Golfs Holy Grail
Long gone are the days when players like Irish legend Christy OConnor Sr. turned down invites to Augusta because the round trip airfare was too expensive; the risk/reward too high.
Now you have big and medium names alike going deep into the Fall Series (also a mostly-unqualified success in its first year) chasing a spot in the top 30 on the final 2007 PGA TOUR money list and the automatic Masters bid that goes with it.
I have to say, plain and simple, Im here to maintain my spot at Augusta, said Steve Flesch Thursday after opening with a 5-under 68 at the Ginn sur Mer Classic at Tesoro, the penultimate event of the Fall Series. Neither of my victories earlier in the year gave me an automatic exemption to Augusta. So I am here to maintain my position in the top 30.
Flesch arrived at Tesoro holding down the No. 25 spot on the money list at $2.278 million. Among the players he said he was watching closely were No. 26 Robert Allenby and No. 37 Jerry Kelly.
Ive played a couple of Masters and I want to go back, Flesch added. If you told me 10 weeks ago I would be sitting here trying to maintain my spot, I would say youre crazy.
But Flesch made the mistake of winning on weeks that didnt offer full qualifying status to the Tour Championship. And when Masters officials, earlier this year, changed their qualifying standards to invite Tour winners, they were specific about omitting Fall Series champions or players who won Tour events opposite Tour events with bigger purses.
The Masters announced those changes on the Wednesday of Masters week earlier this year. And when they did, Mark Wilson was excited. One month earlier he had won the Honda Classic. He thought this meant he would be now be getting a coveted invitation to Augusta.
Then I checked the fine print, he said.
And he discovered that the new standards would only apply going forward from last springs Masters. The changes were not retroactive to his victory at Honda. Wilson has subsequently dropped to No. 53 on the money list.
No. 47, Sean OHair finished tied for fourth last week in Scottsdale and 15th the week before that in Las Vegas. A win at Tesoro would earn him $828,000 and guarantee a Masters invitation. A second place finish ($496,000) would probably push him into the top 30 going into next weeks finale at Disney.
OHair has played in only one Masters, shooting 76-76, missing the cut in 2006. Like Flesch he wants to get back. Badly--a pair of 68s Thursday and Friday at Tesoro were a nice start.
So does Justin Leonard, who arrived at Tesoro No. 36 on the money list. Like Flesch, Leonard won a Fall Series event (Valero Texas Open) not recognized by the invitation folks at Augusta. Leonard hasnt missed a Masters since 1995.
Through 36 holes at the Ginn event Leonard was 4 under and in 33rd place. Flesch was 6 under through 12 and in a tie for 17th; OHair 10 under and in a tie for fourth.
As for Allenby and Kelly, Flesch is smart to keep his eyes on them. But both already have qualified for the 2008 Masters under other categories: Allenby for making it to the 2007 Tour Championship and Kelly for finishing in the top 16 in last springs Masters.
Their search for golfs Holy Grail, at least for one more year, has ended in success.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
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.