Another Tiger Sergio Duel in the Works

By Associated PressJuly 22, 2006, 4:00 pm
135th Open Championship HOYLAKE, England -- Tiger Woods gazed across green and brown splotches of grass and tried desperately to gauge the speed of his putts, each mistake costing him a chance to turn this British Open into another runaway.
 
A chance for eagle turned into par. What looked like a birdie became a bogey.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods reacts to birdie on the 11th hole Saturday.
His only consolation Saturday after rapping in a 3-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole at Royal Liverpool for a 1-under 71 was seeing his name atop the leaderboard, knowing that he has never lost any of the previous 10 majors when he took the lead into the last round.
 
Even so, the gentle wind off the Irish Sea carried renewed hope for Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els and an all-star cast chasing him.
 
They all knew it could have been worse.
 
So did Woods.
 
'Just take away my three-putts, I would have a four-shot lead,' Woods said.
 
Instead, he was at 13-under 203 and will be in the final group with the Garcia, a 26-year-old Spaniard who has been chasing Woods for seven years.
 
Garcia blistered the sun-baked links for a 65 to give him his best chance ever to capture a major.
 
Garcia holed out a 9-iron from 167 yards for eagle on No. 2, took only 29 shots on the outward nine and never faded. It will be his first time in the final group of a major since he was four shots behind Woods in the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.
 
'I did what I had to do to give myself a chance,' Garcia said.
 
Everyone else did just enough to turn this British Open into a wide-open affair.
 
Also at 12-under 204 was Chris DiMarco, who overcame consecutive bogeys at the turn by making three straight birdies. DiMarco, who lost a playoff to Woods at the 2005 Masters, had a chance to join him in the lead until his fairway metal to the 18th green got stuck behind a pot bunker, forcing him to play away from the flag.
 
And don't forget the Big Easy.
 
Els, in the final pairing with Woods at a major for the first time in six years, struggled with his irons but refused to allow himself to fall too far behind. He picked up birdies on the par-5 16th and 18th holes for a 71, leaving him in the three-way tie for second.
 
Woods might be 10-0 when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead in majors, but in half of those victories he led by at least three shots.
 
Reminded of Woods' perfect record, DiMarco wasn't interested.
 
'Stats don't lie. Obviously, he's a pretty good front-runner, and usually he's got a five- or six-shot lead,' DiMarco said. 'Tomorrow, he has a one-shot lead. You would have thought he'd be 4 or 5 under right now, and he's not.
 
'But the guy has a knack for winning, so it's going to be tough to beat him.'
 
Another shot back at 11-under 205 was former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk (66) and Angel Cabrera, who also shot 66 and left the gallery wondering if there was something in the tea at Hoylake that suited Argentines.
 
The last time the British Open came to this links course was in 1967, when Robert De Vicenzo of Argentina held off Jack Nicklaus.
 
Cabrera has not seen De Vicenzo in several years, and really wasn't interested in the peculiar link between his country and Royal Liverpool.
 
'I'm not really thinking about history, I'm thinking about Cabrera,' he said.
 
And what does he think about Cabrera?
 
>'That I can win the tournament,' he replied with a grin.
 
Everyone must feel they can get their names inscribed on the silver claret jug Sunday afternoon, thanks to a pedestrian performance by Woods with the very club that had served him so well the first two days.
 
'I know I'm in the last group. And I've got a one-shot lead,' Woods said. 'And hopefully, tomorrow I can play like the way I did today and just putt a little better.'
 
The dry conditions have left splotches of brown on the greens, making it roll quicker and giving Woods fits on this day.
 
It started on the par-5 10th, when Woods gave himself a 25-foot eagle putt. He ran it about 3 1/2 feet by, and pulled the next one, gritting his teeth as he headed to the next tee. He answered with a birdie from 18 feet on No. 11 to build a two-shot lead, and it looked like it might get larger when his 20-foot birdie on the 14th caught the edge of the cup.
 
But it spun out and trickled 4 feet by, and Woods again missed the hole on his par putt.
 
He lost the lead again on the 17th when his 40-foot putt from the back of the green came up 6 feet short.
 
'You really had to watch your pace, because obviously every green is just a slightly different speed,' he said.
 
Garcia had a few problems of his own, missing a 6-foot birdie on the 17th that might have sent him to a course record. He had another birdie putt from the same distance on No. 11 that he left short.
 
'They're getting quite crispy and quite brown, and it's tough to get the speed right all of the time,' he said.
 
But he had few complaints.
 
Garcia first came into Woods' view at the 1999 PGA Championship, when he was 19 and ready to conquer the world. He gouged that 6-iron out of the base of the tree and chased it up the fairway, a brilliant display of enthusiasm and shotmaking that came up one shot short of Woods that day.
 
He's still running after him.
 
Their relationship is frosty at best, with Woods becoming irritated six years ago at the Monday night 'Battle at Bighorn' exhibition, when Garcia beat him on the last hole and celebrated as if he had won a major.
 
The last time they played in the final group was the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines earlier this year. Woods started one shot behind Garcia and Rod Pampling and went on to win in a playoff as Garcia stumbled to a 75.
 
'It will be fun for both of us to go out there and try to win the Open championship,' Woods said. 'There are a bunch of guys up there at the top of the board, and we've got to go out there and play well ourselves.'
 
Els could easily have fallen away, especially on No. 7. He hit driver off the tee and into a gorse bush, having to take a penalty drop. Then, he hit into a pot bunker near the sodden wall. He blasted out to 15 feet and escaped with bogey, and limited the damage until he found his swing again.
 
He will play with Furyk in the pairing ahead of Woods-Garcia, very much in range of a fourth major.
 
'We're still in contention, it's a major championship,' Els said. 'A lot can happen tomorrow.'
 
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - 135th Open Championship
  • Course Tour - Royal Liverpool
  • Full Coverage - 135th Open Championship
     
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  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.