Doral Again Draws Top Players - COPIED

By Associated PressMarch 2, 2006, 5:00 pm
2005 Ford Championship at DoralMIAMI -- Phil Mickelson has a hard time forgetting the bitter end to his duel at Doral with Tiger Woods.
He was just off the 18th green, facing a 30-foot birdie chip to force a playoff at worst, and possibly win the best showdown of the year. The chip came off perfectly, ran true toward the cup and then broke sharply across the hole and spun out of the right side. Woods made his 6-foot par putt to win.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods reacts to his victory over Phil Mickelson in last year's Ford Championship.
Mickelson might be able to put that out of his mind if he wouldn't turn on the TV in his room at Doral.
'Unfortunately, they have the video running on one of the channels here at the hotel, so I get to see it every night,' he said Wednesday. 'Isn't that great?'
It was great theater, no doubt.
This generation of golf rarely produces such duels between the top players, with such a fine line between so much talent. The Ford Championship at Doral got one of the moments that are sheer magic, and it produced a buzz that even drowned out the parade of jetliners descending over the Blue Monster.
Woods reached the 12th green with a 3-wood that traveled 293 yards in the air to make eagle. Mickelson fired back with consecutive birdies to catch him. Each made 27 birdies in four days, and Woods got the last one, a 30-footer on the 17th that was the difference in his victory.
Rare as that was, odds are in Doral's favor of that happening again because of sheer numbers.
Nine of the top 10 players from the world ranking are gathered at the Blue Monster, a course that favors power hitters with lush fairways that don't have a lot of roll and rough that is thicker than last year, but still not terribly troublesome for players with a wedge in their hands.
Vijay Singh tied for third last year. Also in the field is Ernie Els, who joins Woods as the defending champion because the Big Easy won the last time he was at Doral in 2002. That was another showdown of sorts, although Els played in the group ahead of Woods. He saw an eight-shot lead dwindle to one before Els pulled away.
Anyone ready for an encore?
'I would love to get in that position again,' Mickelson said. 'I want to have a chance to win the tournament, obviously. It would be great if I had a chance to go head-to-head with Tiger. It would be great to have a chance to go head-to-head with anybody in the top 10.'
Woods gets those opportunities more often than most.
There was that incredible matchup with Els at Kapalua in 2000, as good a show this side of the majors. He has gone up against Singh in the final round at the '03 American Express (which he won) and the '04 Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston (which he lost). He was tied for the lead with Retief Goosen at the '02 Masters, where the Goose finished three shots behind and asked if he got green trousers for finishing second.
Woods said the view is different from inside the ropes. Mickelson was just another player he was trying to beat, even if the volume was cranked up and the cheers were evenly divided.
'You could care less,' he said. 'You're just trying to post a low number and try to beat your opponent. You're just in your own little world, and you're trying to handle your business. Afterwards? Yeah, you can reminisce over what happened, but not when you're in it.'
Some of his most dramatic duels have come against unheralded players, whether it was Bob May at the PGA Championship in 2000 or Chris DiMarco last year at the Masters or Grant Waite at the 2000 Canadian Open.
Woods was quick to point out that the top five players often are atop the leaderboard at the majors, even if they aren't there at the same time, or in the final group on Sunday.
Recent history bears that out.
The Big Five has won 15 of the last 24 majors dating to 2000. And even in those majors where someone else wins, there have been only four times that one of the Big Five was not at least the runner-up.
'You've seen myself, Mickelson, Goose, Ernie or Vijay, generally one of us five in just about every major championship down the stretch,' Woods said. 'Whether or not we can separate outselves and go one-on-one, it's a totally different story.'
Woods and Mickelson were five shots clear of anyone else last year, which made it a different story, indeed.
And while Woods says he was too wrapped up in winning to care about whom he was beating, the satisfaction clearly goes to a higher level.
What got Mickelson more fired up? Going against Woods at Doral last year, or beating Skip Kendall in a playoff at the Bob Hope Classic?
'I don't know how to answer that,' Mickelson said. 'What I try to do is hit the shots where I can make birdies. But certainly, it seems as though when I'm playing against Tiger, playing against Ernie or Vijay or Retief, I've got to shoot low scores and make more birdies than against some guys that have won.'
Goosen has been in that position.
He beat Mark Brooks in the U.S. Open playoff at Southern Hills. And while they weren't in the final group, Goosen beat Mickelson to win the U.S. Open two years ago Shinnecock Hills.
'It doesn't make much difference who it is,' Goosen said.
But then he thought back to Shinnecock Hills, where the New York gallery was so squarely behind Mickelson that 'it felt like I was playing with him.'
'You always get more pleasure if you beat great players,' Goosen said.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Ford Championship at Doral
  • 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 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 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.