Europe takes commanding 10-6 lead entering singles

By Associated PressSeptember 27, 2014, 5:44 pm

GLENEAGLES, Scotland – Justin Rose swept that magical putter into the air before his ball even reached the hole, and he punched his right fist when it dropped for a birdie. Just like at Medinah, the final match in the Ryder Cup on Saturday gave Europe another big boost of momentum going into the last round.

Only this time, Europe didn't really need it.

Rose capped off a remarkable Saturday for himself and his team. That 6-foot putt on the 18th hole at Gleneagles was enough to give Rose and Martin Kaymer a half-point, giving Europe a 10-6 advantage and leaving it on the cusp of another Ryder Cup victory.

That was the same score two years ago, except that Europe was in dire need of a comeback.

Now it is worried about complacency.

''This job is far from finished,'' Europe captain Paul McGinley said. ''We're in great position, but we've got a lot of work to do tomorrow.''

Rose teamed with Henrik Stenson to make a record 12 birdies in 16 holes in fourballs. Equally important was getting something - even a half - in foursomes against America's refreshing rookie tandem of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.

''Any glimmer of momentum that they had - say they win that match - they take something with them into the locker room,'' Graeme McDowell said. ''And that's what happened to us at Medinah. That's why that putt for Justin was so huge, because it gave them nothing to take away this evening.''



U.S. captain Tom Watson walked away only with a lot of questions he couldn't answer.

He was criticized for playing Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley a second time on Friday, and it was even more peculiar when he didn't they them at all on Saturday. It was the first time Mickelson sat out an entire day in his two decades playing the Ryder Cup.

Instead, Watson sent out Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker for a fourth straight match, even though their previous games all went to the 18th hole and ended in a draw. The fatigue was evident, particularly with Walker, who shanked a shot from the third fairway. They didn't stand a chance against McDowell and Victor Dubuisson.

''It may have been a mistake that I put Jimmy and Rickie out for four matches,'' Watson said. ''I thought they could handle it.''

Watson was the last American captain to win on European soil in 1993, just two months after Spieth was born and before Mickelson completed his first full season on the PGA Tour. He has called the shots and tried to make pairings based on performance and his gut feeling. Ultimately, he put the onus on his players.

''It's up for the actors to go out there and act,'' he said. ''They haven't acted well enough to get that standing ovation at the end in the last two Ryder Cups. That's the way I look at it.''

Watson wasn't about to give up on this one.

His best hope is to get American red on the scoreboard early, and he loaded the front with his best players. The first two are rookies - the 21-year-old Spieth and 24-year-old Reed, the only unbeaten Americans at Gleneagles. Spieth faces McDowell, who has won both of his matches this week. Reed plays Stenson, who is 3-0 and sat out Saturday afternoon with a tender back.

''You might think that it's a given that the Europeans are going to win,'' Watson said. ''But I sure as hell don't.''

It wasn't quite as convincing as Ben Crenshaw wagging his finger and saying, ''I have a good feeling about this'' like he did at Brookline in 1999 when the Americans rallied from a 10-6 deficit before a boisterous crowd outside Boston.

Europe needs only four wins out of 12 singles matches to retain the cup, and an additional halve to win outright.

The European comeback at Medinah began Saturday evening when Ian Poulter birdied his last five holes for an unlikely win that closed the gap to 10-6, and Europe rode that spark to the greatest rally by a visiting team in Ryder Cup history.

Poulter finally delivered, even if it was only a half-point. Poulter and McIlroy were headed for defeat in fourballs against Walker and Fowler, on the verge of going 2 down on the 15th hole when Poulter chipped in across the green for birdie, and then made a 20-foot birdie on the next hole to square the match.

Poulter came into this Ryder Cup with the highest winning percentage - 12 wins in 15 matches - of anyone who has played multiple times. He has played only twice this week, and Europe still has a 10-6 lead.

''This is more than a one-man team,'' McGinley said. ''Ian Poulter has been a colossus in the Ryder Cup. He played a massive role today.''

Europe, as always, was best at the end. For the second straight day, the Americans rallied in the morning by winning 2 1/2 points in fourballs. For the second straight day, Europe answered in the afternoon by going unbeaten (3W-0L-1D) in foursomes.

''We're in a tough position,'' Walker said. ''But I feel like we can dig ourselves out of the hole.''

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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.