Spice Up the Skins Game

By Brian HewittFebruary 29, 2008, 5:00 pm
THE COMEBACKER starts out this weeks post with an e-mail regarding my suggestion earlier this week that the people who run the LG Skins Game suspend the qualifying standards this year and opt, instead, to invite the captains'Nick Faldo, Paul Azinger, Greg Norman and Fred Couples.
Without further ado:
Ed writes: Wow, what a great concept! I concur. It would energize what has become a rather routine, mundane event. Since I am a rabid golfer, I will watch just about anything pertaining to golf.
The Comebacker
For the record, I am in no way related to Ed.

Roy writes: I think you may be right about Tiger being a little jealous of Phils win at Riviera..Maybe Phils win will entice Tiger to play next year. Keep your fingers crossed. It should be fun.
The Comebacker
Tiger loves bulletin board material. Keep it coming.

A different Ed writes: I have a simple solution for next year: If Tiger reaches the semis (of the match play) he will play against the best ball of the other three for the 36-hole final
The ComebackerTwo related thoughts in response: First, Im not sure this would be a fair fight. Second, Tiger would be favored.

Andrew writes: I think it is interesting to watch and listen to Tiger reflect..I think were witnessing the evolution of the man. Son. Husband. Father. Philosopher.
The Comebacker
Socrates in golf shoes.

Code writes: As much as it is not politically or event proper to say it, Boo Weekley is a complete embarrassment to Western Civilization. I believe he gets favorable press because people can not believe someone can actually be that ignorant about the world they live in. He reflects very poorly on the American educational system.
The ComebackerAnother two-part response: First, I have never heard Boo swear on a golf course. Second, Boo has never been asked to appear before a Congressional committee.

John writes: It really makes no difference whether Tiger is on his way to the hill, on top of the hill or going down the other side of the hill. Tiger OWNS the hill and he shares it with us every time he plays in a tournament. I am 79 years old and have played golf for over 50 years but have enjoyed it more since watching Tiger play. He has helped me set a new goal; I am going to shoot my age if I have to live to be 100. Keep it up Tiger. We need you.
The Comebacker Makes me wonder if there is a record for the youngest player ever to shoot his age. Anybody out there know?

Byron writes: Im sorry Brian but I dont buy this good old country boy act that Boo is cultivating. I think hes laughing all the way to the bank on this one. No one in the game today who is so skilled could possibly be that stupid or uninformed that he doesnt know you can concede putts in match play. Boo is crazy like a fox.
The ComebackerAnd Sam Snead, another country boy, would have loved to have had Weekley on his Ryder Cup team. You may remember, Snead didnt much like conceding putts.

Ralph writes: As a diehard Phil fan I will note that he did better the first two days at Matchplay (scoring wise) than Tiger did. The nine birdie buzz saw from Stu Appleby did him in early. Of course thats match play
The Comebacker
Somewhere Peter OMalley is chuckling quietly to himself.

Andre writes:.If playing aggressive produces more birdies, why not do it all the time?....
The Comebacker
Because you might wind up with an 11 like Phil did at No. 14 at Pebble Beach.

Brian writes: Ever since he wore red against Tiger (at the 2006 PGA Championship in the final round) Luke Donald hasnt won anywhere..
The Comebacker
This just in: Luke Donald shoots 64 for early lead at Honda Classic.

Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

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.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.