Players brace for blustery weather at Senior PGA

By Associated PressMay 27, 2010, 4:45 am

PARKER, Colo. – Not only can Tom Watson play well in the wind, he can imitate the sound, too.

When asked about the course conditions following his practice round on a blustery Wednesday afternoon, Watson grabbed the microphone and began blowing into it.

As if there wasn’t enough wind already.

The gales again gusted through the course at Colorado Golf Club, site of this year’s Senior PGA Championship. At one point in the afternoon, the winds reached nearly 40 mph, making the day quite difficult for those on the course.

And this was a light day compared to Monday, when the winds reached the vicinity of 60 mph, forcing some of the golfers to pass on playing.

“It’s howling out there,” Watson said Wednesday. “It was really pretty calm in the morning for the first six holes. And then somebody turned the fans on.”

The winds are expected to gust again Thursday when play begins.

Not exactly a recipe for low scores.

“It was blowing so hard out there (Wednesday), I wouldn’t say it was much fun,” said Fred Couples, who admitted his balky back is giving him trouble. “It’s a hard course anyway, but when it’s like this it’s hard to hit a good shot.”

Watson is hoping the officials consider that when determining the course. Keeping it at 7,490 yards would be almost cruel in this breezy climate.

“They’re going to have to use some good judgment setting up the golf course, if they know the winds are going to be coming and blowing this way,” Watson said. “It’s a wonderful golf course. … I would like to see it just not blow this hard.”

That’s surprising since Watson typically thrives in windier weather, winning five British Open titles on courses usually known for blustery breezes.

So, what’s the secret?

“You throw the yardage somewhat out the window and you play by feel,” Watson said.

About then, a burst of wind banged against the side of the interview area.

“I hope this tent survives,” Watson said, smiling.

KITCHENAID DEAL: The Senior PGA Championship announced Wednesday that KitchenAid will be a presenting sponsor beginning next year at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.

The four-year agreement also includes bringing the 2012 and 2014 championships to The Golf Club at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich., the home of KitchenAid.

The Michigan course is designed by Jack Nicklaus and will officially open Aug. 10 with a charity event that features Nicklaus, Watson, Arnold Palmer and Johnny Miller.

ON THE MARK: The last time Mark O’Meara’s swing felt this crisp, this solid, he won two major championships, capturing the Masters and British Open in 1998.

That’s how locked in he is right now, how comfortable he feels over the ball.

He’s hoping it translates on the course this week.

“Do I think I’m there yet? I don’t think in golf you ever arrive,” O’Meara said. “But I think at times I’m a much better player now than I was, ball-striking wise, in 1998. That doesn’t give you the right (to think) that you’re going to all of a sudden play well. I’d like to play well here.”

FAST LANE: Fuzzy Zoeller will stick to driving a golf ball and leave driving a race car to the pros.

Although Zoeller is sponsoring a car in this weekend’s Indianapolis 500, he has absolutely no desire to test one out – ever.

“I’m a speed-limit man – right lane all the time,” Zoeller said. “I’m a 45-to-50 (mph) man, not 245, not 250.”

Zoeller leaves the driving on the track to Ed Carpenter, who will be behind the wheel of Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka car on Sunday. Carpenter will start in the third row, sandwiched between Graham Rahal and Hideki Mutoh.

“That’s amazing to see those kids drive those cars and the skill they have to drive them,” said Zoeller, who won the Senior PGA Championship title in 2002. “Speed just doesn’t do nothing for me.”

But promoting his product at a venue like Indy certainly appeals to him.

“Where else do you have 350,000 screaming idiots? It works,” chuckled Zoeller, who launched his burgeoning spirits business around a year ago. “This is an outstanding car, too. It’s got a lot of speed.”

BIG FAN: With his steady nerves and poise, 16-year-old Jordan Spieth of Dallas caught the nation’s attention as he finished tied for 16th place at the Byron Nelson Championship last weekend.

He also impressed fellow Texan Ben Crenshaw, who happened to catch glimpses of Spieth’s play on television.

“Great performance,” Crenshaw said. “Reminds you of a 16-year-old Jack Nicklaus.”

Lofty praise, indeed.

“He’s good,” Crenshaw said.

Not only that, but Crenshaw appreciated his choice in schools. Spieth is planning to attend the University of Texas, the same school where Crenshaw once was a star. Crenshaw won three straight NCAA championships at Texas, sharing the title with teammate Tom Kite in 1972.

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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.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.