Round 2 complete at FedEx; Crane leads by 4

By Associated PressJune 7, 2014, 8:31 pm

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Ben Crane remained atop the leaderboard with his 5-under 65 good enough for a four-stroke lead once the weather-delayed second round finally ended Saturday at the St. Jude Classic.

Crane finished his first 36 holes Friday with a 12-under 128 total before a delay for lightning, then thunderstorms washed out play and closed the TPC Southwind course. Fog delayed the start of play Saturday morning for an hour, and the drenched course made for softer, more receptive greens though also stopping shots from rolling in the fairways.

Retief Goosen (66) and Camilo Villegas (64) were at 132. Peter Malnati (68) and Troy Merritt (66) were at 133 with Carl Pettersson (67) and Brian Harman (65) at 134.

Phil Mickelson shot a 68 after a bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie start. He was in a group of eight at 135 including Davis Love III (70), Billy Horschel (68) and Dustin Johnson (67).

The third round was set to start at 3 p.m. with players going off both tees trying to squeeze in as much golf as possible with more thunderstorms possible.

A delay Thursday forced 60 players to wrap up their first round Friday morning with only 32 finishing the second before a delay for lightning with 13 minutes of play squeezed in followed by the next delay for a thunderstorm. Fans were sent home for a second straight day, and players never went back out again with water standing in fairways, bunkers and cart paths.

Crane's 36-hole total tied for the second best of his career and the 12 under matched Harris English's winning score here a year ago. That left him a target that nobody could reach during the second round.


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Villegas said he wasn't thinking about Crane at all. He went out with a six-birdie round, finishing birdie-birdie on Nos. 17 and 18.

''There's still half of the tournament to be played, and you got to focus on your game,'' Villegas said.

Mickelson hasn't won in 19 events dating back to the British Open, and he's just one of the many in Tennessee trying to tune up for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst next week. He tied for 49th last week in the Memorial following a visit from FBI agents and lingering questions about an insider-trading investigation. He never teed off at all Friday with the horn blowing for the second time with him at the No. 1 tee.

He said he couldn't hit his irons close enough or his putts. He birdied Nos. 14 and 15 to get to 5 under but had to roll in a 16-footer to save par on the par-5 16th. He wasn't happy at missing a birdie opportunity with the pin at the front of the green.

''I had a chance to get up and down,'' Mickelson said. ''I think if I had birdied 16 I might have gotten one more with a little bit of momentum. ... I'm certainly not that far back, but I do need to get off to a quick start. I got to get a good front nine here this third round and get off to a fast start.''

Pettersson was upset he couldn't finish Friday, forcing him to set his alarm for 4:45 a.m. in order to finish his second round with a two-putt from 46 feet.

''It wasn't too bad,'' Pettersson said. ''I just had to putt. I hit 30 minutes of putts on the putting green.''

Only 32 finished up the second round Friday, and Goosen was among the many playing a full 18 Saturday. He had an up and down round with seven birdies and three bogeys to pull within four strokes of Crane. He planned to go rest until his next tee time.

''Tricky some of these greens, this morning or afternoon,'' Goosen said. ''I don't even know what the time is. It's been a long day already. Overall very happy with the round yeah. I could have probably would have been nice to make another birdie coming in on the last three. I had my chances but (can) shoot pretty low again this afternoon to catch Ben.''

Divots: Local favorite John Daly was among 71 making the cut at even par. Defending champ Harris English missed the cut along with Patrick Reed, Lee Westwood and David Toms, a two-time champ here. ... David Duval withdrew after seven holes in his second round. He was at 7 over for the tournament.

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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.