Notes Race to Augusta Players Hobbled

By Associated PressJanuary 5, 2006, 5:00 pm
04 Mercedes ChampionshipsKAPALUA, Hawaii -- Six players at the Mercedes Championship have to play well quickly if they want to get into the Masters.
 
Augusta National six years ago went away from its criteria that winning on the PGA Tour earns a trip down Magnolia Lane, preferring to put more emphasis on overall play by relying on the world ranking and money list.
 
Heath Slocum, Wes Short Jr., Robert Gamez, Jason Gore, Brad Faxon and Tim Petrovic failed to crack the top 50 in the world ranking or finish in the top 40 on last year's money list. But there's still time. The Masters will take the top 50 in the world and the top 10 on the current money list at the end of March.
 
'I'm going to hammer out a lot on the West Coast,' said Gore, who is No. 90 in the world. 'It's definitely a dream of mine to play there. I pretty much watched videotapes falling asleep, watching Augusta, for a long, long time.'
 
Faxon gave up a good chance to get back to the Masters by having knee surgery. His victory in Hartford put him inside the top 30 on the money list and the top 50 in the world ranking, but he didn't play the final two months of the season. He wound up 45th on the money list, and slipped to No. 67 in the world.
 
'I thought if I came back early and played well, I would have a chance to make points early,' Faxon said. 'That's still my goal.'
 
PLAYERS HOBBLING
Fresh out of surgery, Brad Faxon started counting the days.
 
It was a difficult decision to get the torn ligaments repaired in his left knee, coming off a victory in the Buick Championship at Hartford and a good showing at home in the Deutsche Bank Championship. The recovery was supposed to be between four and six months, which would knock him out of the Mercedes Championships at Kapalua.

'I was hopeful to be here,' Faxon said, in this winners-only field for the first time in four years. 'I was counting on my fingers what four months was, and my doctor told me that would be really pushing it.'
 
Faxon is among three players at Kapalua recovering from surgery on their knees, although his was the most severe. He injured it two years when he took an awkward fall working with a medicine ball, tried to avoid surgery and eventually found that while he could play golf, it was painful and limited other activities.
 
The recovery, clearly, was ahead of schedule.
 
Faxon went to California a week before Christmas and felt no pain. His first round before coming out to Hawaii showed some rust, as he shot 48 on the front and 32 on the back.
 
'Physically, I feel like I'm in good shape on a machine,' he said of his work in the gym. 'But hitting shots, walking, waiting, lining up putts, that will be tough this week.'
 
Walking is what worries Bart Bryant.
 
A two-time winner last year, including his wire-to-wire win at the Tour Championship, Bryant went ahead with a minor procedure to clean out some loose cartilage in his left knee. The surgery was two days after the Tour Championship, plenty of time to recover for the Mercedes.
 
But doctors found frayed cartilage underneath the knee cap, and decided to shave that down.
 
'That's something that we really hadn't talked much about before the surgery,' he said. 'That put me back a little bit more than I expected. ... Walking is not bad. Just walking downhill is what really is getting me right now. It gets really sore at the end of the day. If I start feeling some kind of sharp pain in there, I might need to consider what I'm doing, but I expect to be able to play this week.'
 
Peter Lonard had surgery he didn't expect, and it was perhaps the most minor of the three.
 
The 38-year-old Aussie felt occasional pain in his left knee over the last several months until it became unbearable at the Australian Masters last month.
 
The next day, Dec. 12, he had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus.
 
'I went in at 9 a.m. and that afternoon, I hobbled out,' Lonard said. 'It's still a little uncomfortable, but it's pretty good. They said it would be six weeks to recover, three week before I could play.'
 
Lonard wasn't about to miss the Mercedes Championships, winning for the first time last year at the MCI Heritage. He wasn't sure how he injured his knee, and didn't even realize he needed surgery.
 
'Some days it hurt, some days it didn't,' he said. 'The day I went in for surgery, I said, 'We don't need to do this. It doesn't hurt.' But it's done now, so we'll start again.'
 
RANKING FILES:
One way to look at who had the best year is to consider only the points earned for the official world golf ranking. That not only is a reflection on players' most recent success, but shows how they did against the stronger fields.
 
Not surprisingly, Tiger Woods tops the list at 772.44 points, well ahead of Vijay Singh (514.53 points). Retief Goosen earned 386.2 points, followed by Phil Mickelson (369.93) and Sergio Garcia (296.4).
 
Rounding out the top 10 were Colin Montgomerie (282.9), Ernie Els (274.23), Jim Furyk (272.13), Michael Campbell (249.88) and Adam Scott (245.42).
 
Among top players, the biggest turnaround belonged to Campbell and Montgomerie, each of whom improved 73 spots in the world ranking. Montgomerie ended last year at No. 81 and finished 2005 at No. 8, while the U.S. Open champion went from No. 89 to No. 16.
 
One of the biggest falls belonged to Todd Hamilton, who went from No. 16 last year to No. 97. His best finish was a tie for 13th in the John Deere Classic.
 
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    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.

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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.