Dufner will try to turn around down year at Nelson

By Associated PressMay 15, 2013, 10:00 pm

IRVING, Texas – Jason Dufner outwardly showed little emotion last year when he won the HP Byron Nelson Championship in the midst of his incredible stretch of golf.

The same goes for Dufner when things aren't going as well, such as this season.

''I don't show it, but obviously it's going on inside. I played a lot of rounds this year with frustration and anger on my mind,'' Dufner said on Wednesday. ''I've got a good way of hiding the good and the bad. But there has been more anger and frustration this year than there was last year, for sure.''

His victory at the Nelson, after which there was no overwhelming outburst of excitement, capped a four-week span in which Dufner got his first two PGA Tour victories and also got married. He followed that up with a runner-up finish at Colonial, a fourth-place finish at the U.S. Open and made 21 consecutive cuts to end the season.

''I don't reflect on it very much at all,'' he said. ''Nothing is staying the same in golf. You're either getting better, or you're getting worse. At this moment in time, I'm a little bit worse than I was last year.''

Heading into Thursday's opening round of the Nelson, Dufner hasn't had a top-10 finish this season and has already missed two cuts – twice as many as last year. He is coming off his worst round of the season, a closing 80 at The Players Championship with three double bogeys, while never hitting a ball in the water.

The last person to win consecutive Nelsons was Tom Watson, who won three in a row from 1978-80. The only other back-to-back winners are Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead.

A week after The Players, the Nelson field includes only six of the top 25 players in the world ranking, led by No. 7 Louis Oosthuizen – who missed the cut last year in his only previous Nelson appearance.

''I would rather come in a bit more in form than coming in the top-ranked player (in the field),'' said Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, who tied for 19th last week but hasn't made consecutive cuts in his seven Tour events this year.

Playing on Nelson sponsor exemptions are Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old amateur from China in his second Tour event since making the cut at the Masters, and 19-year-old Jordan Spieth.

Spieth is playing in the Nelson for the third time, this time as a pro who has made six of nine cuts and already won nearly $700,000 this season. As an amateur at the Nelson, he tied for 16th as a 16-year-old in 2010, then played on the same day as his high school graduation two years ago, when he tied for 32nd.

''This tournament is dear to my heart, and it gave me a big bump when I was able to get the exemption and take advantage, when I was 16 and 17,'' said Spieth, who played one season at the University of Texas before turning pro. ''Now back in a little different position now, not in school anymore, but I couldn’t be more excited to be back here. This is my favorite event of the year.''

While Dufner might not reflect on that impressive stretch last season, the TPC Four Seasons conjures up good memories, and those couple of months did give him a good perspective on his potential level of play.

His return to North Texas also could revive the viral sensation of ''Dufnering.''

When Dufner made an appearance two months ago to promote the Nelson, there was a picture tweeted of the sleepy-eyed golfer sitting on the floor and slouched against a wall in a school classroom with kids.

Fellow golfers and others mimicked the shot with their own poses posted on Twitter. The hashtag “Dufnering” emerged, and there are still people posting their own version.

''I was just sitting, and somebody decided to take a picture and put it on the Internet. ... The guys on Tour had a go at it with me, and then it went viral,'' he said. ''I didn't take it too seriously. Like most things in my life, I don't take things too seriously. But it's been a good response, and I think people have had a kick out of it.''

Dufner said it's ''extremely weird'' to him to see people having their dogs and cats ''Dufnering'' but said the response has been good. He has seen many of the posts, and there is one that stands out.

''One guy did it up in, I think it was a C-130, where they transport tanks for the military. They had the back hatch down and he was sitting on the edge, and they were up 20, 30,000 feet in the air,'' he said. ''That was a unique spot to do it.''

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 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.