Fowler, Padraig, Poults among those T-2 at Scottish

By Associated PressJuly 13, 2017, 7:19 pm

IRVINE, Scotland - Rickie Fowler skipped the defense of his Scottish Open title last year with a heavy heart.

He began making up for lost time on Thursday.

The American picked up where he left off in 2015 at the warmup event for the British Open, avoiding trouble and rolling in five birdies at Dundonald Links to shoot a 5-under 67 in the first round. He is in a six-way tie for second place, two shots behind Mikko Ilonen.

Fowler, who won the Scottish Open when it was held at Gullane, missed the 2016 tournament because of scheduling conflicts arising from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which clogged up the golfing calendar last summer.

''I would have loved to have been here,'' he said. ''Coming off winning the year before, I love playing links golf and I love playing the week before a major. It was tough to miss it.

''I'm just glad to be back.''

The highlight of a stress-free and well-managed round, when he only ran out of position once, was a left-to-right birdie putt at No. 4 that curled into the cup from 20 feet. That came in the midst of three straight birdies on his back nine as Fowler outplayed his partners Rory McIlroy (74) and Henrik Stenson (72) in the marquee group, continuing his consistent form this year.

Fowler has contended at both majors so far and has seven top-10 finishes this season.


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Ilonen, the world No. 335 from Finland who arrived in Scotland on the back of four straight missed cuts, said he only made one bad swing in what he described as his best round of the season. He thinned his tee shot right at No. 8 - his second-to-last hole - using a rescue club, only to pull off a superb approach from the thick rough and salvage a par from 10 feet.

He had seven birdies in all - five of them coming in six holes from Nos. 1-6 - and was delighted that a decision to use a new set of irons this week paid off.

Ilonen is a five-time winner on the European Tour and has links pedigree, having won the British Amateur in 2000. His highest finish in 2017, however, was tied for 32nd in Dubai.

''I haven't been able to put two rounds together, never mind four,'' said Ilonen, who wasn't getting carried away.

Ilonen, an afternoon starter, was giving his post-round interviews just as rain began to fall for the first time in an opening round that featured a sometimes-fierce breeze off the Ayrshire coast in western Scotland.

Padraig Harrington battled through the rain to roll in a 25-yard par putt from off the 16th green and chip in from the back of No. 17 to complete a 67, joining Fowler, Ian Poulter, Paul Peterson, Callum Shinkwin and Andrew Dodt.

Harrington called his par at No. 16 a ''minor miracle,'' having thought he'd lost his ball off the tee. It was found by a scorer in an unplayable lie, so Harrington took a penalty drop, hacked out and made the putt.

''Seven would have been a good score there,'' said Harrington, who won the British Open in 2008 on the last occasion it was held at Royal Birkdale - the venue for the major next week.

Reigning Open champion Stenson rebounded from a triple-bogey 7 on his first hole (No. 10) - after driving left into thick rough and needing three hacks to get the ball out - to shoot level par. He cut a frustrated figure on his back nine, chucking his club high into the air on his last hole after a weak approach.

Wedge play was McIlroy's undoing, too, on a day the out-of-form world No. 4 failed to shoot the consistent round he has seeking ahead of the Open. On his third and fourth holes, he was in the middle of the fairway and less than 100 yards out, yet fell short and right with his approaches - the latter into a burn to necessitate a drop for a double-bogey.

From 4 over after four holes, McIlroy recovered to 1 over after 16, with three of his four birdies coming via tap-ins on par fives.

McIlroy has missed the cut in two of his last three events, the U.S. Open and the Irish Open.

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time Web.com winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.