International Still Seeking a Niche

By Associated PressAugust 3, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 The INTERNATIONALSome think it's goofy golf. Others find it to be a refreshing change.
Twenty years since it started, the International -- one of golf's most unique events -- is still going strong, but also still looking to find a more fitting niche within the PGA Tour.
This is the tournament played at altitude -- about 6,000 feet, an elevation at which the ball flies about 10 percent farther.
But the real uniqueness of the International is the use of the modified Stableford scoring system, one that awards five points for eagles, two for birdies, nothing for pars and deducts one for bogeys.
It places a premium on aggressiveness and turns a couple of the par-5s, especially the uphill, 492-yard 17th hole, into must-see events that can swing the tournament.
``The aggressive people get rewarded here. Those that don't pay a price,'' said Greg Norman, who won the tournament in 1989. ``I like it here. I like the system.''
Last year, Rod Pampling made eagle on 17 to capture the tournament, his first win on the PGA Tour. Three years ago, it was 1994 champion Steve Lowery who knocked his second shot in on 17 for a double-eagle, worth eight points that vaulted him from the middle of the pack to second place with one hole left. He lost by one point to Rich Beem.
The International has produced its share of unsuspecting champions -- Pampling, Lowery, Beem the week before his big win at the PGA Championship. But it has also put some big-time names in the winner's circle. Phil Mickelson won in 1993 and 1997, Davis Love III in 1990 and 2003, Vijay Singh in 1998 and Ernie Els in 2000.
``I look forward to it,'' Mickelson said. ``It's no screwy tournament. I look forward to playing it. I like the need for aggressive play.''
As much as the scoring system, it has been the ability to attract big names -- or lack thereof -- that has been the longtime conundrum for this tournament.
In the early days, the International was played the week after the PGA Championship, something of a letdown week for players, who have just completed the year's last major. At the request of tournament officials, the event was moved to one week before the PGA Championship in 2000.
It seemed like the perfect setup, but it signaled the last the International would see of Tiger Woods, who likes to use that week to tune up for the year's final major instead of coming to a tournament where the ball flies farther and the scoring system is strange.
Ideas have been floated about moving the tournament to June, or trying to turn it into a World Golf Championship event when the new TV contract goes into effect in 2007.
``It's been common knowledge that we've got to look at some alternatives for the future of this tournament,'' International executive director Larry Thiel told the Denver Post.
One good thing about the timing is that the International and PGA Championship are the final two tournaments in which players can gather points to make the President's Cup team (in odd years) or Ryder Cup team (in even years).
It puts some pressure on Love, who is ranked ninth coming into this week. The top 10 get automatic spots on the team.
Mickelson is here. So are Retief Goosen, Fred Couples, Norman and David Duval. Singh was once a regular but is skipping this year. Els is out for the season with a knee injury.
Those who are entered will play a tournament like no other, but one still well toned down from its brash beginnings two decades ago.
When the event was first played in 1986, there were cuts after every round and all players started back at zero at the beginning of each round.
The event was modified over the years -- the first-round cut was eliminated in 1989 -- and the events of 1992 triggered the final change.
That year, with all players starting the final round at zero, Brad Faxon teed off early on Sunday, birdied six of his first eight holes and had 14 points, which was good enough to win. One problem: Faxon was done playing by the time the television broadcast began.
The other problem was that, had the scores been cumulative, the winner would have been none other than fan favorite John Daly.
The next year, points were made cumulative and Mickelson was the winner.
Things haven't changed since.
``I think it's fantastic,'' Pampling said. ``Just look at Steve Lowery a few years ago. He came from nowhere, which formally you can't do in a stroke-play event.''
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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.