Keep Going Forward

By Associated PressOctober 14, 2008, 4:00 pm
Their Ryder Cup rivalry was so fierce that Seve Ballesteros once referred to the U.S. team as 11 nice guys and Paul Azinger.
But when Azinger was stricken with cancer in 1993, Ballesteros was among the first to call.
He called the house a couple of times and my parents relayed the message, Azinger recalled Tuesday morning. That shows you what kind of guy he is. We had an intense rivalry, but you reach beyond that. Rivalries can be healthy, and maybe they cross the line on occasion. But when real life things happen, people reach out to each other.
Ill try to call Seve once things calm down.
Azinger can only hope that Ballesteros can find a way out, as he did so often in a career defined by amazing recoveries. The five-time major champion was diagnosed with a brain tumor over the weekend, and he was in a Madrid hospital awaiting results of a biopsy to determine the scope and severity.
No matter what it is, hell take a positive outlook and be thorough and do everything right, Azinger said. But its scary.
Azinger was diagnosed with lymphoma at the end of the 1993 season, after winning his only major at the PGA Championship and battling Nick Faldo to a draw in a memorable singles match in the Ryder Cup.
He overcame cancer in the peak of his career, but his only role in the next Ryder Cup at Oak Hill was as a television analyst. Even then, he wound up in the same match with Ballesteros ' holding a microphone as the Spaniard performed one magical escape after another against Tom Lehman in the leadoff singles.
On the opening hole, Ballesteros hooked his tee shot some 30 yards left of the fairway. The gallery circled around Ballesteros as he played his approach, prompting Azinger to say, They might want to be careful. You know, he didnt hit over here on purpose.
Later in the match, Ballesteros was stymied by a massive tree on No. 5, and Azinger reported that his options were to pitch sideways or to play a sharp hook through a gap in the trees to the right. Defying logic, Ballesteros took it over the tree, with enough power to reach the green. He halved the hole with a par.
That all took place in one hour.
Consider the better part of three decades, and the stories of spectacular shots by Ballesteros are endless.
There was the bump-and-run that threaded the bunkers on the final hole at Royal Birkdale when Ballesteros was 19 and tied for second. He won three years later with a shot from the car park. One of the greatest shots Jack Nicklaus ever saw was Ballesteros hitting 3-wood from beneath the lip of a bunker and reaching the green from 245 yards away in the 1983 Ryder Cup.
Years later, he put on a clinic in the short game at The Players Championship.
He was hitting these 3-irons from a greenside bunker closer than Nicklaus could hit his sand wedge, Azinger said. Jack got up there with a 3-iron and was skulling it into the bank. I dont even think its arguable that Seve had the best hands of anyone who ever played.
Hell get no argument from Brad Faxon, who wont forget his first Seve moment.
Faxon was 26 and playing only his second British Open in 1988, elated that his closing 71 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes put him a tie for 11th and made him exempt for next year.
He pulled up a chair in the clubhouse to watch through a tiny window as the final group came up the 18th fairway. Ballesteros was one shot ahead of Nick Price, but the Spaniard was in trouble, some 50 feet from the flag in an awkward lie in the rough.
He was long and left and needed to get up-and-down, Faxon said Tuesday. And he almost holed it. It stopped 2 inches away, and that pretty much knocked out Prices chances. I was young, and watching him do that up close, the way he reacted and the way the crowd reacted to him I dont think its the best shot I ever saw him hit, but it was the most impressionable.
The best shot Azinger saw came during an exhibition at the Old Course in St. Andrews for a Shells Wonderful World of Golf match.
He was in a fairway bunker on No. 4, Azinger said. It was only a 9-iron, but he cooked it out of the bunker, straight up in the air and onto the green. I walked over to the bunker, and realized it was absolutely impossible for me to do that.
Bobby Jones once famously said of Nicklaus, He plays a game with which I am not familiar.
Ballesteros played shots that no one knew existed.
He was special, said two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, who lost all five times he faced Ballesteros in the Ryder Cup. He truly saw shots that nobody else would see. Hed see a hole in a tree, a run-up on a links.
What was the best shot he saw?
Put it this way, Strange said with a laugh. He chipped in on me more than once. You almost applauded at times, because in a situation like that, you knew it was coming.
Mark Garrod, the golf correspondent for PA Sports the last three decades, remembers Ballesteros hitting one shot so far right during the 93 European Masters that he was 3 feet away from a wall with a swimming pool on the other side. The situation looked hopeless until Ballesteros saw enough of a gap in the trees that he hit pitching wedge to the fringe, then chipped in for birdie.
Garrod later asked Ballesteros about the shot, and the response is worth remembering now.
I just like to keep going forward.
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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.