Fond memories for Euros at Oakland Hills

By Associated PressAugust 4, 2008, 4:00 pm
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2008 US Open 81x90BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. ' To walk up the stairs to the locker room at Oakland Hills is a swift journey through history, the kind that most Americans would like to forget.
 
Go up the first flight and there on the wall is a wood-framed photograph of Colin Montgomerie, posing after another flawless swing. More large photos are at every turn, from Sergio Garcia staring down another flag to Luke Donald thrusting both arms in the air to Bernhard Langer posing with a gold cup. The final photo shows a champagne-soaked celebration at Oakland Hills.
 
The last major competition here was the 2004 Ryder Cup, and it wasnt much competition at all.
 
Europe 18 1/2 , United States 9 1/2.
 
I got here this morning to play and there wasnt a soul out here, David Toms said Monday. It was a lot different from the last time I walked off this golf course.
 
For eight Europeans from that winning team, there are nothing but happy memories. And that might be one reason odds are better than ever of a European winning the PGA Championship for the first time in 80 years, its longest drought in any major.
 
It was one of the most memorable weeks Ive ever had, certainly on that golf course, said Ian Poulter, who won his singles match against Chris Riley in 2004. And it will be nice to go back to a golf course that I know, that Ive played well on, and refresh and rekindle your mind with those good thoughts. That certainly is a golf course Ive got a lot of good memories around.
 
Poulter also can take good memories from the last major, where he challenged Padraig Harrington at Royal Birkdale with a birdie on the 16th and a 15-foot par on the final hole that turned out to be good enough for the silver medal.
 
And hes not alone.
 
Europe has 16 players who are among the top 50 in the world ranking, although Donald is not at Oakland Hills because of a wrist injury that has kept him out of the final two majors and could keep him off the Ryder Cup team.
 
Three other players from Europes record-setting victory in 2004 did not qualify for the PGA Championship ' Paul McGinley, Thomas Levet and David Howell, whose 6-iron to 8 feet on the 17th hole was among the signature shots that week.
 
Even so, their collective spirits have never been this high.
 
Harrington has led the way, ending Europes eight-year drought in the majors by winning at Carnoustie, then becoming the first European in 92 years to win the British Open in consecutive years.
 
Lee Westwood came within a 15-footer of forcing a playoff at the U.S. Open and last week at a World Golf Championship event. Garcia, who some consider to be the best player without a major, won the next best thing to a major when he captured The Players Championship in May.
 
Robert Karlsson of Sweden is the only player who has finished in the top 10 at all three majors this year.
 
Maybe it would be best for Americans to use alternate stairs to reach the locker room, for Oakland Hills has far more history than an exhibition between continents. This is where Ben Hogan won the U.S. Open in 1951 and gave the course its nickname, finishing at 7-over 287 and saying he was glad he brought this monster to its knees.
 
The last of eight majors held at Oakland Hills was the 1996 U.S. Open, where Steve Jones won by one shot over Davis Love III and Tom Lehman, and Tiger Woods played his final U.S. Open as an amateur.
 
Woods is missing his second straight major after season-ending surgery to rebuild his left knee, although PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem said the worlds No. 1 player is starting his rehab.
 
Despite that 1-2-3 finish by Americans in the 96 U.S. Open, the most recent memories of Oakland Hills arent all that great.
 
Phil Mickelson played two matches with Woods, hitting a 3-wood into an unplayable lie on the final of a foursomes match, getting benched by U.S. captain Hal Sutton and hitting into the water on the 16th to lose his singles match to Sergio Garcia.
 
Chris DiMarco was the only American with a winning record that week, but that seems so long ago. DiMarco tied for 12th last week at Firestone, his best finish in a year, moving him up to No. 184 in the world.
 
But there is one big difference, namely the golf course.
 
Rees Jones, the latest architect to get his hands on this Donald Ross original, stretched it an extra 318 yards, meaning the Monster now measures 7,395 yards, the longest ever for a par 70.
 
I havent seen it since I played it in 04, said Paul Casey, who was 1-1 at that Ryder Cup. Its just an incredibly tough golf course. From what I remember, it requires all the shots. Youve got to move the ball left to right, right to left. You need to hit it long, you need to hit it straight, you need to putt well. These are just some of the most difficult greens Ive ever seen. So it takes absolutely everything.
 
Toms was among the few who played all 18 holes on Monday, as most players were arriving. He recognized the additional length, not by the card but by the number of times he was taking the cover off his hybrids and fairway metals.
 
He was asked his most vivid memory of 2004, which is worth noting for the PGA Championship.
 
We just lost our first match, and the first question Mark Rolfing (of NBC Sports) asked me was, How can you explain not making any birdies? Toms said. And I told him it was a tough course.
 
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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.