Azingers Lone Valhalla Regret

By Brian HewittOctober 8, 2008, 4:00 pm
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger has jealously guarded his privacy while unwinding from Americas smashing victory over Europe in Kentucky late last month.
 
But he did admit recently one major regret at the matches and he hinted strongly that he will not captain the U.S. side again, even if asked, at the next scheduled competition two years from now at Celtic Manor in Wales.
 
Theres only one thing I would have done differently at Valhalla, Azinger said. And that would have been making sure I was on the tee box on the 18th hole in the Friday afternoon fourballs match when Boo Weekley and J.B. Holmes both hit their balls in the water. If I had been, I would have made sure they knew where their tee balls needed to be.
 
Holmes and Weekley had a 1-up lead at the time over Lee Westwood and Soren Hansen and wound up halving their match as a result of the wayward drives.
 
I was really kicking myself Friday night, Azinger told FM104.3 The Fan, a Denver-based sports talk radio show hosted by Jerry Walters and Jon Lawrence. I was by the 17th green and I couldnt get my cart to the 18th tee because of a TV tower. I should have gotten off the cart and just walked through the tower. Fortunately for me, that was my only regret for the week.
 
Azinger also cited control as the reason he isnt excited about reprising his role in Wales two years from now. Im not going to be able to create a 13th man at Celtic Manor, he said.
 

BANK HOLD UP
The Wachovia Championship is suddenly a tournament to be named later.
 
In a short period, for a variety of reasons, this event has become one of the best-attended and most-liked by PGA Tour players.
 
But at the moment, because Citigroup and Wells Fargo are fighting over who will get to purchase the distressed bank, tournament officials are on hold on several of their timelines for 2009.
 
Our tournaments going to happen, said tournament director Kym Hougham. Were just not sure what the name is going to be.
 
Hougham said Wachovia officials have told him to proceed with preparations. And, he pointed out, the bank has a contract with the Tour through 2014.
 
Wall St. insiders, meanwhile, are predicting that Citigroup and Wells Fargo could end up divvying up Wachovia. And, one source told GolfChannel.com, that would probably mean Wells Fargo would end up controlling the tournament because it would be expected to gain control of Wachovias holding in the Southeast.
 
Can you say, Wells Fargo Championship?
 
Hougham also pointed out that much of his championships support has come from the Charlotte (N.C.) community. And as a result, he said, he doesnt expect a diminishment in that support. Its an event in our community, he said. Not just a golf tournament.
 

RED ALERT
A few words on Red McCombs, the money man behind the new golf course Tiger Woods announced Tuesday he will design:
 
McCombs, full name is Billy Joe McCombs. He is 81 years old and he used to own, at separate times, the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs.
 
McCombs made most of his money selling cars in Texas. And when he donated $50 million to that states estimable university in Austin, they named the business school after him.
 

MEDINAH RYDER
Medinah No. 3, the site of the next (2012) Ryder Cup on American soil, is already undergoing a face lift of sorts.
 
The club is in the middle of a complete renovation of its practice facilities that includes a realignment of the sight lines that now protect early morning players from squinting into the sun. The club is also replacing the old, tan sand in its 74 bunkers with white Tour Signature Sand from the Best Sand Company in Ohio.
 
No word yet on how Medinah plans to guarantee an appearance from Tiger Woods. But it sounds like the club is exploring just about every other aspect.
 
Were looking forward to infusing the 39th Ryder Cup with a unique Chicago flavor, said Bill Kamm, the general chairman.
 
Deep dish pizza in the hospitality suites?
 

IF YOU BUILD IT...:
Golf course design groupies will want to check out the late October release of Secrets of the Great Golf Course Architects, authored by Michigan-based writer Michael Patrick Shiels.
 
Shiels solicited inside stories from golf course architects that, in his words, reveal the challenge, the danger, the triumph and the art of golf course architecture.
 
Among the brains Shiels picked were, Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones and Arnold Palmer.
 
This book, says Joe Steranka, CEO of the PGA of America, will entertain, amuse and amaze you.
 

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Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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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.