Bradley vs. Jimenez recalls other course encounters

By Brandel ChambleeMay 2, 2015, 12:43 am

Watching Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez nearly come to blows in their WGC-Cadillac Match Play match on Friday stirred some memories in me.

I once saw two of the most otherwise well-behaved touring professionals stand toe to toe in the middle of what was then the Quad Cities Classic’s 18th fairway and have a staredown, fists at the ready, each waiting for the other man to blink or throw a punch.

In question was a ball plugged in the fairway (a blind fairway from the tee) and whether the ball flew there, which would have entitled the player to a free drop, or rolled there, entitling him to no such thing. I can’t remember the resolution, but if I hadn’t seen two of the nicest guys on Tour almost tussle, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Golf has a short list of pugilistic moments but a few more come to mind, and in full disclosure I have to admit I very nearly was involved in one of them. 

Bradley, Jimenez in heated confrontation

I once played with a pro who had a bit of a reputation as a brawler, was rumored to be a black belt in karate and to have killed a man in a bar fight. Word was, he was as crazy as a peach-orchard boar. He and I were in a twosome, and he was on his way to an 80-plus performance. Our sole gallery member was his girlfriend, who seemed sympathetic to his bad golf, at least until his wife showed up and then her disposition seemed, well … less sympathetic.

On hole after hole I had to wait for him to walk and search for a safe spot to stand, presumably out of range of hurled objects (the girlfriend did indeed look athletic). He was doing his best to make himself a moving target, and I was doing my best to play undisturbed, or at least to give that appearance, figuring a protest by me would act like a blowtorch to kindling. I was right. 

As I was preparing to chip on one hole he walked right up to the flagstick and stood. I backed away and looking at him I said, “Just let me play.” OK, I may have added an expletive … anyway no sooner had the words left my mouth than rage filled his eyes. He said, “What did you say? I’ll tear your head off!” He definitely added an expletive between the words “your” and “head” and he started walking toward me.

I had about a second to sum up his intentions and to consider my options while hoping the rage in his eyes would be replaced by the rationalization that neither of the witnesses to my murder was likely to be malleable to his reconstruction of the crime scene. But he kept coming. I was going to run, but then I remembered I was armed, albeit with a sand wedge, and the next thing you know I raised the wedge and looked at him a few feet away and dared him to take another step. I said, “Go on, take one more step. Take one more and you will lose your kneecaps.” He stopped and after a second or so, he smiled like he just discovered the wheel, and said, “Little man with fire - I like that” and he turned around and gave me room to chip.

From then on every time I saw him, he addressed me as “little man with fire” and smiled.

Another little man with fire, so to speak, was Dave Hill, who in spite of winning 13 times on Tour was better known for his irascible nature. During a Champions Tour event in the early ’90s J.C. Snead, nephew of Sam Snead, was hitting range balls that were coming to rest far too close to Dave. Dave let loose with a few verbal volleys, ordering J.C. to stop. When he didn’t, Dave took off for the much larger J.C. and the two came to blows, wrestling each other to the ground before other players were able to separate them. The disparity in size between the two men and the tougher era from which they both came has given this confrontation a comical charm in the retelling.

Years ago back in the late ’60s there was a Tour player with questionable connections who was said to be, when he wasn't playing golf, a strong-arm who collected on unpaid debts. Tall and menacing, he looked exactly how you would expect someone to look whose main vocation involved conflict. He had a reputation for playing by any rules he saw fit, and for two very good reasons, he was rarely challenged. First, he wasn't good enough to contend or even be relevant. Second, there was one incident that scared the hell out of everyone.

It is said that up in Boston one year a rules official got wind of a violation he committed and met him in the locker room and took him to task, whereupon the rules official was stuffed in locker and told not to come out until he had permission.

Closest thing we get to a good ol’ fashioned fight these days is when grievances are meted out in the media, social or otherwise, like Phil Mickelson’s passive-aggressive takedown of Tom Watson that led to the Ryder Cup task force, only needs a “d” at the end of “force” to be accurately named, if you ask me, but otherwise it is indeed a gentlemen’s game we all play.

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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.