The Donald Part II
Were talking about Great Britains Luke Donald here. And now that Tiger Woods has announced that he is skipping the Mercedes Championships in Maui early next month and that we wont see him back on tour until mid-January in San Diego, I dont think we can write or say enough about the young Englishman.
When Luke Donald was a student-athlete at Northwestern University, he played in an event called the Chicago Open.
The purse was healthy and the field was loaded with talented club pros just itching to take Donald down and supplement their relatively modest incomes by capturing the first prize check.
Donald, still an amateur at the time, beat them all.
I remember talking to one of the club pros afterward and asking him if Donald was long enough off the tee to survive against all the icons and prodigies on the PGA and European Tours.
Hes long enough, the club pro told me, his voice rising in volume for emphasis. But you dont have to be THAT long when you hit the ball dead square in the MIDDLE of the club face EVERY single time you swing.
Now Luke Donald'he of the metronomic, picture-book action and modest physical stature'is poised to make a run at the top 10 in the world.
He has played key roles on victorious Walker and Ryder Cup teams. He has won in Europe and the States. In 2005 he posted top 5s at both The Players Championship and the Masters. And he is still in his 20s.
Sunday in California Donald blazed to a final round 64 at The Target World Challenge to catch and pass Darren Clarke, Michael Campbell and Padraig Harrington while annexing $1.3 million to his bank account.
Earlier this week my Golf Channel website colleague, George White, importantly pointed out how stats dont tell the whole story with Donald. Luke isnt especially long, by tour standards. Or straight.
What he is is imperturbable. There is a serenity about Donald on the golf course that you would never expect to find from the other Donald.
And it served him well at the Target World Challenge. I talked to Pat Goss about this. Goss coaches mens golf at Northwestern and still serves as Donalds swing monitor. He spent three days with Donald in California early last week.
And, Goss said, when Donald arrived from South Africa where he had played in the Nedbank Challenge the week before, he was fighting serious jet lag and late season fatigue. Wednesday was especially disheartening in the pro-am. If you had seen Donald that day, you would not have dreamed him to be the guy who would be hoisting the trophy Sunday.
Goss and Donald worked mostly on putting. Then on Thursday the face of Donalds driver cracked on the front nine, forcing him to take the club out of play. Ever have jet lag? It can make you cranky. Thats how Donald felt after six birdies and six bogeys produced an opening round 72.
Titleist reinforced Donald with a new driver before Fridays round. And he responded with 68-68-64 over the last 54 holes.
Luke Donald continues to spearhead the English Revolution in golf. Prior to Target, he was one of 11 of his countrymen to be ranked in the top 100 in the world.
Keep your eye on him in 2006. And dont expect him to start missing the middle of the clubface any time soon.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
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.
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.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
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.
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.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
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.
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.
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.