Chasing Demons at The Open

By Associated PressJuly 20, 2006, 4:00 pm
135th Open Championship HOYLAKE, England -- Phil Mickelson has nothing on Greg Owen, if you take away a couple of green jackets and the little trinket the PGA Championship gives its winners. They both try to put a little white ball into a little hole for a living, and on Thursday they managed to do it quite nicely at Royal Liverpool.
 
Golf is an equal opportunity employer, and it doesn't get any more equal than at an Open where a part-time plumber like Warren Bladon can play for the same million dollars or so that's available to Tiger Woods.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson got off to a hot start Thursday, but cooled off on the back nine.
The odds are Woods has a greater chance of pocketing that check than Bladon, a 40-year-old Brit whose girlfriend had to put up the $200 entry fee so he could try to qualify and then ordered him out of the house and to the practice range so he wouldn't blow the money.
 
Bladon apparently didn't practice enough, shooting a 76 in his opening round on a course where par was officially listed at 72 but was actually somewhere south of 70. That didn't stop the British Open leaderboard from being littered with other names like Fraser, Ho, Fukabori and Ilonen that are recognizable only to their mothers and the most avid of golf fans.
 
Owen was near the top of that board, giving credence to the theory that on any given day, the guys who fly in the back of jets can compete with those who fly their own jets. He shared more, though, with Mickelson than just a good first-round score.
 
Both are here hoping to exorcise some demons and they won't know until late Sunday afternoon how successful they will be.
 
Mickelson could be going for his own version of the Grand Slam and sending a message to Woods if he hadn't famously blown a U.S. Open last month. Owen doesn't travel in that league, but he was just as traumatized by a Bay Hill Invitational that he three-jacked away from 3 feet earlier this year.
 
Sometimes it's not about the size of the tournament, but the size of the hurt.
 
Everyone who has ever picked up a club remembers the look of anguish on Mickelson's face, the sight of his wife draping an arm around him, and the stunned reaction of the fans who lined the 18th hole at Winged Foot last month expecting a coronation but getting a collapse instead.
 
Not since Jean Van de Velde went wading into a creek at Carnoustie seven years ago has a major championship been thrown away so easily on the final hole.
 
'I am such an idiot,' Mickelson said afterward, confirming the thoughts of many who watched him try to bend an iron around a big tree on the final hole.
 
Mickelson came here this week determined to move on, but candid enough to admit he will never forget. He put together a nice 3-under 69 that did him no harm, though the decisions made on Thursday morning are usually easier than the ones made on Sunday afternoon.
 
If Mickelson was even thinking about what happened a few weeks earlier, it didn't show as he calmly made his way around the course, grinned his way through a few questions, then hopped a back fence to make his escape.
 
'I'll gladly take it,' Mickelson said, referring to a score that left him three shots off the lead.
 
Owen, a 34-year-old from a few hours up the road in Mansfield, England, has some bad flashbacks of his own he needs to make disappear if he is ever to fulfill his promise. Owen has never won on the PGA TOUR, which made his debacle at the Bay Hill even more painful.
 
Owen was leading the Bay Hill in March when he stabbed his first putt on the 71st hole past the hole from 40 inches away and then missed the comebacker. A bit miffed, he walked quickly to the second putt and missed it, too, then sealed his fate by missing a 12-footer for par on the final hole to lose to Rod Pampling.
 
'It still hurts now even thinking about it,' Owen said.
 
Owen happened to be paired with Pampling on Thursday, though they had other things to do than talk about the meltdown. He shot a 67 that left him even with Woods, and a shot behind an equally obscure leader, Graeme McDowell from Northern Ireland.
 
Also at 67 was a player by the name of Anthony Wall, who has had a relatively undistinguished career over the past decade or so on the European Tour. Wall, the son of a former London taxi driver, was awakened by his two small children at 4:30 a.m., for his second Open.
 
While Woods went to hit balls after making his own bid for the lead, Wall had other duties to attend to.
 
'I'll be changing nappers in an hour,' he said.
 
If Wall has any spare time, he might consider doing a little sports psychology on the side. His only win on the European Tour came six years ago, but his opening round left him pumped about the possibility of winning a big one.
 
'No reason why not. I have two legs and two arms,' Wall said.
 
First-round talk, though, is a lot like first-round golf.
 
By Sunday, it's but a memory.
 
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - 135th Open Championship
  • Course Tour - Royal Liverpool
  • Full Coverage - 135th Open Championship
     
    Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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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.

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    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.