PGA Tour considering a new home for season opener

By Associated PressJanuary 11, 2009, 5:00 pm
2007 Mercedes Benz ChampionshipKAPALUA, Hawaii ' The stunning contrast of green grass, blue Pacific and the occasional white splash of a humpback whale gave way to dreary clouds Sunday morning for the final round at Kapalua.
 
Perhaps it was only fitting.
 
After 11 years of the winners-only field at the Mercedes-Benz Championship being pampered with butler-drawn baths in their free room at the Ritz-Carlton and playing a Plantation course with spacious fairways and sharp changes in elevation ' unlike any other style they play the rest of the year ' the future at Kapalua suddenly is cloudy.
 
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was as vague as the Sunday view when he said this week that we are looking at some options in terms of what is the best future for this tournament.
 
That was as far as he went, so its not clear who is looking for change, only who isnt.
 
We want to continue at Kapalua, said Gary Planos, the tournament chairman and senior vice president at Kapalua. But were not sure whats going to happen in the future.
 
If the players had a vote, speculation probably wouldnt last long.
 
The best part of winning the Honda Classic for Ernie Els was a return trip to Kapalua, where he set the tournament record (31 under) in 2003 during a week of pristine conditions. Even though his putter has been a problem this week, its tough for Els to say it has been a bad week. He spent one morning in the ocean with his son, Ben, teaching him to body surf.
 
Rory Sabbatini was here this week, even though he didnt qualify. He loves the place so much he comes to Kapalua on vacation.
 
We all want it to stay here, Davis Love III said. Theres a few players that dont like coming here, but for the most part, this is a great place for us to come. I love coming here and I would hate to see it leave.
 
The Plantation course can be an acquired taste ' with so much elevation, 400-yard drives can be the norm ' but it offers wide fairways that can be ideal for players trying to knock winter rust off their game.
 
This is a perfect place to start, Geoff Ogilvy said. Its quite easy to hit a lot of fairways.
 
Ogilvy is among those who took up joint membership on the European Tour this year, and one reason was a variety of courses that he believes the U.S. tour lacks. He finds it odd that a move from Kapalua is being discussed.
 
After Florida, you probably play the same golf course 20 times in a row, Ogilvy said. But to play such an extremely different setup, its a cool place to start.
 
The Mercedes moved to the western tip of Maui in 1999 after 30 years at La Costa Resort north of San Diego, which could get cold and soggy. Tiger Woods won a 54-hole event in 1997 in a playoff on the one hole that was above water. Three years later, he won a playoff against Els at Kapalua in what remains their most epic duel.
 
Woods hasnt returned since 2005 for reasons that had to do more with his family and the calendar than the golf course and how he was treated. His season-ending charity event has been moved so late in December that Woods felt he needed time off. He is lobbying to have the Chevron World Challenge moved to the week after Thanksgiving.
 
Whatever the case, his absence is a bigger blow to this tournament than when he skips the first playoff event.
 
What hurt the perception even more was the absence of the next three guys behind him in the world ranking. Phil Mickelson played only the first three years at Kapalua. He wants time off to spend with his family, but its no secret he is not a fan of Kapalua and the wind, saying it gets him into bad swing habits.
 
Padraig Harrington is from Ireland and takes January as his one month away from golf. Sergio Garcia is a past winner at Kapalua, but the schedule didnt work for him. He lives in Spain and plays next week in Abu Dhabi.
 
The Tour is said to be looking at Wailea, about an hour to the east on Maui, where the weather is more predictable. It might have more options for Mercedes clients to play golf, but it doesnt have the caliber of course that Kapalua offers. Players often criticize the Tour for not playing on the best courses available; this could be one of those example.
 
I love coming here, said Stewart Cink, one of four players on the Tours policy board. I like playing here. I think this is a fun course to play. Its different and a challenge in its own way. I would not want to move it. But its a business decision, Im sure.
 
Some players believe the Tour is looking at a move to the mainland to make it easier to travel.
 
If youre trying to get one or two players, youre going to have to move it to San Diego or Orlando, said Justin Leonard, referring to Mickelson and Woods. And even then, I dont think those guys would play. Its nice to start here.
 
Moving to the mainland also would leave the Sony Open in Honolulu on an island, such as it is.
 
The wild card in all this is Mercedes. Its sponsorship expires in 2010 ' as does the tours contract with Kapalua ' and the automaker has been quiet this week in casual conversations with tournament and resort officials.
 
Finchem said it wasnt only Kapalua under review.
 
The way we like to believe you will get better is to constantly challenge what you are doing and ask the question, Can you do it better? he said. It doesnt necessarily mean we will do anything particularly different.
 
Most players would tell him its pretty good as it is.
 
But maybe in these economic conditions, its not always about the players.
 
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard
  • Full Coverage
  • Golf Channel Airtimes
  • 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.