The Story Aint Rory

By Brian HewittMay 11, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 THE PLAYERSBy the middle of Friday afternoon at THE PLAYERS three separate story lines were shaping up quite nicely.
 
First there was the Rory Sabbatini Bring On Tiger plotline that began gaining momentum at last weeks Wachovia Championship when Sabbatini announced to the golf world he wanted a piece of Woods.
 
(Psst: Hell learn.)
 
Well, Sabbatini got what he wanted in North Carolina but not what he was looking for. Woods and Sabbatini were paired in the final group Sunday. Sabbatini, who had smoked Quail Hollow with a course record 64 on Saturday, ballooned to 74 on Sunday. Woods won the golf tournament.
 
But at times that day Woods struggled. So when Sabbatinis Thursday 67 at TPC Sawgrass left him with a share of the first round lead with Phil Mickelson, he couldnt let the Woods angle die.
 
After watching him on Sunday I think hes more beatable than ever, Sabbatini said of Woods, who by the way, had opened with 75 at THE PLAYERS.
 
Pretty soon everybody was on the bandwagon. GOLF CHANNELs Nick Faldo had this to say on the air during Fridays broadcast: Its what we need now. We obviously want as many players as possible to come and challenge Tiger. And it will take a brash character to stand up and look Tiger in the face and I say, I aint scared of you.
 
Almost at that very moment Sabbatini was bogeying the sixth and seventh and eighth holes to fall way back into the pack. Perhaps it was the golf courses (or the golf gods) way of telling the outspoken Sabbatini that actually it was he who is very beatable.
 
Then Sabbatini, who wouldnt make a birdie all day, got wet twice of No. 17 and carded a quadruple bogey 7. That led to an embarrassing 79.
 
Meanwhile a cut watch had developed when Woods bogeyed the fifth and eighth holes. That pushed him to 4-over with the cut line, at that moment, at 3-over. Soon the cut line moved up to 4-over and Woods, as he so often does, survived.
 
He did so by making a birdie on 16 followed by hard earned pars on 17 and 18. Going into the weekend Tiger Woods is only two shots behind Roary Sabbatini but nine shots off Mickelsons 36-hole lead. (The cut would eventually fall at 5-over.)
 
Ah, yes, Mickelson.
 
For weeks now there has been Mickelson-Butch Harmon intrigue. Neither had promised that Mickelson would start winning big tournaments immediately when Mickelson announced a few weeks ago that he had left instructor Rick Smith for Harmon, Woods former instructor.
 
But there was Phil, alone atop the leaderboard, after making birdie on the second hole Friday.
 
And there was Phil driving it in the water on No. 5; clipping a branch with his tee ball on No. 6; and struggling to make bogey on No. 7. That stretch dropped him to 4 under and just one ahead of seven players.
 
Suddenly the new Phil looked like the old Phil, especially when he tried hitting a hybrid from a fairway bunker on the seventh when his ball was too close to the lip of the hazard.
 
So pleeeeze explain that one to me, Faldo moaned after Mickelson came up well short of the green.
 
Next, Mickelson fanned his tee ball at the par-3 eighth. Bogey again. The lead was no longer his alone.
 
Storylines. Schmorylines.
 
The golf course had been there for the taking in the morning. Jose Maria Olazabals stout 66 included birdies on the first, second, third and fourth holes. Steve Lowerys 66 was tidier yet: 10 of 14 fairways hit; 15 of 18 greens; and 27 putts. Stewart Cinks afternoon round opened with birdies on Nos. 1, 2 and 3 where his ball stopped inches short of a hole in one.
 
To his credit, Mickelson hung tough. And when he holed a short eagle putt on the 16th he was back to 5 under, one ahead of little-known Aussie Nathan Green, who once held a job mowing lawns at a crematorium.
 
And, at the end of the day, thats where Mickelson stood at the halfway mark. Maybe theres something to this Harmon-y. Mickelson has two thirds and a 36-hole lead during his brief partnership with Butch.
 
Woods, you can be sure, hasnt counted himself out. Sabbatini, perhaps, is wishing he had tempered his remarks.
 
Phil Mickelson, for his part, likes the storyline so far just fine.

 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - THE PLAYERS Championship
  • GOLF CHANNEL Airtimes
  • Getty Images

    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    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.  

    <
    Getty Images

    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    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.” 


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    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.” 

    Getty Images

    Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

    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.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    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.”

    Getty Images

    Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

    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:

    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.