Notes: Chappell on to the Masters; International leaderboard

By Associated PressJune 19, 2011, 8:15 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – The top eight finishers at the U.S. Open qualify for next year’s Masters, and that’s a big deal for someone like Kevin Chappell.

Chappell was just as hot as Rory McIlroy over the final three rounds of the championship, shooting rounds of 67, 69 and 66. It helped compensate for an opening 76 and lifted him into a tie for third Sunday.

“There’s a lot to soak in,” said Chappell, whose best career finish on the PGA Tour is a second place at this year’s Texas Open. “Hopefully lock up my card for next year, which is also a big relief, and just really try and enjoy it. I played some really good golf the last three rounds, and I really do need to enjoy it.”

Chappell also matched Robert Garrigus as the top American in the field.

“I don’t think the state of American golf is where everyone expects it to be,” Chappell said. “But I think it shows that someone like myself can play out here, and I think it’s definitely going to end up going in the right direction here sometime soon.”


MAYBE IT’S JUST TIGER: Not only it is five straight majors now without an American winner, but the final U.S. Open leaderboard contained few stars and stripes.

Eight of the top 10 came from outside the United States. Kevin Chappell and Robert Garrigus were the exceptions, and Germany’s Martin Kaymer had a simple theory to explain it.

“It says, I think, that the Americans struggle a little bit, since Tiger has been on a, how do you say, a little down?” Kaymer said. “Since then nothing has really happened. We’ve just become so much stronger.”

Kaymer also invoked another big name, Padraig Harrington, who won back-to-back majors in 2008.

“I think it started with Padraig, that was the British Open and the PGA,” Kaymer said. “That gave us at least the belief that we can win here in America as well.”


ROCK ROLLS TO A HALT: Robert Rock can finally get some rest.

The Englishman whose visa troubles caused him to arrive at Congressional barely in time to play the U.S. Open actually had a good tournament. He not only made the cut, but he shot a 68 Sunday to finish at 1 over, tied for 23rd.

“It’s going to slow down right now,” Rock said. “My caddie and I are going to have a beer now and chill out before our flight tonight. I’ve got a week off to do very little. There won’t be much practice done, I don’t think.”

Rock was playing his first U.S. Open, and he had never laid eyes on the Blue Course until he was playing the first round on just a few hours of sleep.

“I had better hopes after overcoming the hardest part, which was the first round,” he said. “I’m disappointed because I thought I’d play better golf, but not knowing enough about the place just cost me.”


FROM CHARL TO RORY: As it usually does, the U.S. Open put a quick end to thoughts of a Grand Slam. What was unusual was the surreal scene that played out Sunday involving the last major winner and the newest one.

Masters champ Charl Schwartzel arrived at the 18th green just as Rory McIlroy was getting to the No. 10 tee box across the lake. The holes are close enough so that the galleries often roar as one.

The reception for McIlroy was deafening; Schwartzel waited for it to die down before putting. When McIlroy put his tee shot within a foot of pin on the par 3, the place went nuts.

“That was pretty spectacular there,” Schwartzel said. “I saw him on the tee and I obviously stopped and watched and that was a pretty decent roar that went up there. That was pretty cool to see.”

Schwartzel, by the way, made his putt, celebrating with a fist pump a 15-footer for par that kept his round bogey-free. His 66 put him at 4 under for the championship, a U.S. Open score that often would have been good enough for a Masters champion to make it two majors in a row.

Schwartzel, though, said he began the tournament thinking 10 under would be the winning score.

“I played pretty spectacular today, actually,” he said. “I wish I had four of these.”

Schwartzel and McIlroy will always be linked by what happened at Augusta, when McIlroy blew a four-shot, final-day lead to give the South African the opening to win.

“The way he reacted, the way he handled it afterward, it looked like it was going to be around the corner,” Schwartzel said. “He put it behind him very quickly.”

The last player to win The Masters and U.S. Open back-to-back was Tiger Woods in 2002.


PHIL’S ALL WET: Phil Mickelson’s U.S. Open ended where it began, in the same body of water.

On his last hole of the championship Sunday, Mickelson stood in a greenside bunker launched a rainbow that splashed on the fly, some 15 feet beyond the other side of the peninsula green. Even the adoring gallery that had cheered so loudly during his walk up the fairway couldn’t help but let out a collective giggle.

After two unsuccessful drops on the steep lakeside slope, he had to place the ball and chip back toward the pin, where he made a 6-footer for double bogey to finish an even par round of 71 and a 7-over total of 291.

“That bunker’s not an easy spot to be in today,” Mickelson said, “and I hit a poor shot on top of it.”

The lake also received Mickelson’s opening shot in his first round on Thursday, when he started on the nearby par 3 10th and left his tee shot well short. He double bogeyed that hole as well.

Mickelson’s 69 on Friday was his only round under par on a course receptive for U.S. Open scores lower than the norm.

“I thought that the soft conditions obviously made it a little bit easier than everybody had hoped, but the setup was wonderful,” he said. “I just didn’t play how I’d hoped.”

After his round, Mickelson walked past the putting green and spotted runaway leader Rory McIlroy, who had yet to tee off for the final round.

“Play well,” said Mickelson, who then gave McIlroy’s caddie a thumbs-up.

“You could tell that Rory’s had this type of talent in him for some time now,” Mickelson said, “and to see him putting it together is pretty neat to see.”


KID SENSATION: The top amateur at the U.S. Open was Patrick Cantlay, who shot a 72 Sunday to finish tied for 21st at even par – while learning just how taxing a major championship can be.

“I’m really tired,” he said. “I felt it on the back nine. But you know, it’s such a great experience to be here, and it’s been an amazing week. I’m really excited, and adrenaline kind of kept me in it.”

Cantlay, 19, just completed his freshman year at UCLA, where he plans to stay until he earns his degree. He won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s top college golfer earlier this month.

“I can work on everything,” he said. “My attitude can improve. I get down on myself sometimes. And definitely my short game can improve. I think that’s the weakest part of my game, and I think this week showed it. I had some spots where I could have gotten up-and-down and I unfortunately didn’t.”

Two other amateurs made the cut. Russell Henley shot a 75 Sunday to finish at 4 over. Brad Benjamin carded back-to-back 80s over the weekend and ended up at 21 over.


WRONG HOLE, RIGHT RECOVERY: Gary Woodland is from Kansas, but he must have felt as if he’d landed in Oz after he hooked his tee shot at par-5 ninth hole Sunday at the U.S. Open.

Woodland had to venture all the way to the edge of the No. 4 fairway to play his second shot. He lifted it over a bank trees, only to have the ball land on the edge of the right rough along the ninth fairway.

At least he was back on the right hole. His third shot landed precariously on the front of the green and started rolling toward the deep ravine before coming mercifully to a stop.

The pin was at the back of the green, but he putted within 6 feet and made it from there. All that work for a par.

Woodland received words of encouragement from fans as he walked to the 10th, including that most ultramodern of greetings: “I’ll tweet you later.” He then proceeded to make one of the best shots of the day at the tricky par-3 No. 10. He stuck his tee shot within 2 feet and made birdie on his way to a round of 68.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”