Johnson, Sabbatini, Harman co-lead John Deere

By Associated PressJuly 11, 2014, 12:31 am

SILVIS, Ill. - Jordan Spieth felt great Thursday on the first tee of the John Deere Classic. He heard not only his name, but, for the first time, the phrase ''defending champion.''

A par followed. Then another, and another after that. And then a bogey.

The playoff winner from 2013 was suddenly reeling.

''It was a struggle,'' Spieth said of the round, an even-par 71 he salvaged with birdies on the 16th and 17th holes. ''I need to go find something on the range because I just wasn't comfortable over the ball today.''

Spieth was eight strokes behind Zach Johnson, Rory Sabbatini and Brian Harman, whose 8-under-par 63s shared the lead after the opening round.

Then again, Spieth was six strokes behind the leaders entering last year's final round, and rallied to win, beating Johnson and David Hearn in a sudden-death playoff.

''It's going to take some incredible golf,'' said Spieth, sixth on the PGA Tour money list. ''But I'm putting well, so when I find my swing, I can maybe take it deep.''

That's where the leaders were.


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Johnson and Sabbatini played bogey-free golf, while Harman had nine birdies and one bogey on the par-71 TPC Deere Run - even though his regular caddie had to drop out.

They led 2004 British Open champion Todd Hamilton, Australian Steven Bowditch and William McGirt, the best afternoon finisher, by a stroke. Brendon de Jonge, Kevin Tway, David Toms and Robert Streb are two back at 6-under 65.

Harman, who bettered his best round of the year by two strokes, was 2 under through six holes when his caddie, Scott Tway, took ill. Jay Hatch of Davenport, Iowa, a high school basketball coach, volunteered from the gallery, and carried Harman's bag the last 12 holes, which Harman played in 6 under.

Harman didn't miss a beat when his caddie took ill.

''I called a medic over and Scottie said he was going to have to sit out at least a couple holes,'' Harman said. ''Jay was standing there and said, 'I'll do it. I'll keep up.' ''

Checking his own yardages, Harman birdied seven of his last 12 holes, and nine overall.

''If you go out and birdie half of the golf course, you feel you've done fairly well,'' Harman said.

Johnson, who won the Deere in 2012, birdied four of his first five holes and was 6 under on his opening nine. He won the Tournament of Champions in January, but described his recent golf as ''going through the motions too much.'' He hasn't finished in the top 10 since a tie for sixth in the Texas Open in March.

''I was a little spent,'' Johnson explained. ''I played too much and I was anxious for results. I got ahead of myself.''

His start on familiar territory was a return to form, an early birdie binge including a 22-footer on the par-3 12th and a 32-footer on the par-4 14th. At 8 under through 11 holes, the vision of a 59 crept into his thoughts.

''Very briefly,'' Johnson said. ''If you're going to do it, you still have to hit it solid. Maybe I mis-clubbed on 6, but I could have birdied 8. I hit only one really bad shot, and that was the second shot at 9.''

Johnson parred his last seven holes.

''I'd rather have 59 wins than shoot 59,'' Johnson said.

Sabbatini scored his best round of the year, closing with birdies on three of the last four holes.

Birdies are a must at Deere Run. Through 18 holes, 80 players were under par and another 20, including amateur Jordan Niebrugge, at even-par 71.

Hamilton's 64 came in his first round of the season on the PGA Tour. Playing on a sponsor exemption, the 48-year-old native of nearby Galesburg, Illinois, has been on the Web.com Tour in recent years.

Bowditch was 8 under after a birdie at the 17th, but bogeyed the 18th. McGirt birdied the first three holes on the back nine to jump into contention and parred the last four.

Three-time Deere winner Steve Stricker fired a 68, with six birdies and three bogeys.

Sabbatini, whose best finish this season is a tie for eighth at the Wells Fargo Classic, closed strongly on the hilly Deere Run layout.

''I like this course and how it plays,'' Sabbatini said. ''It's fun for spectators because there are a lot of fireworks, and fun for us players, too. This golf course requires the basics: hit the fairway, hit the green, make some putts.''

Four of Sabbatini's eight birdies were from 17 feet or longer, the longest a 22-footer on No. 4. He ran in birdies on the second, third and fourth holes of his back nine, and another on his 16th, the par-3 seventh.

Hamilton, a decade removed from his British Open victory at Royal Troon, birdied his first two holes and was off on an improbable round of 64.

''I haven't been playing well,'' Hamilton said. ''It seems if I play well, I shoot 71 or 70. Everyone else when they play well, they shoot 65 or 64. It's a big discrepancy.''

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.