Choi Holds on to Win at Sony Open

By Associated PressJanuary 13, 2008, 5:00 pm
HONOLULU, Hawaii - K.J. Choi had to work harder than he imagined to become the Sony Open champion everyone expected.
 
Equipped with a four-shot lead, Choi struggled in blustery conditions Sunday at Waialae Country Club and held off a late charge by Rory Sabbatini to close with a 1-over 71, the first Sony Open champion in 41 years with a final round over par.
 
That was more a testament to the wind that caused palm trees to sway and made birdies scarce. Sabbatini managed six of them in a spirited run at Choi, but he three-putted the final hole for par from 65 feet for a 68, leaving him three shots behind.
 
Choi won for the seventh time on the PGA TOUR, and for the fourth consecutive season. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh are the only other players with active streaks that long.
 
But it wasn't easy until the end. Choi didn't make his first birdie until the final hole when the outcome was no longer in doubt. He finished at 14-under 266 and earned $954,000.
 
Sabbatini started six shots behind, took a double bogey on No. 8, and still managed to make a game of it.
 
He had six birdies, the final one a sand wedge to 4 feet on the 16th to get within two shots, as Choi was struggling to make par three groups behind him. Choi settled down with a par from just off the 16th green, a chip that caught part of the cup on the 17th, and breathing room when he stepped on the 18th tee with a two-shot lead.
 
Jerry Kelly closed with a bogey-free 67 to finish alone in third.
 
The last Sony Open champion to close with a round over par was Dudley Wysong, who beat Billy Casper in a playoff in 1967. Conditions had been mostly calm all week, but the wind gusted across Waialae all day, and only eight players broke par.
 
'Being lulled to sleep for three days made it tougher,' Kelly said. 'If we would have been facing this all week, we might have seen more rounds like that. I'll tell you, I'd hate to be a rookie and just all of a sudden see this place Sunday.'
 
One such rookie was Tim Wilkinson, the 29-year-old from New Zealand playing in only his third PGA TOUR event, and starting off in the final group with Choi after a third-round 62. Wilkinson started off with a bogey and it went badly from there. He shot 78 to tie for 25th.
 
Choi only had two birdie putts inside 15 feet in the final round, both on the par 5s. He missed a 3 1/2 -footer on No. 9 that gave the field hope, and made the last one that only determined the margin of victory.
 
Choi, a 37-year-old from South Korea, became the first outright wire-to-wire winner at the Sony Open since Paul Azinger in 2000.
 
Steve Stricker birdied the last hole for a 70 and finished in a tie for fourth with Stephen Marino (72), Pat Perez (70) and Kevin Na, who made eagle on the final hole for a 72. Stricker started his year with consecutive top 5s.
 
Sabbatini can't complain about his start, either.
 
'All things considered, I'm really looking forward to the rest of the season,' he said.
 
Sabbatini knew he would need help from Choi, and the South Korean nearly obliged except for a putter that bailed him out early.
 
Choi holed a 12-foot putt to save par on the opening hole. He couldn't reach the green from the thick rough on No. 2, but again escaped with par with a pitch from 60 yards and a 12-foot putt. After he pulled his tee shot left of the bunker on the par-3 fourth, he came up short and into the sand, and had to make an 8-foot putt for bogey.
 
Fortunately for him, no one was making a run.
 
Sabbatini's bid was slowed when his 2-iron off the tee at No. 8 struck a tree and dropped into a hazard, leading to double bogey. That put him put him six shots behind, but he kept plugging away, trying to keep it close, hopeful of Choi making a mistake.
 
It was a little of both.
 
Sabbatini bounced back with a birdie on the par-5 ninth and a 10-foot birdie on the 11th, and he was back in the picture for good when his 35-foot birdie on the 13th bang into the back of the cup.
 
That's where Choi added some drama into the final round. It looked like he would finish the 13th with another two-putt par until he missed from 3 feet -- his first three-putt of the tournament. Sabbatini dropped another shot on the 15th, but showed no quit with a brilliant approach to a front pin on the 16th to 4 feet.
 
His hopes ended with a shot into the sun that he never saw, the ball landing at the back end of the green some 65 feet away for eagle. Sabbatini left it 8 feet short and missed that to the right.
 
Kelly had a remarkable bogey-free round, and the consolation was a third-place finish. Kelly came into the week at No. 64 in the world ranking, and he will move into the mid-50s with only four weeks before the deadline to qualify for the Accenture Match Play Championship.
 
'I'm aware of that, but I'm not worried about it,' Kelly said. 'I've always paid too much attention to everything. I'm trying to get away from the future and the past, because I've handled both of them poorly.'
 
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    Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

    New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

    The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

    "Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

    It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

    Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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    Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

    By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

    SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

    Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

    He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

    Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



    The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

    ''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

    Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

    He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

    Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

    ''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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    13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

    Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

    “An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



    Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

    Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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    McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

    It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

    Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

    Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    “I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

    Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

    “Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

    This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.