MELBOURNE, Australia— On current form and on a very familiar golf course, the two top-ranked players in the World Cup — Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar — are heavy favorites for individual honors when play begins today at Royal Melbourne.
The second-ranked Scott has won two tournaments in a row — the Australian PGA and the Australian Masters, which was held last week at Royal Melbourne.
Seventh-ranked Kuchar led by two strokes late in the final round of the Masters before a double-bogey on 18 enabled Scott to successfully defend his title. Kuchar finished second.
“He has been in such good form,” Kuchar said of Scott on Wednesday. “To at least give him a run it was awfully good. I stood five back going into Sunday. Unfortunately, I got a bad break on 18 and that’s part of golf.”
The Australians, with Scott’s teammate Jason Day at No. 18, are the highest-ranked team this week and will have the benefit of local crowds.
“It’s an interesting week,” Scott said. “We playing together as a team but we still want to beat each other.”
Added Day: “I don’t know whether to love him or not if he beats me.”
Kuchar and his teammate, Kevin Streelman, will attempt to successfully defend for the Americans the title that Kuchar and Gary Woodland won in 2011.
The differences between the tournament, format-wise, that Kuchar and Woodland won in 2011 is about as far as the distance between Royal Melbourne and Haiku, China, where the Americans won.
Then, it was a team event in keeping with the near 60-year history of the tournament. Two days of 4-ball competition, two days of foursomes. This time, to prepare for golf’s return to the Olympics and the format that will be used in Rio, it’s basically an individual stroke-play event.
The financial emphasis is on the individual portion of the tournament — $7 million in prize money to be divided among the 60-man field, including $1.2 million to the winner. And just $1 million allocated for the team event, with money only going to the top three teams.
Kuchar said the change doesn’t bother him.
“I know the format is different but the golf is the same,” Kuchar added. “It’s much more of an individual event … but there is a team component and I think we have got as good a shot as anybody.”
U.S. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem defended the move away from the team-only concept at a media conference Wednesday at Royal Melbourne.
“I think it is way too soon to conclude that the team portion of the Cup is lost,” Finchem explained. “We haven’t played yet so let’s see how that plays out and then we will see. We feel like the tournament is more marketable. We think that it has a better chance of fulfilling its mission which is to create more interest in the game in unique ways.”
“But we will see. If we go down this road and it doesn’t work, we will adjust, but we are going to give this every chance to work.”
The system being used to determine the entries at the Word Cup — rankings and number of players eligible from each country based on those rankings, will be used at Rio in 2016. The other difference is that there will be no team competition at the Olympics and there, golfers from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who are playing as separate countries at the World Cup will play as Britain.
Also, at the World Cup, Ireland and Northern Ireland play as one team. So this week, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Ireland’s Shane Lowry will play together.
McDowell says Scott is unquestionably the favorite this week.
“From Scotty’s point of view, he is just one of those guys you play with and you think to yourself ‘Why does this guy not win every week’?” McDowell added. “He’s that impressive.”
There are 26 teams taking part and eight individual golfers, including Fiji’s Vijay Singh, who finished third at the Australian Masters and will also have course familiarity in his favor
Teen golfer Lydia Ko now playing for dough
NAPLES, Fla. — Lydia Ko didn’t need to wait for the prize money to be distributed to realize why this week is so different on the LPGA Tour.
She was reminded in the airport by a question she has heard dozens of times. The 16-year-old from New Zealand was clearing customs when the agent asked her purpose for coming to the United States. She told him she was playing in a golf tournament.
“He says, ‘Are you a professional?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I am.’ So that was the biggest thing,” Ko said Wednesday. “I never said that before.”
When the agent inquired about her game, the teenager with maturity beyond her years mentioned that she was No. 5 in the women’s world ranking.
Clearly, this is no ordinary pro debut.
Not since Michelle Wie played her first LPGA Tour event as a pro — in 2005, just two days after she turned 16 — has there been so much buzz about a newcomer. But their age and South Korean heritage are about all they have in common.
Wie already had signed lucrative endorsement deals with Nike and Sony. Ko doesn’t even have an agent, much less a corporate contract. She wore a cap promoting golf in New Zealand for a news conference that was carried live by Golf Channel.
The biggest difference is that Ko is already proven to be one of the top players in women’s golf. She won the Canadian Women’s Open against a strong field last year at 15, making her the youngest winner of an LPGA event. She defended her title this summer and was runner-up in an LPGA major at the Evian Championship. Ko also has two other professional wins in Australia and New Zealand.
“I don’t think Lydia has anything to prove,” Suzann Pettersen said. “She’s already proven she’s good enough to be out there on a regular basis.”
LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan waived the minimum age requirement of 18 for Ko. The last player given that waiver was Lexi Thompson, who now is 18 and won last week in Mexico for the second time this year.
Ko starts her pro career today at Tiburon Golf Club with Wie (now 24) and 19-year-old Jessica Korda.
She also is playing a tournament in Taiwan to close out her year and then she will play a full schedule mixed in with high school. She has one more year remaining, though her mother has not ruled out going to college while playing the tour, much as Wie did at Stanford.
For now, she is testing different equipment and trying to decide her best path with management and endorsements. She is in no rush. One other decision is where to live while playing the LPGA Tour. It’s a 16-hour commute from New Zealand.
She has been getting by on $80 a month as her allowance. A win at the Titleholders is worth $700,000, the richest payoff in women’s golf. The purse is still $2 million, though the winner’s check has been bumped by $200,000 from last year.
Unlike everyone else at Tiburon, Ko prepared for the LPGA Tour’s final event by knocking out some final exams in English and photography.
That explains a lot about the teenager who acts like one only at home.
There is an even temper about Ko that shows some staying power. After her family moved to New Zealand, she took up golf when she was 5 and has been on a fast track ever since. She was intent on staying amateur until her success made it difficult to turn down.
Even so, there is little evidence that Ko is running herself into the ground with a steady diet of only golf.
Sony extends sponsorship of Hawaii event
HONOLULU — Sony Corp. has extended its title sponsorship of the PGA Tour event on Oahu for another four years.
The new agreement starts after the Sony Open is completed Jan. 12 at Waialae Country Club. Sony’s commitment through 2018 will mark 20 years of sponsorship.
Sony is among the five longest-running tournament sponsors on the PGA Tour. It is the first full-field tournament of the year, taking place a week after the Tournament of Championship at Kapalua on Maui.
The tournament is televised in prime time on the East Coast on Golf Channel.
Wes Short Jr. leads at Champions Tour’s qualifying
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Wes Short Jr. had birdies on his last two holes for a 5-under 66 at the Champions Tour’s national qualifying tournament at TPC Scottsdale on Wednesday.
He leads Doug Garwood and Bill Glasson by one after 36 holes.
Short was at 12-under 130 on the Champions Course. His seven-birdie round on Wednesday included a 2-putt birdie from 40 feet at the par-5 17th and a 12-foot birdie putt at No. 18 that moved him in front.