Car-Nifty Delivers The Goods

By Brian HewittJuly 19, 2007, 4:00 pm
Carnoustie is still Car-Nasty. Just not as nasty as it was in 1999. Carnoustie is definitely not Car-Nicety when long hitters like Vijay Singh and K.J. Choi need driver and fairway wood to get home on the 499-yard 18th hole Thursday during the first round of the 136th Open Championship.
 
Actually Carnoustie was more like Car-Nifty when you considered how many interesting and varied story lines developed during a day that greeted the early starters with raw weather and bathed the late finishers in cool but calm conditions.
 
There was:
 
  • First round leader Sergio Garcia shooting 65 and acting like he has wielded his new long putter for years.
     
  • Tiger Woods stalking the lead and winding up with a 2-under par 69 highlighted by a 100-foot birdie putt that found the hole on the difficult par 3 16th. A ho-hum shoulder turn putt, Woods called it. Lo and behold. Woods is gunning for his third straight victory in this event. A final pairing of Tiger and Sergio Sunday would be choice.
     
  • Rory McIlroy, the precocious Ulster-teen from Northern Ireland, who carded the days only bogey free round, a 68. This is awesome, said the baby-faced McIlroy, 18, who will turn pro in the fall. McIlroy once shot a 61 at Northern Irelands Royal Portrush, one of the great and difficult golf courses in the world. His dream, he said, is to win the Open Championship this week. He said he also wants to play on the PGA TOUR one day. Thats where all the good players are, he said. One thing McIlroy will not become this week is the youngest Open Championship winner. Young Tom Morris still holds that record. He was 17 years, five months and three days when he won at Prestwick way back in 1868.
     
  • More news on the drugs and golf front: Wednesday Gary Player touched off a firestorm of controversy and a predictable tabloid frenzy when he said he knew of players using performance-enhancing drugs. In fact, Player said, he had talked to top players who had told him of their drug use. He never, however, named names.
     
    Thursday I received this response from the PGA TOUR when I requested a reaction from Ponte Vedra Beach to Players allegations:
     
    Any conversations Gary Player had with other players about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in golf were private conversations to which the PGA TOUR was not privy, came the reply from TOUR spokesman Bob Combs in a prepared statement E-mailed to me. We dont know the identity of any individuals involved in those conversations, nor what was discussed, so we cant comment.
     
    However, it is important to note, as Commissioner Tim Finchem reiterated in recent weeks, that the PGA TOUR is formulating an anti-doping policy that is comprehensive and supported by other major golf organizations globally.
     
  • The play of Darren Clarke, who navigated the last 12 holes in 3-under, salvaged a 72 and showed more signs of re-discovering a golf game that has been a second priority in the wake of the loss of his wife to cancer last year.
     
  • The play of Japans little-known Achi Sato, who birdied the third, fourth, fifth and sixth holes before taking a header off the leaderboard. Sato finished with a 71.
     
  • John Daly, who won the Open Championship in 1995, outdoing Sato. When Daly holed his second shot for eagle on the par 4 11th, he stood at 5-under and alone atop the leaderboard. He then proceeded to double bogey two of the next three holes and close with bogeys on three of the last four to finish with a bitterly-disappointing and bloated 74.
     
  • Phil Mickelson, the second-ranked player in the world, playing beautifully everywhere but on the greens. His 71 could have been better. But he appeared to have complete control of his golf ball during a round that looked pain free. Mickelson, who missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month thanks mainly to a wrist injury, let his left hand come off the club during his second shot from the rough on the brutal 18th. But Carnoustie, as it played Thursday, agrees with him.
     
  • Irishman Paul McGinley, 40 and mired in mediocrity much of this year, getting it to 6-under through 14 holes and scrapping home nicely for his 67, which left him alone in second behind Garcia. No European has won the Open Championship since Paul Lawrie broke through at Carnoustie eighth years ago. Its just, McGinley said, a matter of time.
     
  • Once again the name of K.J. Choi among the leaders. Choi already has won tournaments hosted by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods this year. Capturing one hosted by the R&A would instantly catapult him to the head of the class of candidates for PGA TOUR Player of the Year.
     
  • The names of these players lurking within four shots of Garcia: Michael Campbell (-3), Angel Cabrera (-3), Boo Weekley (-3), Stewart Cink (-2) and Padraig Harrington (-2).
     
    Dont take your eyes off of any of them. And dont count on Carnoustie remaining Car-Nifty. Yes, the fairways are wider than in 1999 and the rough is shorter. But the weather is always a threat. And it can get very, very Nasty.

     
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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.