For Tiger Big Wins and Losses Add Perspective
Darren Clarke lit up a cigar when the Ryder Cup was securely in Europe's possession, then chugged a pint of Guinness from the balcony of The K Club and raised the empty glass as a trophy for all Ireland to see.
One week later, in a scene far more scripted for no other reason than it has become routine, camera flashes and Tiger Woods' smile illuminated the gloomy skies north of London as he posed with the trophy from the American Express Championship. It was his eighth victory of the year, carving out more room for his name in PGA Tour record books.
Already close friends, they were linked these last two weeks as much for what they had gained as what they had lost.
Clarke was a wild card in more ways than one at the Ryder Cup.
He left the spotlight in July to cherish the final days with his dying wife and two young sons, and no one was sure what to expect from him until he became the first European captain's pick to go undefeated. Clarke polished off a 3-0 record six weeks to the day that Heather lost a long and spirited battle with cancer.
Hard as it is to fathom now, there were questions swirling around Woods' future three months ago.
He had spent more than a year watching his father slowly succumb to cancer. Earl Woods died May 3, and his son disappeared from golf for nine weeks. Woods returned at the U.S. Open and missed the cut for the first time ever in a major. Since then, he has won six of his last eight events, including six in a row on the PGA Tour.
Asked to define a year in which he won two majors and became the first player in PGA Tour history to win at least eight times in three seasons, Woods replied, 'A loss.'
As joyous as they felt in victory, neither Woods nor Clarke will remember 2006 as anything but a loss.
Clarke will fall short of the required 15 starts to keep his PGA TOUR membership, but that won't matter. For the second straight year, the tour has waived that requirement because of the circumstances involving his wife. The 38-year-old from Northern Ireland is 120th on the money list, but will have no trouble getting any exemption he wants.
'The PGA TOUR has been kind to me, and unbelievably fair,' Clarke said Sunday after he tied for 26th at The Grove. 'Next year, I'm going to try to play as much as I can. But the whole schedule revolves around my kids.'
Clarke has drawn closer than ever to 8-year-old Tyrone and 6-year-old Conor. Three days after a massive Ryder Cup celebration came an even greater one -- Conor's birthday party.
'To see the look on Conor's face when he turned 6 was worth a million Ryder Cups,' Clarke said.
Clarke has not gone into a shell. He is among the most popular European players, but he has a fiery side, especially when he's not playing his best. That much was clear when one of his managers watched him walked briskly toward the scoring trailer, looking for the board to see how he finished and to gauge his mood.
But his perspective clearly has changed. He is a father first.
'When they're not in school, I won't be playing golf,' Clarke said. 'Hopefully, I won't be playing because there might be a major championship that week. But golf is not my priority anymore. My boys are.'
Woods was surprised he needed more than two months to cope with the death of his father, role model and inspiration. Then again, he had never experienced the loss of someone so close. He spent the Christmas holidays taking his father to the hospital, watching him become more frail each week, fighting to hang on.
Any comparisons now to his benchmark year in 2000 are strictly by the book.
'If you take into account what happened off the golf course, it's my worst year,' Woods said. 'In the grand scheme of things, golf doesn't even compare to losing a parent.'
Tour officials swear that a computer spits out the pairings each week, but it was hard to believe it was only a coincidence Clarke and Woods spent the first two days together at The Grove.
And perhaps it was just a coincidence that Judy Rankin was back at work last week for ABC Sports, a cancer survivor walking the fairways with a microphone and a yardage book for the first time since late February. She was assigned to the group of Clarke, Woods and Rod Pampling the first round of the American Express.
Rankin was diagnosed with breast cancer in May as ABC was starting its summer schedule of golf. She has had three operations, with one more remaining 'before I'll feel like everything is back to normal again.'
The LPGA Hall of Famer was walking by herself up the sixth fairway when a voice called out, 'Judy!' She turned to see Clarke making a detour on his way to the tee, arms outstretched.
'Good to see you again,' Clarke said as he hugged her, giving her a kiss on each cheek.
No sooner had Rankin turned around than she heard her name again. This time it was Woods making a beeline for her, giving her a long hug and telling her, 'Thanks for being here.'
Rankin was concerned whether her stamina would hold up over 18 holes a day, but she made it through the week just fine. It helped to be carried along by the concern of two friends who can appreciate better than most what she has been through.
When the first round ended, Woods emerged from the scoring tent and walked over to Rankin, embracing her for nearly a full minute as he whispered into her ear. Then he left and walked over to a metal railing to sign autographs.
Rankin walked away with tears streaming down her face.
Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title
The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.
Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.
Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.
Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.
Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.
Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore
SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.
Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.
Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.
With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.
''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''
Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.
''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.
Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.
Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.
He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''
Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.
It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.
Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.
Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.
“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”
The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.
“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”
Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.