Big names near the top at Sr Players

By Associated PressOctober 9, 2008, 4:00 pm
Champions TourTIMONIUM, Md. ' Professional golfers are notorious tinkerers anyway, and the incentive to tweak ones swing only increases as time passes between wins.
 
So Phil Blackmar and Des Smyth have been doing some major overhauling lately. At least on Thursday, the changes worked.
 
Blackmar, Smyth and Bruce Fleisher shot 5-under 65s to share the first-round lead in the Senior Players Championship, the fifth and final Champions Tour major of the season.
 
Phil Blackmar
Phil Blackmar is searching for his first Champions Tour victory. (Getty Images)
Blackmar holed out from the fairway for eagle to help offset four bogeys, Smyth had a bogey-free day, and Fleisher made four straight birdies early in his round to top the leaderboard.
 
All three are winless this year.
 
Fred Funk, Scott Hoch, Bernhard Langer and Eduardo Romero opened with 66s and 19 players were within three strokes of the lead after an ideal day for scoring at the East Course at Baltimore Country Club.
 
Blackmar, a Champions Tour rookie who took seven years off from competitive golf, provided the highlight of the day with his approach shot on the 389-yard, par-4 10th hole. His shot with a pitching wedge from 106 yards landed about 10 feet short of the cup and skipped in for an eagle.
 
A three-time winner on the PGA Tour, Blackmar said he expected to be in contention more this season. He has had just three top-10 finishes despite putting well. As the years gone on, Ive felt uncomfortable with my swing, he said. Its been getting shorter and shorter going back. Less (shoulder) turn. Its taken its toll mechanically. It reached the point where I had to do something.
 
That something has consisted of a lot of practice time spent working on new swing keys, but he is not ready to declare his swing changes a success just yet. I hit a lot of good shots today. Im excited about that, said Blackmar, whose last win of any kind came at the 1997 Shell Houston Open. Im also very suspicious. I know my game. I know that it comes and goes.
 
Smyths game seemingly left him after last year. This has been a really terrible season, he said. Its been a struggle. Ive been working on a swing change over the last five or six weeks because I got frustrated with how the years gone.
 
Smyth, whose son won nearly $14 million in the Irish National Lottery two months ago, hasnt had a victory since 2005 and hasnt even managed a top-20 finish this season. But he had three tap-in birdies on the front nine and birdied Nos. 11 and 14.
 
He hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation while trying to perfect a new backswing. He decided to make the change after seeing a videotape of his swing. The minute I saw it I knew I had to make a big change to get it back on track, he said, pleased by the early returns. Really, I was just hoping I could find a little bit of form at the end of the season, so I could take something into next year. I know conditions were really good, but still, it takes a bit of golf to shoot 65.
 
Fleisher, an 18-time winner on the Champions Tour but winless since 2004, is the only one of the three leaders who hasnt overhauled his swing recently. Im too old, said Fleisher, who turns 60 next week. To go after something new at this point would be kind of silly.
 
Fleisher shot a 5-under 30 on the front nine and, after a bogey at 10, sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the 15th to move into a tie for the lead. Just one of those days that everything clicked, he said, adding that he believes he can still win on a tour dominated by players five or more years younger than he is. It certainly becomes harder and harder, but I think it can be done.
 
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard ' Senior Players Championship
  • Full Coverage ' Senior Players Championship
  • Golf Channel Airtimes
  • Getty Images

    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.

    Getty Images

    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.

    Getty Images

    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.

    Getty Images

    McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

    Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

    Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

    The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

    McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.