Notes Euros feeling good at Oakland Hills

By Associated PressAugust 6, 2008, 4:00 pm
Follow the 90th PGA Championship all week on GOLF CHANNEL. Click for our TV schedule!
 
2008 US Open 81x90BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. ' When the Ryder Cup was held at Oakland Hills in 2004, the Europeans left with an 18 1/2 -9 1/2 victory, the second of their three straight over the United States.
 
The top points producers on that team are back for the PGA Championship that starts Thursday on the same course.
 
Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood both had 4 1/2 of a possible five points over those three days.
 
The look of the course is pretty much the same. Its obviously a lot tougher than it was at the Ryder Cup, said Garcia, who was 24 then. Obviously the rough is thicker. They have added some good length. Bunkers are a little bit deeper.
 
Westwood, who is seven years older than Garcia, broke into a wide smile when asked about the 2004 Ryder Cup.
 
I had had a bit more to drink than Ive had right now. Although I think we all were sort of pretty well on our way, he said referring to huge bottles of champagne that were sprayed and imbibed with great gusto. Its just great memories, really.
 
Westwood was asked if being back on the course for a practice round brought back any specific thoughts of holes from that day.
 
Its not the way my mind was working. I was just kind of focusing on this week and not what happened in the past on the golf course, he said. Only probably on the 18th green where I stopped sort of preparing for this weeks tournament and I just said to my caddie, `Do you remember that putt that Sergio holed there? It was only because he nearly hit me with the putter when he tossed it up in the air. Thats the only reason I remember that.
 
Eight of the 12 players on that European team are here this week and a ninth, Luke Donald, was forced to withdraw because of a wrist injury.
 
At least one former PGA champion believes the Europeans should be brimming with confidence from four years ago.
 
If they dont, its their own damned fault for not having it, because they really took it to us, said Rich Beem, the 2002 PGA champion who wasnt a member of the U.S. team in 2004.
 
PRACTICE? PRACTICE?
 
The image of golfers taking the opportunity to play practice round after practice round at a major championship venue was shattered by Rocco Mediate.
 
One of the sports most popular players since his U.S. Open playoff loss to Tiger Woods in June, Mediate was ready for Thursdays opening round of the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills after a total of nine practice holes on the course known as The Monster.
 
Im tired, Mediate said Wednesday after talking for a while about his hectic life since becoming such a celebrity following the 19-hole playoff loss to the worlds No. 1 golfer. I played last July in the British Open qualifier here and the golf course is right in front of you. The greens are difficult, but they are still right in front of you. I remember them all.
 
Its not rocket science. Its just youve got to be under these holes. You cannot play them from over the greens. Theres no tricks, obviously, just a lot of long clubs for me, and I enjoy hitting them.
 
Mediate was asked for an example of how crazy things have become for him since the 46-year-olds remarkable performance at Torrey Pines.
 
Walking to dinner last night, one guy stopped the car on the street, sent his son over. I signed the autograph and he got back in the car, Mediate said. It was kind of freaky, actually. It was fine. There wasnt much going on. It wasnt a busy street.
 
CENTENNIAL PGA
 
The 100th anniversary of the first PGA Championship will be celebrated by staging the last of the four majors near where the organization was formed: Baltusrol.
 
The course in Springfield, N.J., just across the river from New York where The PGA of America was formed in April 1916. The first PGA Championship was held six months later at Siwanoy in nearby Bronxville.
 
Its one of the classic clubs in this country, and if you walk up on a point on the Upper Course, you can see the Manhattan skyline, Joe Steranka, the CEO of the PGA of America, said Wednesday. So being in the New York metropolitan area for us was important, to be able to be near the birthplace. I know well have a lot of activities in the year leading up to that centennial championship.
 
That PGA Championship will be not the 100th edition, however, since none was held in 1917, 1918 and 1943.
 
Baltusrol hosted its only PGA Championship in 2005, with Phil Mickelson winning by one stroke over Steve Elkington and Thomas Bjorn in a rare Monday finish. Bad weather blew in late Sunday, forcing 12 players to return the day to complete their rounds.
 
That championship brought a whole group of people into the field and was one of the most dramatic moments, Steranka said. Well try to finish it on Sunday this year, though.
 
BIG MONTH
 
Chad Campbell has a lot on his mind this month ' the PGA Championship, trying to make the Ryder Cup team, the PGA Tour playoffs for the FedEx Cup. And in the middle of this, hes preparing for fatherhood.
 
His wife, Amy, is expecting a boy on Sept. 4.
 
She more worried about the schedule than I am, Campbell said.
 
He said he likely would play the Deutsche Bank Championship, which ends Sept. 1, then skip the BMW Championship in St. Louis. That might affect his FedEx Cup standings, but it shouldnt have any bearing on the Ryder Cup. If he doesnt make the team, the captains picks are announced after the Deutsche Bank.
 
LATE CHANGE
 
Shingo Katayama, No. 52 in the official world golf rankings, withdrew from the PGA Championship on Wednesday due to recurring back problems. He was replaced by Michael Allen of Scottsdale, Ariz. The 156-player field now includes 93 of the worlds top 100.
 
Other withdrawals in the last week include Brett Wetterich (back), Jason Bohn (back), Luke Donald (wrist) and Alex Cejka (arm).
 
Cejka was in the field as an alternate, replacing Donald.
 
Two-time defending champion Tiger Woods is not in the field after undergoing knee surgery soon after winning the U.S. Open in June.
 
NO TIGER
 
Tiger Woods will miss the Ryder Cup, and U.S. captain Paul Azinger cant see how that will help.
 
Some have speculated that Woods absence ' he has never had a winning record at any Ryder Cup ' might motivate the Americans and put more pressure on Europe, which has won the last three times.
 
I dont see one, single positive that Tiger Woods isnt on our team, Azinger said. I cant imagine how you can argue a team would be better off without arguably the greatest player ' potentially the greatest player ' who has ever lived. As far as Im concerned, it really puts Europe in an advantageous place. It puts Europe in a favorite role. Theres just no question about it.
 
PRIZE MONEY
 
The PGA of America approved prize money Wednesday of $7.5 million for the PGA Championship, up $500,000 from last year. First place is worth $1.35 million.
 
Its the first time since 2003 that all three U.S. majors had the same purse.
 
The British Open had the largest amount of prize money this year, mainly because of the exchange rate. Padraig Harrington earned nearly $1.5 million from a prize fund of $8.24 million.
 
Typical of the majors, even those missing the cut will earn $2,500.
 
BACK STRETCH
 
The PGA Championship comes toward the end of an impressive string of marquee sporting events in the Detroit area. The 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills started the run and was followed by baseballs All-Star game the next year and the 2006 Super Bowl. Following the 2009 Final Four, the Motor City might have a long wait for another scheduled sporting event that has wide appeal.
 
Oakland Hills members are open to hosting another major ' a seventh U.S. Open or fourth PGA Championship ' but not until sometime between 2016 and 2022. Local officials are hoping to land another Final Four between 2012-16.
 
Related Links:
  • Full PGA Championship Tee Times
  • Full Coverage - PGA Championship
  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

    Getty Images

    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

    Getty Images

    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

    Getty Images

    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.