Notes: Irwin shoots his age, shoots up leaderboard at Senior Open

By Associated PressJuly 31, 2011, 12:28 am

TOLEDO, Ohio – A 66 is an impressive score, especially at a major championship, on a legendary course, and particularly when the player shooting it is a 66-year-old grandfather.

Hale Irwin, a winner of four majors on the PGA Tour and seven more on the Champions Tour, matched his age, shooting a 66 in the third round of the U.S. Senior Open. It marked the second time he had done it in a competitive round on the Champions Tour, including a 65 at the AT&T.

“Any time you can do that when you’re at any age, it’s pretty nice to do. I didn’t even realize it until I was reminded after we finished the round,” Irwin said after finishing up on Saturday. “I was more intent on trying to make that putt at the last hole than anything else.”

Returning to Inverness Club has been a nostalgic trip for Irwin, who won one of his two U.S. Open titles here in 1979.

“It was a little reminiscent of 32 years ago and how I played on Saturday of the Open week in '79,” he said. “I recall starting poorly and having two really, really good middle rounds. Today was similar to one of those rounds in '79. I hit a lot of really good shots. I played well.”

He now stands at 7-under 206 and, as usual, is right in the thick of things.

“I have to shoot this or better probably tomorrow to even have an outside chance,” said Irwin, who began this week with rounds of 69 and 71. “I think I just started a little too far back of a lot of guys– and there’s really a lot of really good players. Not every one of them is going to go out and shoot 74. So I’ve got to go out and play exceptionally well tomorrow.”

No one will be surprised if he shoots his age again.

THE COMMON MAN: The list of top-20 players at the U.S. Senior Open includes many of the most famous golfers of a generation. Their names are well known by even those who don’t follow the game: Mark O’Meara, Mark Calcavecchia, Hale Irwin, Hal Sutton, Bernhard Langer and Nick Price, just to name a few.

And then there was Jeff Roth.

A New Mexico club pro who was a legendary player in his salad days in Michigan, Roth has been the most stunning contender in the 156-player field. After rounds of 68, 72 and 66, he finds himself at 7-under 206, tied for seventh and eight shots back of leader Olin Browne.

He said he was cheered throughout Saturday’s third round by a large contingent of family and friends from Flushing, Mich., just over 90 minutes away from Toledo.

Funny, but he was in a similar situation a year ago. He played in the final group in the third round with Langer. But while Langer pulled away to the win, Roth wilted to a 75. He ended up finishing 17th.

“Everybody’s got that choking point and I managed it a lot better today,” he said. “The interesting thing about it is I really don’t feel any pressure, any nervousness, which is great because now I can go out and play right from the get-go instead of working into the round. I’m getting to that point in my career where, even though I haven’t won a Champions Tour event, I’ve kind of been there, done that on my level. So I’m just playing golf.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Olin Browne didn’t start playing golf until he was 19 but got hooked on the game while attending Occidental College in Los Angeles. He was asked if he had any idea that he’d make a living at the game: “Well, that was getting ahead of myself. I thought I could make out a living on the golf course, and it’s been really fun. You know, I gravitated toward it because I knew what I didn’t want to do and it was to have a regular gig. I just didn’t see myself in that role. I love the challenge of golf, I love how intimidating it is sometimes and how hard it is and how you just keep butting your head against the wall and there’s no reward and you look around for some sympathy from other people and you don’t get any. But I highly recommend it for anybody that wants to try it because for every failure that you get– and it’s 10 to 1 or 50 to 1 or whatever– the successes way outweigh the failures.”

TIMES THREE: Tim Jackson, a Tennessee real estate developer and CPA, has already locked up a three-peat at the U.S. Senior Open.

As the only amateur to make the cut, he locked up the low am title for the third year in a row to match the record held by Vinny Giles.

Jackson shot a 2-under 69 in the third round after two rounds of 72 and stands at even-par 213.

“I’m very honored,” said Jackson, who played at the University of Tennessee and lives in Germantown, Tenn. “Vinny’s obviously one of the all-time greats in all of golf. I have a lot of respect for Vinny and all he’s accomplished and I’m honored to have my name beside his. That’s awesome.”

Jackson has been low am every time he’s played in the tournament, finishing tied for 11th two years ago and tied for 32 in 2010.

“When I first played in this event two years ago, I really didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “When I got here, I saw that my game matched up pretty good with most of the guys as far as my overall game and particularly my short game and my putting, so that gave me some added confidence to compete.”

DIVOTS: At the 14th hole, Damon Green, among the leaders all tournament, grabbed a rake and cleaned up after playing partner Jeff Roth hit out of a greenside bunker. Green knows what he’s doing: He caddies on the PGA Tour for Zach Johnson. … A total of 21 players returned to the course on Saturday morning to complete their rounds because of the almost-3-hour-rain delay early on Friday. The cut was a tournament-record 2-over 144. … There were 39 subpar second rounds, another tournament record. … Hal Sutton had a triple-bogey 7 at the 17th hole in the first round while shooting a 74. Since then, he birdied the hole twice while shooting 67 and 66.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by The Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in The Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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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.