Fowler the big draw at Quicken with Woods gone

By Associated PressJune 29, 2017, 1:39 am

POTOMAC, Md. - Tiger Woods' extended absence from golf isn't being felt just on the course.

Woods can bring excitement to a tournament even if he isn't playing, as he's shown over the years at the Quicken Loans National, which he hosts. This year, Woods will miss the trophy presentations at both of the PGA Tour events that benefit his foundation.

He skipped the Genesis Open at Riviera in February because of his injured back, and now he's being treated at a clinic for his use of prescription drugs. The stint in treatment follows his arrest on a DUI charge in May during which he had several medications, but no alcohol, in his system, according to police in Jupiter, Florida.

The Quicken Loans National is doing its best to press on without him, but the buzz surrounding the event - which this year comes to TPC Potomac for the first time - has faded.

''We all would love for him to be here, but at the end of the day, for him to put his foot down and go ahead and take care of himself and try to get better, that's more important than playing golf or being here for a golf tournament,'' Patrick Reed said. ''We all wish him the best and we want him out here, every one of us.''

Rickie Fowler, who has an endorsement deal with Quicken Loans, is the only player from the world's top 10 in the field, and just two more are inside the top 20: Justin Thomas and Reed.

Fowler, one of the top draws in golf, has broken his fans' hearts plenty this year. He won the Honda Classic in February but hasn't shot better than 70 in a final round since March, wasting chances to win the Masters and the U.S. Open. He said he's caught himself trying too hard.

''There's probably been a few times where it hasn't been exactly either the right mindset or potentially getting behind the eight ball early and pushing a little bit too much from there,'' Fowler said, ''instead of kind of letting things fall into place.''

This is the 11th edition of the Quicken Loans National, which launched with great fanfare in 2007. With Woods as the host, a field limited to 120 players and a storied Washington-area venue in Congressional Country Club, the event seemed destined to become a standout on the PGA Tour. It didn't hurt that Woods presented the trophy to himself twice, in 2009 and 2012.

But reality eventually set in. With Congressional either unable or unwilling to host every year, the tournament has bounced among several courses. And its spot on the calendar - between the U.S. and British Opens - has caused many players to skip the event, either to rest between majors or to play in Europe.

Young Spanish star Jon Rahm got a sponsor's exemption to make his pro debut last year at Congressional and tied for third. He's not here this week, instead opting to play the French Open at the course that will host next year's Ryder Cup.

More than 100 players in the field have not yet qualified for the British Open, but that could change this week. The top four nonexempt players who finish among the top 12 will earn spots at Royal Birkdale.

TPC Potomac, a PGA Tour-owned property across the street from Congressional, last hosted a tour event in 2006. Players criticized the design and the conditioning when the tour first came to the course, then known as TPC Avenel, in the 1980s, with Greg Norman famously saying he wanted to ''blow up'' the 9th hole.

Following a major renovation and redesign from 2007-09, TPC Potomac has welcomed the PGA Tour Champions once and the Web.com Tour twice.

This week, the conditioning appears superb, with tight bentgrass fairways, thick rough and firm, bouncy greens. With little to no rain in the forecast, players are expecting a difficult week on the par-70 layout.

''It's hard. You could 100 percent host a U.S. Open here, starting tomorrow,'' Thomas said. ''It's not very often we play greens this firm on Tour, other than majors.''

Defending champion Billy Hurley III, a Washington-area native and Naval Academy graduate who lives in Annapolis, has perhaps more local knowledge at TPC Potomac than anyone in the field, and it's not even his first choice.

''We certainly wish it was at Congressional because I finished first, fourth and eighth there, so there are courses for certain players and that's one of mine,'' Hurley said. ''But this is a familiar place to me. I do practice and play out here when I'm home a good bit.''

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.