Leonard shares Disney lead; Donald slips

By Associated PressOctober 21, 2011, 7:38 pm

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Justin Leonard described his round Friday at Disney as a 'fun, easy day,' and it was every bit of that. He had a 9-under 63 for his lowest round of the year, putting him in a tie for the lead with Henrik Stenson and Bio Kim at the Children's Miracle Network Classic.

It was only after his round that he felt as though he was on Thunder Mountain without ever leaving the golf course.

Leonard is at No. 144 on the PGA Tour money list and not the least bit worried about keeping his card because he already is exempt through 2012. Because of a misprint in the media guide, reporters didn't understand how he was exempt, leading to confusion – and a brief spell of panic for Leonard – while Tour officials researched the regulations to confirm the answer.

By the time he headed for the Magic Kingdom for the parade with his four children, all was well. The leaders were at 12-under 132, two shots clear of Nick O'Hern. Gary Woodland was in the group at 9-under 135.

The money list is magic at Disney.

Webb Simpson and Luke Donald are battling for the money title, and they both played the opening two rounds at 7-under 137, meaning they will be paired again Saturday. Simpson has a $363,029 lead, so the third round looms large for Donald.

The stress is at the bottom. The players at Nos. 123, 124 and 125 – D.J. Trahan, Bobby Gates and James Driscoll – all made the cut.

Kim is at No. 168 and will have to finish no worse than second to avoid Q-school. Stenson, who had a 64 on the Palm Course, is at No. 180 but is exempt through 2014 from winning The Players Championship. Leonard also has no concern about next year. 

'I did call the tour a couple months ago and asked about my status. I'm exempt for next year, so I'm not playing with that kind of pressure,' Leonard said in his press conference. 'I don't know how, I just am. I gave the same look to the telephone. `How is this guy still exempt?''

It was a reasonable question, for his exempt status on his biography page showed him exempt through his position on the money list in 2010. In the exempt ranking at the front of the media guide, however, it shows him in the winner's category.

The answer took time. Andy Pazder, the chief of operations, was out of the state on business and did not have immediate access to the records. It required an official at Ponte Vedra Beach headquarters to go through each year's regulations to provide the correct answer. That took time, and a tour official at Disney didn't want to keep Leonard waiting. He told him the staff was checking on it.

'Are you going to eat?' media official Mark Stevens said to him.

'I already ate,' Leonard replied. 'I think I'm going to go throw up.'

As it turned out, Leonard had the correct information all along. His British Open win in 1997 came with a 10-year exemption. Starting in 2003, the tour began adding to the 10-year exemption with every win. Leonard won five times after 2003, thus he is exempt through 2012.

Leonard is not exempt for the Tournament of Champions in Kapalua to start next year, and that's something he now has a chance to remedy at Disney. Over the last few months, he has gone to Morris Pickens to develop some practice strategies, and Dave Stockton Jr. for help getting back to his natural putting stroke.

It has paid off so far at Disney, where he took advantage on the Palm for a bogey-free round of 63.

Kim had a 65 on the tougher Magnolia Course, and his spot on the leaderboard was far more critical.  

'I'm not afraid of Q-school, because I'm only 21 and I've got a lot of things to do and a lot of tournaments to do,' Kim said.

Far more fearful was undergoing heart surgery in his native South Korea while the FedEx Cup playoffs were going on. He previously had the surgery for an irregular heartbeat when he was 11, and knew he was having a problem when he nearly fainted at the Wyndham Championship in August.

He was back to playing golf before long, and now is hoping for a big week.

Simpson had a bogey on the final hole at Magnolia for a 69, while Donald battled a sinus infection and a lack of energy on his way to a 71 as they at least stayed in the game. Their battle was summed up on the 12th hole, when Donald stuffed his tee shot into 2 feet, and Simpson followed with a shot into 3 feet. Both made birdie.

'I think both of us are in the same mindset and trying to win the golf tournament,' Simpson said. 'We want to beat not only each other, but we want to beat the field. I feel that's just natural as competitors. He's got a little further to go. All it takes is a good weekend, and he would be right there.'

Donald can finish no worse than a two-way tie for second, provided Simpson finishes down the leaderboard. It's a tall order for Donald, the No. 1 player in the world.

'I'm going to need to go low on the weekend,' Donald said.

That won't be the case for a pair of British Open champions, David Duval and Ben Curtis, who both missed the cut. Duval was outside the top 150 on the money list, meaning he would have to go through two stages of Q-School to get his card back. Having gone through Q-School last year, the former world No. 1 is likely to take a year relying on sponsor exemptions and his status as a past champion.

Curtis was at No. 149 and likely to fall out of the top 150. Curtis still has the option of playing the European Tour, where he is exempt, while also playing the PGA Tour.

Meanwhile, four players from the Champions Tour all made the cut.

Michael Allen, whose only win was the Senior PGA Championship two years ago, had a 66 and was in the group at 9-under 135. Others playing the weekend are Mark Calcavecchia, Tom Pernice Jr. and Tom Lehman.

Leonard (63) and Stenson (64) played on the easier Palm course, while Kim had a 65 on the Magnolia.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”