Notes Lukewarm Reaction Annikas Nice Gesture
Because there was difficulty comparing handicaps between genders and the length of courses they play, the R&A decreed that only women who finished among the top five in the LPGA majors would be eligible for the first stage of 18-hole qualifying. If they get through that, they can go to the 36-hole final stage.
The news didn't generate much of interest on the LPGA Tour.
Sophie Gustafson is the biggest hitter in women's golf. She played the Casio World Open in Japan two years ago and was leading after nine holes, but eventually missed the cut. Because of her power, the Swede would be among the few with a realistic chance at Open qualifying.
``The British would be fun to play, but the first stage would be too much hassle for me to do,'' Gustafson said in an e-mail interview. ``I have my own schedule I'm trying to manage, and going to England for 18 holes of golf to maybe get into the (final) qualifying wouldn't excite me very much.''
Michelle Wie's father said she might try it, but only if it fits into their schedule.
``If we're flying back from Asia or somewhere,'' B.J. Wie said.
Annika Sorenstam has shown no interest in competing on the men's tour since she played at Colonial two years ago. She also questioned the distances women would have to travel.
``Maybe somebody from Britain will go,'' Sorenstam said. ``They don't have to travel far.''
Gustafson said more women might be interested if it were 36 holes and played the week before the British Open. But even then, she said women would have to be motivated to tee it up against the men.
``I guess what it boils down to is that the women who are eligible to actually qualify have their own agenda, and trying to get to the 36-hole qualifying probably isn't very high on their list,'' she said. ``I think if you are Michelle Wie and can go and play wherever you like and don't have to worry about the money list ... it would be a fun thing to do.
``I just don't have a week to spare just to try to get into the 36-hole qualifying.''
Nick Price watched the Presidents Cup and called it ``great theater.'' The only thing he regrets is International captain Gary Player telling reporters that Price didn't want to be his assistant.
``It was such a letdown not making the team that he'd like to be excused,'' Player said the day after his team was selected.
Rubbish, Price replied.
``He had four months to come to me and say, 'Nick, if you don't make the team, will you be my assistant?' `` Price said last week at Disney. ``Then I'm on holiday, and he tried to phone me the Sunday night before they announced the team. You wouldn't do that, would you?''
Price, who didn't play for two months after the British while spending time with his family, had already added the Texas Open to his schedule when Player called his managers.
``I read in a golf magazine that I snubbed the vice captaincy. Snubbed! My God, man, I wouldn't snub that,'' Price said. ``He made it out that he already asked me and I didn't want to do it.''
A TOUCH OF CLASS
Annika Sorenstam won the Samsung World Championship by eight shots, but Michelle Wie still got all the headlines over the way she was disqualified in her professional debut.
Some top players might have been offended by being ignored after such a great performance. But Sorenstam showed again why she's in a league of her own.
According to a Callaway Golf official, Sorenstam sent the 16-year-old player from Hawaii an e-mail the next day that essentially said she was sorry Wie was disqualified, that she got a raw deal that she should be proud of how she played.
The European tour Order of Merit is now a two-man battle between Colin Montgomerie and Michael Campbell, to be settled this week at the season-ending Volvo Masters in Spain.
Montgomerie will try for an eighth money title, and leads the U.S. Open champion by about $183,000. That means Campbell has to finish at least fifth to have any chance of winning.
Retief Goosen, meanwhile, took himself out of the race when he didn't play for three weeks while spending time with his family and resting a sore groin.
Goosen missed the American Express Championship, a $7.5 million event that would have at least kept him in contention for a third Order of Merit. By not playing -- Monty earned $353,666 with a tie for third at Harding Park -- Goosen now is nearly $400,000 behind and will play on the PGA Tour this week.
``It was a big event to miss. It probably cost me the Order of Merit,'' Goosen said. ``But you've got to spend some time with your family. I haven't seen them much over the last three months. I needed to have a break with the kids.''
Goosen plans to spend three months in South Africa after the season, and won't return to the United States until the Accenture Match Play Championship at La Costa the last week in February.
That means missing the Mercedes Championships at Kapalua, a tough decision for a guy who once said there was no better way to start the season than holding a drink with a flower in it.
``But with kids, it's 35 hours traveling from South Africa to get there, and that's not what we wanted,'' he said.
Harrison Frazar considered taking a drop from right of the 14th fairway in the final round at Disney because his stance barely put him on the cart path. But uncertain his foot was on cement, he called over to his playing partner, Justin Rose, to make sure. Frazar opted against the drop, and after hitting a good layup on the par-5 hole, spotted a reporter and said with a laugh, ``I wanted to make sure because I didn't want the media to report it.'' He was alluding to a Sports Illustrated writer waiting one day to report an infraction against Michelle Wie, leading to her disqualification at Bighorn. ... Tom Pernice took only 95 putts in the Funai Classic at Disney, but he took 17 of those over the final nine holes. ... Tiger Woods' wife was not at either tournament this year when he missed the cut.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Fourteen of the 32 players who won PGA Tour events last year are outside the top 50 on this year's money list.
``My blackjack playing has been bad. I figure by not playing there, I probably saved myself $50,000.'' -- Mark Calcavecchia, who skipped the PGA Tour event in Las Vegas for the first time in 10 years.
McIlroy gets back on track
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.
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.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
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.
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.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
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.
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.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.