Haas Roberts Resume Their Duel in Hawaii

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2007, 5:00 pm
MasterCard ChampionshipKA'UPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii -- Jay Haas stepped up last season just when it seemed as if Loren Roberts was hoisting a trophy every week.
Haas won four events on the Champions Tour, including three straight, edging Roberts for the $1 million Charles Schwab Cup and the money title.
'It was a hard-fought year. Jay and I were going at it all year long, back and forth,' said Roberts, who won his first three starts.
'I'm not going to look at it as a disappointment. Obviously, I would've liked to have won the Schwab Cup, but we had a great battle.'
They will resume their duel Friday at the MasterCard Championship, the first of 29 Champions Tour events this season.
'Hopefully, Loren won't get such a big lead like he did last year,' Haas said. 'He played awfully well.'
The 54-hole, $1.7 million event is being played at Hualalai, known for its generous greens, reachable par-5s and black lava rock surroundings. No winner has ever had a round of 70 or higher in the last six years.
'I feel when I step on the first tee tomorrow, I'm going to have to be firing at the flags all day,' Haas said.
Last year, Roberts made a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a course-record 11-under 61 and a one-stroke victory over Don Pooley. Roberts had a 25-under 191 total to break the tour record for relation to par in a 54-hole event and tie the stroke mark. He also broke the record for birdies in a three-round tournament with 26.
Roberts made it a Hawaiian sweep, taking the Turtle Bay Championship. He also won the ACE Group Classic to become the first Champions Tour player to win the first three events of the season. His fourth win came at the Senior British Open.
Nicknamed the 'Boss of the Moss' for his sweet putting, Roberts had 18 top-10 finishes.
'The first part of the year, I did everything right,' he said. 'I putted really well. I think I probably got a little tired by the end of the year.'
Haas, who tied for third at the MasterCard, won the Senior PGA Championship en route to his career-best $2,420,227, claiming the money title by $54,832. He had 16 top-10 finishes and won the Schwab Cup by 20 points when Roberts missed a short par putt on No. 18 at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
'I know the window of opportunity is closing fast, so I don't want to live on what happened last year,' Haas said. 'I want to continue to go forward.
'There's a target on a lot of guys' backs. There's some studs out here this year. If you start guarding one or two people, four or five others are going to pass right by.'
Haas, who turned 53 in December, said he's pretty much done with the regular tour and plans to play about two dozen tournaments on the 50-and-over circuit.
'Thirty years. I think that's enough,' he said. 'I enjoy it. I played seven events (last year), but I just didn't play as well as I wanted to.'
The 51-year-old Roberts, meanwhile, has spent the offseason working out with a trainer, lifting weights and running.
'I want to play a few more events on the regular tour just to kind of get it over with -- so I'm not tempted,' he said.
But he skipped the Sony Open in Honolulu last week to play in the Champions Skins Game at Wailea, where he teamed with Arnold Palmer.
'I wasn't going to turn down a chance to be with the legends,' Roberts said. 'No way I was going to turn that down.'
The 41-player MasterCard field includes major champions from the last five years and other tournament winners in the last two years, plus invitees Gary Player, Ben Crenshaw, Raymond Floyd and Lanny Wadkins.
Among the players to watch are Hale Irwin and Dana Quigley.
Quigley won the MasterCard in 2003 and '05 and was a runner-up in '00 and '04. He also has a string of 14 straight scores in the 60s at Hualalai.
Irwin is trying to get back on track after going winless for the first time in 12 seasons. If there's a state to turn it around, it's Hawaii where Irwin has won six times on the senior tour and once on the regular tour.
Gary and Vivienne Player will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary Friday. The two met at Virginia Park Golf Club in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Vivienne worked part-time at the pro shop. Before competing in the 1957 Ampol Golf Tournament in Australia, Player declared he would marry Vivienne if he won. And he did. They have six children and 18 grandchildren. 'Behind every successful man is a woman,' Player said. 'But behind every successful professional golfer is an exceptional woman.'
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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.