Golf: Pagdanganan continues to impress in rookie season

Daniel HICKS, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 28 2020 09:23 AM

HONG KONG -- The US Masters at the wrong time of year and an exciting young women's player are among AFP Sport's golf talking points this week:

- New Masters challenge -

Tiger Woods walks down the fairway on the 18th hole during the third round of the Zozo Championship golf tournament at Sherwood Country Club. Kelvin Kuo, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters.

Tiger Woods came into last week's Zozo Championship as the champion, but well before Sunday, where he finished 22 shots adrift of winner Patrick Cantlay, his thoughts had turned to a bigger title defense next month.

The US Masters, shifted from April to November because of the coronavirus shutdown, is the 15-time major-winner's sole remaining focus in 2020, but he admits preparations will be different from usual.

"The fact that the Masters will be held in November, it's unprecedented," he told reporters. 

"I can't simulate the normal ramp-up that I normally have, and I don't think anyone else can either," he said.

And Woods had some chilling words for those who think the Masters in the autumn will be anything like Augusta in the spring.

"I have played there in November. And the few times that I have played in November, it's been the same. It's been cold. The ball doesn't go very far.

"If you're able to get the north wind that time of year, it can be awfully difficult and long -- very different than what we normally play in April."

- 'She whacks it' -

Bianca Pagdanganan hits her tee shot on the first hole during the final round of the 2020 KPMG Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Aronimink Golf Club. Brian Spurlock, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

There's a new young Asian talent to follow on the LPGA Tour, and for a change she's not South Korean, Japanese or Thai -- but from the Philippines.

Rookie Bianca Pagdanganan, who turns 23 on Wednesday, has been captivating observers with her relaxed demeanor and prodigious power since making her pro debut in July.

Pagdanganan finished tied ninth two weeks ago in her first major, the PGA Championship, and was then tied for third Sunday at the Drive On Championships behind winner Ally McDonald and world number five Danielle Kang to rocket to 43rd in the 2020 money list after playing only six events.

But it's her length off the tee which has many believing she could be the future of women's golf.

Pagdanganan, who won team gold and individual bronze for the Philippines at the 2018 Asian Games, has been regularly blasting her driver past the 300-yard mark, a distance few women can match.

"Yeah, she whacks it," said Haley Moore, her NCAA championship-winning teammate at the University of Arizona. "We were like, 'Oh man, don't try to keep up with her. She bombs it'."

Father Sam says Pagdanganan wants to be "the first woman to average 300 yards" (in driving distance). She is already well on her way, leading the tour stats at 288.8 yards, fully six yards further than the next best.

Veteran English major-winner Karen Stupples is already a fan. "She's got the personality. But she is also the only woman in the game with that kind of power who isn't afraid to use it," Stupples told LPGA.com. 

"Other players could hit it as far as she does, but they're afraid to do it. They've been told that they need to pull back and keep it in play or hit it to a number. She doesn't care about any of that. She picks a line and rips it." 

Pagdanganan doesn't seem to know what all the fuss is about. "I never really noticed that I hit it far until people started telling me in college," she says, adding that she is just happy to "live my dream". 

"If you told me a couple years ago that I would be playing on the LPGA Tour and be in this position in my rookie year, I wouldn't believe you."

- Tough at the top -

Dustin Johnson plays his shot from the ninth tee during the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Winged Foot Golf Club - West. File Photo. Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters.

Spain's Jon Rahm only lasted two weeks as world number one in August before being knocked off the top by Justin Thomas.

And on Sunday at the Zozo Championship he had the chance to grab back top spot from the absent Dustin Johnson with a win or outright second place, until Thomas again proved his nemesis.

Rahm needed a birdie at the 18th to tie clubhouse leader Patrick Cantlay, with playing partner Thomas a stroke further back. Rahm's 20-footer slid past, however, to give Cantlay the title.

Thomas, needing an improbable eagle two at the par-four 72nd hole to stand any chance, had arrowed his approach to four feet and holed out for birdie and a share of second, denying Rahm the top ranking.

It all left Johnson, at home recovering from Covid-19, safe in the knowledge that though he might be under the weather, he was still on top of the world.

- World rankings -

Latest leading world golf rankings, week beginning October 26, 2020:

Men

1. Dustin Johnson (USA) 10.26

2. Jon Rahm (ESP) 10.17

3. Justin Thomas (USA) 9.06

4. Collin Morikawa (USA) 7.58

5. Rory McIlroy (NIR) 7.50 

6. Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 7.42 

7. Xander Schauffele (USA) 7.17 

8. Webb Simpson (USA) 7.01 

9. Patrick Cantlay (USA) 6.32 (+5)

10. Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 6.26 (-1)

Women

1. Ko Jin-young (KOR) 7.97 

2. Kim Sei-young (KOR) 6.87 

3. Nelly Korda (USA) 6.59 

4. Park In-bee (KOR) 6.18 

5. Danielle Kang (USA) 6.15 

6. Nasa Hataoka (JPN) 5.91 

7. Brooke Henderson (CAN) 5.77 

8. Park Sung-hyun (KOR) 5.23 

9. Minjee Lee (AUS) 5.15 

10. Lexi Thompson (USA) 4.81

© Agence France-Presse