Garcia, Rahm one back; Spieth lurking at Colonial

By Associated PressMay 26, 2017, 11:37 pm

FORT WORTH, Texas – Jordan Spieth normally doesn't concern himself with the cut line in the middle of a round.

Unless the Dallas native is in danger of staying home on consecutive weekends in what amount to his hometown events.

Spieth recovered from a bad start by going 5 under over his final 13 holes at the Colonial on Friday, and his 2-under 68 put the defending champion at 2-under 138, four shots behind second-round leaders Webb Simpson, Kevin Kisner, Danny Lee and Scott Piercy.

''When your back's against the wall and you feel the nerves kick up because you've got to do something, and you're not going to be able to play both weekends in town,'' said Spieth , coming off missed cuts in The Players Championship and AT&T Byron Nelson. ''That would have been really, really tough for me to swallow if I missed the cut. And it was in my head.''

Lee birdied the last hole for a 64, the low round of the tournament on a hot and windy day. Kisner also had a birdie on his final hole, the ninth, for a second straight 67. Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, and Piercy each shot 66 to join the group at 6-under 134.


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Masters champion Sergio Garcia (66) and fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm (69), who played in the same group, were at 5 under along with England's Paul Casey (66) and Sean O'Hair (68).

Phil Mickelson didn't have a birdie while shooting a 75 that left him at 2 over, three shots clear of the cut in his first Colonial since the two-time champ missed the cut in 2010.

Spieth said the key to the recovery was a short bogey putt at 14, his fifth hole, that dropped him to 3 over after he opened with a par 70. The 23-year-old broke from his recent routine by seeking caddy Michael Greller's input on the 4-footer.

''He said, 'Hit this one with confidence and walk it in,''' Spieth said about his third bogey in the first five holes. ''I stepped and walked it in. I think it was kind of shocking because it was a bogey putt to go 3 over. No one really walks those in. But it was exactly what I needed.''

Spieth immediately followed with a 35-foot birdie putt at No. 15, then had four birdies in the first five holes of Colonial's front nine. That included two birdies on the ''Horrible Horseshoe'' of holes 3-5.

The 2015 Masters and U.S. Open champion had no bogeys over the final 13 holes after seven bogeys and a double bogey among his first 23, which offset six birdies in his opening round.

''I played one through five in 4 under. I don't think I've ever done 2 under on those holes,'' Spieth said. ''I felt really good about the way that we played those last 14 holes, about as solid as the entire year.''

Simpson made a 7-footer at the par-3 16th, then put his approach at 17 just inside 3 feet for a birdie that tied Casey. Third at Colonial last year, Simpson had missed the cut at Colonial his only two other times in 2009-10.

A four-time PGA Tour winner with his most recent victory in 2014, Simpson skipped last week's Nelson and hasn't played both Dallas-Fort Worth events since 2010.

''I didn't play well at Byron my first couple of years, so I just decided to stay out of Texas,'' Simpson joked.

Kisner made a 14-foot birdie on his final hole, the ninth, to join Simpson. Moments later, Lee rolled one in from 27 feet at the 18th. Piercy had a shot at the outright lead at the ninth, missing from 24 feet.

Casey's best Colonial finish was fifth in his debut in 2009, the same year of his only PGA Tour win in Houston. The 14-time international winner had three birdies and a bogey over his first four holes before settling in with two birdies over the final 14 while generally staying out of trouble.

The highlight for Casey was a 25-foot par save at the par-4 fifth, his 14th hole.

''It's been tricky with the wind,'' Casey said. ''I've handled it so far, so I would actually like it to stay tricky if it can. And I handle the heat well. So I am saying probably the more difficult it is, the better it is for me.''

Garcia had six birdies, while Rahm didn't get his first until 17 while finishing with two straight.

Si Woo Kim, playing for the first time since winning The Players Championship two weeks ago, had an 8 on the par-4 ninth after his pitch from greenside bunker went dead right off his club and rolled into the water.

Kim had to go across the pond for his drop and hit another ball in the water, then tossed his club in as well after finally reaching the green on the next shot. He made a 15-footer for quadruple bogey, and finished with a 73 to miss the cut at 5 over.

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.