in his patella.
Westwood, a former world No. 1-ranked player, was challenged throughout the final round.
Fitzpatrick, who was two shots off Westwood before the start of the day, got off to a strong start and an impressive front nine saw him pile on the pressure but the 46-year-old former world No. 1 kept his cool and continued to putt well to secure his victory.
“It’s been a good week,” Westwood told europeantour.com. “I wasn’t really paying any attention to what other people were doing.
“I was trying to control me, control my emotions and control what I’m working on in the golf swing. Just managed to do that.
“A little slip-up at 16. Like I said yesterday, with what I’m working on, if I don’t quite do it, I hit a pull, and I hit a pull second shot and pulled the putt actually, as well, but I hit some good shots coming in, and really just pleased with the way I controlled myself.”
Westwood was ranked No. 63 in the world going into the event, but the first victory by an English player on the 2020 Race to Dubai should move him into the top 30.
Fitzpatrick is already in there and was pleased to start the year with a strong performance, he added: “Front nine I felt like could I hole everything and managed to hole one putt for par, which was nice to keep a bit of momentum going.
“Just on back nine, just couldn’t make a thing. It was just one of those days, but hey, that’s golf. I’m delighted. It’s a great start to the year.”
Fleetwood, on his 29th birthday, carded a final round of nine under to finish on 17 under, but fell just short of winning the event for a third time.
“You just concentrate on what you’re doing and every time, every week we play, somebody is going to play great golf and at the moment that’s Lee,” said Fleetwood.
“I’m very, very happy with my weekend, I felt like I played some really good golf.”
Perez joined Fleetwood with a final round of 63 to come joint-second while Louis Oosthuizen finished fifth on 15 under.
Sergio Garcia finished six off Westwood to come tied for eighth alongside Austria’s Wiesberger.
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England’s Lee Westwood will take a one-shot lead into the final round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship after carding a 7-under-par 65 on Saturday.
Westwood, who last won on the European Tour at the 2018 Nedbank Challenge, produced a mighty approach shot to set up an eagle on the par-5 eighth hole to take the lead.
Having barely touched a club since featuring in the European Tour’s season finale in Dubai last November, Westwood was satisfied with his steady progress in Abu Dhabi this week.
“It’s always a bonus to be in contention and that’s basically why we come out here,” the 46-year-old said.
“I’m not going to lie, I didn’t play a lot of golf coming into it, didn’t know what to expect. To be in the lead with one round to go, it’s a real positive.
“I know I’m talented enough to win the tournament, it’s just a case of applying myself.”
Wiesberger made a late charge with three consecutive birdies to match Westwood’s round of 65, while overnight leader Laporta gained two shots in his final three holes to finish with 69.
World No.1 Brooks Koepka bounced back from a second-round 75 to make six birdies and finish with a round of 70, but remains nine shots off the lead.
Italy’s Francesco Laporta carded a superb bogey-free 9-under 63 to leap into a one-shot solo lead after 36 holes at the Abu Dhabi Championship, while stars America’s Bryson DeChambeau, Ireland’s Shane Lowry and England’s Danny Willett missed the cut.
Laporta, 29, was at 4-under for the day before putting together a blistering run of five birdies on the final five holes to card the best round of the week so far.
The Italian is bidding for his first European Tour victory this week after missing the cut in the two tour events he has played this season.
England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick also put together a late run of birdies to manage a second-round 67. The Englishman is tied in second place, four shots off the lead, alongside Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
World No. 1 Brooks Koepka, who started the day tied in third, had a second-round to forget, struggling to three bogeys and two double-bogeys on his way to carding 75.
American Koepka is playing his competitive return after three months out with a knee injury that forced him to miss the President’s Cup in December.
A string of stars missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, including DeChambeau, who made a bogey and two double-bogeys to finish the second-round with a 5-under 77.
