Season Begins Off-Kilter

By Brian HewittJanuary 5, 2009, 5:00 pm
The New Year in golf arrived a little bit like your 30-foot lag putt that stops 10 feet short of the hole: All of a sudden youre playing defense just to make par.
Im referring to news that John Daly will serve the first months of 2009 under the uncompromising terms of a six-month suspension handed down by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
Mercedes-Benz Championship
Kapalua will host the season-opener on the PGA Tour this week. (Getty Images)
Meanwhile, the Tour season begins Thursday with one of the most distinctive and photogenic events of the year: The elite-field Mercedes-Benz Championship in Hawaii, played on a gorgeous Crenshaw and Coore golf course built just up the bluff from the sparkling Pacific Ocean on the side of a lovely and verdant Maui mountain.
The only problem is the four highest-ranked players in the world ' Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington ' won't be there for a variety of reasons, some more legitimate than others.
Daly still gets to play, but his legion of diehard fans will have to track his progress in Europe until mid-year. And two weeks of Tour pros in Hawaii will produce plenty of quality golf and pretty pictures for all those cold-climate Americans back on the mainland cursing their way through the throes of another harsh winter.
Its just that the news of Daly wearing out his welcome with the bosses in Ponte Vedra and the absence of the best and brightest in Kapalua, for the moment, has golf a little bit off balance. Kind of like what Utah did to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl if you follow college football.
And it didnt need to be this way.
Lets start with Daly: His critics are saying the suspension should have been longer. I say it should have come earlier.
If you have ever been around Daly, you will find him impossible to dislike. But the alcohol-fueled incidents that have littered his off-the-course history have been pardoned too many times. Thats what happens when you win two majors because you have soft hands and a driver that leaves a vapor trail. In the case of Daly, an Arkansan, you become a rural legend.
And too much enabling has been allowed. It was encouraging to hear Dalys agent, Bud Martin, say that Daly needs to walk the walk ' not just talk the talk ' in the wake of the suspension and Dalys promises of better behavior. JD is also going to need a lot more tough love if he is going to resurrect a career in tatters and a game in shambles. He will be 43 in April. Time is short.
There were innocent bystanders in all of this (see the sidebar on the Daly Domino Effect). The tournament directors who were hoping to pump up ticket sales by giving Daly a sponsors exemption are, at least for the first five or six months of the season, out of luck. Yes, Daly is still a draw.
As for the Mercedes-Benz Championship: It needs to change its qualification standards. Right now you have to win an official Tour event to qualify. The size of the field is typically in the 30s.
This tournament is descended from the old Tournament of Champions concept. And its title sponsors have always rolled out a spectacular welcome mat for its participants.
Woods is recovering from knee operation. Garcia is gearing up for the Race to Dubai on the European Tour. Mickelson traditionally re-tools his game in California this time of year and Harrington is probably smart to remain resting after his whirlwind Player of the Year campaign in 2008.
So why not let more players in the field? Why not keep the winners plus anybody who finished the previous year in, say, the top 50 in the world rankings? The field would still be elite. And it would still be small enough that getting everybody around each day before darkness would not be a problem.
This is not a new idea. But the climate in professional golf today is more directly tied to the world economy than at any time since the Great Depression. And professional golf needs to re-explore options and re-invent solutions whenever, and wherever, it can.
Ill be rooting for Daly this year. Hes not a bad guy but he is a bit of a tortured soul. His sport just needs him to clean up his act. His personality will always be there.
And while were at it, lets thank our stars that the names of golfs best players arent regularly found on police blotters. Other sports should be so lucky.
What would be so bad about a New Years resolution from each of the worlds top-ranked 30 players to enter at least one event in 2009 that they have not played in previously?
The title sponsors that have been loyal to a Tour that has made millionaires out of hundreds of players deserve better. And the Tour that has provided the format for Dalys legend deserves a little more in the way of reliability from him when he returns.
Related Links:
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    Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

    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."

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    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.

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    Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

    By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

    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.''

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    13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

    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. 

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    McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

    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.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    “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.