Notes Furrowed Bunkers Annika Update
The latest discussion centers on the consistency and the raking of the bunkers. Jack Nicklaus, in the June issue of Golf Digest, says the USGA is missing an opportunity at Oakmont by not furrowing the sand there to increase the difficulty of an already ferocious test.
Nicklaus ordered up gap-toothed bunker rakes for his Memorial Tournament last year, and the move was met with a collective howl from the players (which is not necessarily a bad thing).
Nicklaus also told Golf Digest that he will furrow the bunkers again at this years Memorial, which begins May 31. But, he said, the rakes will produce furrows that are less severe.
Meanwhile, USGA course set-up guy Mike Davis told me the USGA considered furrowing the bunkers at Oakmont where there is a history of that kind of conditioning.
Instead, the USGA came down on the side of a softer sand that causes player headaches of a different kind. Its harder to nip the ball (out of soft sand), Davis said. Were not afraid of the player getting an occasional fried egg.
And he wasnt talking about the concession stands.
Still no official word yet on whether Annika Sorenstam or Michelle Wie will be playing in the Ginn Tribute Hosted By Annika that begins in South Carolina at the end of the month. But the news, at least from the Sorenstam camp, is encouraging. Both Wie (hand) and Sorenstam (neck and back) have been sidelined by injuries for much of the year.
Sorenstam spokesman Mike McGee reports that Annika has been off painkillers since last week and the discomfort hasnt returned. Which we think is great, McGee said.
Among Sorenstams daily therapy exercises is one where she utilizes a device that stretches her neck while she lies on her back. The object is to take stress on her vertebrae.
Sorenstam has been chipping and putting every day and, most recently, began hitting 25-50 100-yard shots off a tee. This, too, is without pain; although, McGee says, shes still hesitant to go down and dig the ball out of the dirt.
Shes hoping to play the Ginn Tribute, McGee says, but we still have no idea or true time frame.
Sorenstam is still experiencing tingling in here right thumb and soreness in her rotator cuff and arm area.
Wie has committed to play in Sorenstams event but is still waiting for the green light from her hand specialist to play in the Ginn Tribute.
Both players are acutely aware that the McDonalds LPGA Championship Presented by Coca-Cola and the U.S. Womens Open fill two of the next three slots on the LPGA schedule in the weeks after the Ginn Tribute.
GRASS IS GREENER:
The success of the playing surface of the greens at THE PLAYERS last week did not go unnoticed by golf officials elsewhere.
Ken Mangum, the Director of Golf Courses and Grounds at the Atlanta Athletic Club, reports that he is considering changing grasses for his greens between now and the 2011 PGA Championship.
So we can have some firmness that makes the course play different than the soft August bentgrass, Mangum informed me.
Mangum also said a decision has been made to upgrade the grave site Friday of golf great Bobby Jones. It needed some work, Mangum said, and we are going to install new sod and a flag with the four Grand Slam trophies on it.
Jones is buried in Atlantas historic Oakland Cemetery, which also contains the tomb of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With The Wind.
SEVE AT 50:
Hard to believe Seve Ballesteros is 50. The golf images from his youth are so indelibly etched.
Life is like a dream, Ballesteros said earlier this week in Alabama where he will make his Champions Tour debut. You go to bed and you wake up with age. I dont know if thats a good translation, but we say that in Spain.
In one way it looks like its been many, many years. And on the other hand it looks like it was just yesterday when I joined the TOUR, you know? Time goes by very quickly for everybody. For everybody.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.
The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.
"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."
Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.
It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.
Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.
Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.
He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.
Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.
The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.
''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''
Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.
''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.
Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.
“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”
Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.
Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.