Notes Love of country Big Easys hindsight

By Associated PressOctober 14, 2008, 4:00 pm
Ben Curtis had so much fun playing for his country that he wants to do it again.
 
Curtis, who went 1-1-1 in his Ryder Cup debut last month, has selected Brandt Snedeker to be his partner for the World Cup, which will be played in China during the week of Thanksgiving.
 
Six other Americans turned down the long trip, and Curtis wasnt sure he would be able to go without the right partner. He wound up with Snedeker, who is becoming a world traveler this time of year.
 
I am very excited to be playing with Ben and representing our country in this event, Snedeker said. In our sport, you dont get the opportunity too many times to compete for your country, and this is going to be a thrill for me. I think it will also be a good experience as a I work hard to reach my goal of making the next Ryder Cup, and perhaps next years Presidents Cup teams.
 
The Americans have won 23 times since the World Cup began in 1953, but their last victory came in Argentina in 2000 behind Tiger Woods and David Duval. A year ago in China, Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum lost in a playoff to Scotland.
 
Colin Montgomerie returns for the defending champions, this time with Alastair Forsyth. Other teams include Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher for England; Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson for Sweden; and Rory Sabbatini and Richard Sterne for South Africa. Sabbatini led South Africa to the World Cup with Trevor Immelman in 2003.
 
As for Snedeker? The World Cup will be the end of a month on the other side of the world.
 
He is getting married this weekend, then plays the Kiwi Challenge in New Zealand on Oct. 28-29. Then its off to Fiji for his honeymoon, followed by a trip to Japan for the Dunlop Phoenix before meeting up with Curtis in China.
 
CALCS KNEE
Mark Calcavecchia made it five years before another knee surgery.
 
He was to have athroscopic surgery Tuesday in Phoenix to repair the torn medial meniscus in his left knee, his first surgery since 2003 but the fifth since 1985. He expects it will take four to six weeks to recover, but that wont stop him from defending his title in the Merrill Lynch Shootout with partner Woody Austin.
 
Im not sure how much cartilage will be left after this, Calcavecchia said. Ill play the Merrill Lynch in a wheelchair if I have to, but Ive got plenty of time to get ready for it.
 
The Merrill Lynch Shootout has been pushed back this year to Dec. 11-14.
 
Calcavecchia played with pain most of the year, withdrawing from the U.S. Open and Turning Stone Championship two weeks ago when he couldnt take it anymore. He is 48, but has one omen on his side for next year.
 
My recent even years havent been too good, but the odd years have been, he said. So Im looking forward to 09.
 
SHOOTOUT
The Merrill Lynch Shootout has something for everyone this year.
 
Greg Normans popular silly-season event has six Ryder Cup players, five Champions Tour players and one guy who has been on injured reserve most of the year ' Brad Faxon. Still to be named are two more players in the 24-man field for the Dec. 12-14 event in Naples, Fla.
 
Mark Calcavecchia and Woody Austin are the defending champions.
 
The Ryder Cup players are Stewart Cink, J.B. Holmes, Kenny Perry, Ian Poulter, Steve Stricker and Boo Weekley. Also playing is Paul Azinger, the winning captain from the Ryder Cup.
 
BIG EASY REFLECTION
Tiger Woods generated plenty of conversation when he said reconstructive surgery on his left knee typically recovers at 85 percent after six months, but takes two years before it is back at full strength.
 
Ernie Els, who tore up ligaments in his left knee in the summer of 2005, spoke from experience when he said Woods was doing the right thing to take his recovery slowly. Woods is not expected to even hit balls until January. Els returned in December of 2005, but says he wasnt fully recovered until six months later.
 
I was very stubborn. I wanted to come back as soon as possible, Els said. I set a date for me of Sun City, and that was definitely too early. The doctors down there saw my knee and though I was crazy to play, it was so swollen. My doctor told me that I couldnt do any more damage to my knee. The tendon was a good surgery. That was what I wanted to do.
 
Obviously, he said, Tiger is a little different.
 
SWEET HOME, ALABAMA
Two courses on the Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama were ranked 1-2 among public courses in a new survey from Golf World in which the magazines readers were asked to rank the best private, resort and public golf courses.
 
The Grand National course in Opelika, Ala., was No. 1, followed by the Capitol Hill course in Prattville, Ala.
 
Golf World said it received more than 21,000 individual golf course ratings from online polling, and readers were asked for evaluations on various criteria.
 
The top two resorts in the survey were Kiawah Island and Turning Stone, while the top two private course were Augusta National and Pine Valley.
 
DIVOTS
Rory Sabbatini has failed to break par the last four times he has held a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, including a victory at Riviera. Titleist is returning to the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., for the first time in seven years. Titleist executive vice president Jerry Bellis said the return is due to the PGA shifting the shows emphasis to a more educational platform. Boo Weekley was inducted into the Milton (Fla.) High School Hall of Fame during halftime of its football game last Thursday. Jim Furyk played in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf for the fourth time. Only Tiger Woods (8) and Greg Norman (5) have made more appearance. I guess I got a lot out of winning one major, said Furyk, who has been an alternate the last three times.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
Zach Johnson became the fourth player named Johnson to win on the PGA Tour this year. The others were Richard Johnson, Dustin Johnson and Johnson Wagner.
 
FINAL WORD
I really couldnt believe how well some of the guys played. Under so much pressure, the shots they were hitting were incredible. As a player myself, I never realized how good it is to watch.' Darren Clarke on the Ryder Cup.
 
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    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 a trip to Augusta.

    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).

    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.

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.