World No. 1 Brooks Koepka carded a bogey-free 66 to sit tied for third, two shots behind leaders South African Shaun Norris and Italian Renato Paratore after the first round of the Abu Dhabi Championship.
American Koepka started well in his competitive return after three months out with a knee injury, making two birdies in the first three holes. The four-time major winner went to card a further four birdies without loss.
Koepka was replaced by Rickie Fowler when he missed the U.S. victory at the Presidents Cup last month due to the knee issue that he originally addressed with stem cell treatment.
Leaders Paratore and Norris finished the first round with an 8-under 64.
Paratore, 23, is bidding for his second European Tour title after being beaten in a play-off at the Mauritius Open last month. The Italian carded nine birdies in the first round, dampened only by a single dropped shot on the par-3 seventh hole.
“Today the short game was really good and also the iron play,” Paratore said. “The last four holes I holed some good putts on 18 and 17 so I’m pretty happy with the short game.”
Norris, 37, also made bogey at the seventh before putting together a run of seven birdies on the final 11 holes to take a share of the lead after Day 1.
Norris, who lost his father in July, said he was enjoying his golf again with his brother carrying his bags.
“It’s been a rough year last year after losing my father… it feels like everything is just working at the moment,” Norris said. “We’re having a lot of fun out there, that’s the main thing, I’m happy with what’s happening.”
Australian Jason Scrivener tied for third place alongside Koepka after carding a 6-under 66.
Information from Reuters contributed to this report.
The PGA Tour has unveiled a new pace-of-play policy that will include keeping a list of its slowest players on a week-to-week basis and levying penalties for “excessive shot times.”
Based on ShotLink data the tour compiles, players will be placed on an observation list with warnings given if they exceed 60 seconds to play a shot and a second bad time resulting in a 1-stroke penalty.
The fine structure the tour has in place has also increased substantially for various warnings.
One catch: The observation list will not be made public, and only those players who are on it will be notified.
“What comes with this is we need to make sure there is a deterrence in place,” said Tyler Dennis, the PGA Tour’s chief of operations. “We wanted to make a statement as to how important this is to us. On penalty strokes, we have changed how we view this going forward. In the past, two bad times in a round meant a penalty, and that has happened very infrequently. Now we are changing that to a tournament, so a second bad time in a tournament would result in a penalty stroke.”
The PGA Tour announced in August at the Northern Trust tournament after a significant slow play issue involving Bryson DeChambeau that it was speeding up its work on a new plan that it had been considering for months.
A trial period will commence with the new regulations to go into effect the week of the RBC Heritage in April.
Dennis said the previous system concerning groups that are out of position will remain in effect, as well.
Currently, any group that is deemed out of position — a hole behind the group in front or with a significant gap — is told it is out of position. That means any player in that group can be timed and if a time limit for various shots — typically 40 seconds — is exceeded, the player is warned. A second bad time results in a 1-shot penalty, which has happened in an individual stroke-play event on the PGA Tour just once going back to 1995.
To get on the observation list, a player’s historical ShotLink data will be reviewed over a 10-tournament rolling period to identify the slowest players. Those players will then be subject to a 60-second timing for all shots. If a player exceeds 60 seconds, then he will be timed on an individual basis even if his group is in position. If no infractions occur within two holes, he will no longer be timed.
Another timing situation will also be instituted: If any player in the field is observed to take more than 120 seconds to play a shot (without a good reason for doing so), he will be given an excessive shot time.
Fines will begin for a second excessive shot time in a season at $10,000 and increase to $20,000 for each additional offense. A player who has 10 cumulative or observation list timings gets a $50,000 fine, with $5,000 added per each additional timing.
“We talked long and hard about the observation list,” Dennis said. “It’s going to be kept confidential. We will notify each player each week who is on it and make sure they understand what it means to be on it. Our goal with this is to really educate the players. In a perfect world, nobody would be on the observation list. We’re going to put a lot of energy into this and really try and work with everyone.”
Dennis said that all timing of strokes would be done by on-course rules officials.