Late in the afternoon of the first round a crowd had gathered near the far end of the practice ground where Severiano Ballesteros was hitting balls. It was, in fact, a larger gallery than I had seen on the golf course proper all day.
Seve, it turns out, was putting on a show with his driver. High cuts. Low draws. Dead, flat, straight stripes. Ropes. Screamers. Floaters. Bombs. He would stop every now and then between shots and gesticulate to his caddie while chattering in that characteristic rapid -ire Spanish of his. The locals barely murmured. But they were transfixed. So was I.
Here we were in the thrall of one of the few men who has ever lived that doesn't have to blush when someone uses the word 'genius' to describe their golf talents. And here we were in the presence of a man who can't 'find the world' with his driver when he gets on the course in competition.
It's a kind of cruel hoax and it is the main reason Ballesteros hasn't been able to produce more than one top 10 in his last seven years on the European Tour. He is still relatively young at 45. He has won five major championships and 50 tournaments worldwide. And yet it appears he will discover the lost continent of Atlantis before he will start hitting fairways with regularity in tournament play any time soon.
It's as if God woke up one morning in heaven and decided to play a trick on Francisco de Goya, the late great Spanish painter believed by many to be the father of modern art. It's as if God decided to allow de Goya to keep all his immense sketching skills but only with pens dipped in disappearing ink. De Goya would still be able to create masterpieces but they would vanish from his canvases 24 hours later.
Ballesteros was creating masterpieces on the range that day at Ballybunion. But everyone, himself included, knew he couldn't replicate them on the golf course across the street under the gun.
Seve has been a tortured soul now for some time.
Which brings us to the fuss over his disqualification from the recent Italian Open Telecom Italia. The issue surrounded a penalty assessed Ballesteros for slow play. Ballesteros claimed it had more to do with his Tour's unhappiness over his criticisms of their financial doings.
But what it was really all about was the man's genius. He once had it. He can still summon it up when it doesn't count. But he can't break an egg in the heat of battle. He is a prisoner of his monstrous talent and his long memory. And it has poisoned his life.
On page 71 of the 2003 European Tour media guide it is written in fine print that Ballesteros' current exempt status will expire when he falls out of the top 40 of his tour's career money list. Barring a golfing miracle, that will happen in this decade.
It is difficult to imagine European golf without Severiano Ballesteros. For all his petulance and gamesmanship, he was always a player you couldn't take your eyes off of when he was in your field of vision. Now you want to avert your eyes.
Maybe it is better to remember Ballesteros for the maestro he was than the train wreck he has become. But you can't help but wonder what will become of Ballesteros if he loses the stage that has been his life.
Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake
Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.
While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.
“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.
Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.<
DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi
Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.
“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”
Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).
“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.”
Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.
Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace).
“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”
Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi
What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.
Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.
McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.
He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.
McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65).
Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds.
“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”
Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder
Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.
Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.
Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:
Filling in tomorrow for Corey Pavin that WD today @cbgolfchallenge I do things like this a lot to help events and asking for sponsors exemptions here but didn't get any help.— Ken Duke (@DukePGA) January 18, 2018
Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.
Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.