Crowded Leaderboard in Tampa

By Associated PressMarch 8, 2007, 5:00 pm
2007 PODS ChampionshipPALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Cliff Kresge nearly holed out from the fairway twice with a wedge in hand, so when his 5-iron from 184 yards headed toward the flag Thursday, his caddie instinctively said, 'Go in this time.'
 
And it did
 
It was one of two eagles for Kresge, who was 8 under through 11 holes until a few errant drives down the stretch made him settle for a 6-under 65 and a two-shot lead in the PODS Championship, the first time he has ever led any round in 114 starts on the PGA TOUR.
 
Among those at 67 was Arron Oberholser, who believes he has a grip on his back problems with an innovative workout routine.
 
'For 11 holes, it was a dream round,' Kresge said. 'And then I kind of got in my way a little bit at the end. Still, 6 under is darn good.'
 
He was so flawless with his irons that the longest putt he made was from 10 feet for eagle on No. 11, and while Kresge knew he was playing well, the scoreboard offered even greater proof. At one point, he was five shots clear of the field.
 
'That was kind of funny,' Kresge said. 'It's not a course that's going to give up 8 under after 11. Everything was just happening.'
 
Most players were curious about the Copperhead course at Innisbrook, one of the best on tour in Florida. This tournament had been held in the fall since it began in 2000, a time when the fairways are crispy and quick, and the Bermuda grass is tricky.
 
With rye grass keeping the course green and lush, it didn't allow anyone to run away, even though Kresge tried.
 
'It played a lot longer than it has ever played,' Jesper Parnevik said after a 68. 'We hit shots into the green that you would never dream about hitting in the fall.'
 
The greens added to the adventure, firm and fast, with a tinge of brown from being mowed so tight.
 
'The greens react like they're dead,' said Tim Herron, who chipped in for birdie on his last hole for a 73. 'When you get real close to the greens, they're actually brown. It was tough.'
 
Kresge had a simple solution for that, not leaving himself much distance between the ball and the cup.
 
He got up-and-down on the par-5 first, then hit wedge into a foot on the third. After laying up on the par-5 fifth, he hit another wedge that spun within 18 inches of the cup. Then came No. 6, where Kresge found his ball at the front edge of a divot. He was between clubs and opted for the 5-iron, playing a cut shot because of a lie that favored a hook.
 
'It was going to stay pretty straight, and it landed perfectly,' Kresge said.
 
Even when he was at 8 under through 11 holes -- the course record is 9-under 62 -- he didn't get much attention. Kresge said he didn't notice any photographers with him until about the 14th hole, and it wasn't long after that when he started missing fairways and paying the price, with bogeys on the 16th and 18th.
 
'Charlie Wi said, 'What's going on out here? You're lapping the field and nobody is out there,'' Kresge said. 'They only show up when I play bad. I don't know what the deal is.'
 
There were cameras on Kresge during his most infamous moment playing this game. That was the final stage of Q-school in 2000, lining up an important putt when he backed up and tumbled into the creek behind him.
 
'Every time I do anything good, somebody is going to bring it up,' he said. 'It's something different that happened that nobody has ever really done. It's unique.'
 
Oberholser was joined at 67 by Daniel Chopra and rookies Anthony Kim and Doug LaBelle.
 
Vijay Singh, the only player from the top 10 in the world ranking at Innisbrook, was at 70, along with Nissan Open champion Charles Howell III and Sergio Garcia.
 
Oberholser has back problem that are certainly not unique to him.
 
He played only one round this year, at Kapalua for the Mercedes-Benz Championship, when he felt twinges that turned out to be bulging disks. It was the third time in four years he has been hampered by a back injury, but he thinks he found a solution.
 
Oberholser began a training regimen he described as 'Eastern Bloc stuff' that straps him to an Accelerated Recovery Performance machine and requires him to hold various postures. His fiancee, LPGA Tour player Angie Rizzo, talked him into it.
 
'You don't go to these guys when you're feeling good,' he said. 'You go to these guys because this is the last stop. It's extremely intense. You hear people crying in the gym.'
 
He wasn't crying at Innisbrook, rather pleasantly surprised that he felt good and scored well.
 
Divots
Only 27 players managed to break par, and the scoring average was 72.3. ... Brad Faxon, who has missed every cut this year, finally put together a good round with a 1-under 70. Faxon has started working with Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett, who have a diverse list of players that include Mike Weir, Dean Wilson and Will MacKenzie. ... Ryan Moore made a hole-in-one on the 17th hole, then followed that with a birdie to shoot 69.
 
Related Links:
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    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.