Sometimes the Years Best Shots Get Lost in the Moment

By Associated PressDecember 13, 2005, 5:00 pm
The best shots by major champions are not always the most memorable.
Sometimes, they look so routine that they don't even get the courtesy of a replay. In the case of Tiger Woods at the British Open, his best were never shown on TV.
There was nothing extraordinary about his five-shot victory, a calculated performance at the Old Course that kept a small cast of challengers from catching him. Even so, Woods knew right away that Sunday at St. Andrews would be special, starting with a series of shots not many people saw.
That's because they were on the practice range.
'I hit the 100-yard sign four straight times,' Woods said in an interview last week. 'That was the start of my warmup. I hit a couple of little wedges to loosen up, then hit to the sign. Peppered it four straight times in the air, on the right zero -- not the middle zero, the right zero.'
Swing coach Hank Haney was standing behind him, quietly impressed, and offered some advice to the caddie.
'He hit that sign four times in a row -- and five out of eight,' Steve Williams said. 'Hank says to me, `The first time he gets inside 100 yards, you might want to tell him to aim away from the flag.' '
Williams laughed, just as he did that day. Turns out it wasn't a joke.
'First time I'm inside 100 yards is on No. 6,' Woods said. 'I had 98 yards to the hole. What happens? I one-hop it off the flag and it spins off the shelf.'
Woods had to scramble for par, and on the way to the next tee, Williams told him what Haney said on the range.
'I said, 'You idiot, why didn't you just tell me to aim away from the flag?' It's not that hard,' Woods said.
The next time he had under 100 yards was on No. 7.
Woods nearly holed out.
'I had to aim away from the flag there,' he said with a smile, 'because of that shelf.'
The majors this year will be remembered for signature moments, although it was tough to find one at St. Andrews. Woods' pitch on the 12th hole, which bounced up the throat to a front pin and stopped 4 feet away for birdie and a two-shot swing, was as good as any.
The other three majors had a defining shot, along with one that often gets overlooked:
Woods' chip from behind the 16th green made a U-turn at the top of the slope, trickled toward the hole, paused two full seconds on the edge of the cup for effect, and became part of Augusta National lore the moment it dropped for birdie. For all his magic, he now is best identified by that shot.
As dramatic as that was, however, Woods was prouder of two shots that were simply steady -- his 3-wood off the tee in the playoff with Chris DiMarco, and an equally pure 8-iron into 15 feet that set up his winning birdie.
'My two best golf shots of the week,' Woods said. 'You can think of 16 all you want, but if 18 doesn't happen, then it's DiMarco's -- what a great chip and a great putt he made on 18, and all those things.'
U.S. Open
Michael Campbell was scratching out pars along the back nine as Tiger Woods was closing in. Woods certainly helped the cause with two late bogeys that gave Campbell a cushion.
But this was Pinehurst No. 2, where shots are dropped easily. Campbell delivered a knockout punch with his 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that gave him a three-shot lead.
'I think everyone will remember the 17th,' Campbell said.
Still, the Kiwi won the U.S. Open on the par-3 15th with a bunker shot that ranks among the best of the year.
He missed the green to the left, and the only thing worse than a nasty lie was the length of the shot. He had to carry it some 25 yards to a turtleback green that fell off on all sides.
'It was semi-plugged, and I had to get it up over a little lip,' Campbell said. 'If it goes 3 feet beyond the pin, it was off the green. Six feet below the pin, and it was off the green. That was the shot of the round.'
It came off perfectly, and he holed the 6-foot par putt.
'That bunker shot turned the game around,' Campbell said. 'Tiger birdied that hole (to get within two), and he had not played the 16th yet. That could have changed the whole momentum of the round.'
PGA Championship
Phil Mickelson was up to his ankles in rough to the right of the 18th green, tied with Steve Elkington and Thomas Bjorn, needing to get up-and-down from some 50 feet to win his second major.
It was the kind of chip he had practiced countless times in his backyard as a boy in San Diego.
'It could have been the easiest chip, and still wouldn't have been easy,' Mickelson said. 'It was the situation that made it tough. The ball was sitting down a little bit in the grass, and I was able to go in and be aggressive with it because I had a little bit of upslope to the pin, and I didn't fear the ball would take off by the hole.'
He raised his arms before the ball settled 2 feet away for a tap-in birdie.
But while Mickelson is among the best with a wedge, the shot that might have won the PGA was his drive. Baltusrol was softer and longer, with a stiff breeze. Mickelson needed birdie to win. He needed to be in the fairway.
'The best drive he's ever hit,' caddie Jim Mackay said that afternoon.
Mickelson reached out and tapped the plaque for Jack Nicklaus, who hit the 18th green with a 1-iron to win the 1967 U.S. Open. He could not have done that from the rough.
'Ultimately, I had a chance to go at the green on 18, and almost got it up,' Mickelson said. 'But I ended up making birdie.'
That's all that mattered.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by The Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in The Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.