Theres Still Plenty to Watch

By Brian HewittSeptember 24, 2007, 4:00 pm
By now you have to have seen the clips on TV or YouTube or at least read about the Florida student who was stunned by the cops when he hijacked the microphone at a John Kerry appearance last week.
 
There are no tasers in golf.
 
Which is just another reason to appreciate the game that is such a great sport.
 
But its that time of the year when friends are asking me if theres any compelling reason to follow golf at its highest levels.
 
Since I work for GOLF CHANNEL, it would be sufficient to tell them that without coverage 12 months of the year I would be without a paycheck and health benefits.
 
But they know that. Some of them have been satiated by the four majors, the FedExCup, the WGC Championships, the LPGA and hundreds of individual dramas that have played themselves out on courses all over the world in 2007.
 
In no particular order, and for reasons good and bad, we have put headlines on the stories of Tiger Woods, Tadd Fujikawa, Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel, Steve Stricker, Colt Knost, Oakmont, Stack and Tilt, Annikas neck, Ernies knee, High Carolinas, Boo, Carnasty, Drivers shaped like boxes, 82, 61, 19 and 13.
 
The list goes on.
 
The casual sports fan has moved on to the NFL where, perhaps, they do need tasers. So much bad news in such a short period of time. Bill Belichick, the video cheater; Michael Vick, the dog abuser; Pacman Jones, the barfly. Sadly, that list goes on, too.
 
Major League Baseball sweeps to its season-ending crescendo with the faint and extremely distant possibility of a Cubs-Red Sox World Series which would pit Wrigley Field vs. Fenway Park. The ratings would spike through the ceiling while the people of New England and the Midwest put away their golf clubs and glue themselves to their televisions as the cold weather advances.
 
Before you know it Lebron James will be driving the lane and creating more unimaginable vertical magic and Sidney Crosby will be making you forget he does what he does while wearing ice skates.
 
But there is a lot of golf left. Good stuff if you know where to look. The Fall Series is full of players talented enough to have big dreams. The money list has replaced the FedExCup points for now. And a bunch of grinders are out there trying to pay attention to their next shot without fixating on the 125 number. Another group of players is checking the top 30 spots on the money list every Sunday night. Their goal is to get one of those coveted invitations to next Aprils Masters.
 
Up until this week my favorite late season story was the ascent of Steve Stricker into the heat of the $10 million FedExCup footrace with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. A more unassuming professional golfer than Steve Stricker you will never meet.
 
Now I am enjoying the recent successes of Steve Flesch. A little more edgy on and off the golf course than Stricker, Flesch is, nevertheless, totally unaffected by the fact that hes a hot shot in the minds of so many others.
 
Prior to the PGA Championship Flesch won at Reno-Tahoe and ended a three-year winless drought. Then he caught fire again at Turning Stone where he took a four-shot lead into the final round of the first event of the Fall Series.
 
That lead shrunk to two quickly Sunday and expanded back to five by the end of his eighth hole. From there, Flesch guarded his advantage and cruised to a two-shot win over Michael Allen and a $1.08 million payday.
 
I remember, earlier this year, visiting with Flesch on the putting green in New Orleans. He had chalked off a line about 6 feet in length. And he was stroking putt after putt after putt. We talked, gossiped and kibitzed as he putted for close to half an hour. I wasnt keeping track but his percentage was in the high, high 90s.
 
At one point he looked up and said, After a while your ball actually starts to putt a groove in the grass. It gets hard to miss. Its good for your confidence.
 
That night Flesch took three of us GOLF CHANNELers out to dinner at Emerils restaurant. You learn in this business never to root against anybody. But it gets hard, at times, not to root FOR certain players. Stricker and Flesch are among the latter. There are plenty of others. Natalie Gulbis is that way on the womens side and its not just because of the way she looks. Shes a good person. So is Mike Weir. And Joe Durant. And, yes, that list goes on, too.
 
Maybe Im nave, but I just dont think there are any pit bull entrepreneurs among the card-carrying members of the PGA or LPGA tours.
 
There are no tasers in golf. And if you have passion for the game, theres no reason to stop paying attention to the results just because were about to arrive in October.
 
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    LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

    The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

    The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

    The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

    The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

    The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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    Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

    An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

    It was too much “socializing.”

    “I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

    Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

    “Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

    Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

    His plan for doing that?

    “Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

    Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

    McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

    Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

    So much for easing into the new year.

    So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

    McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

    “It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

    McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

    If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

    After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

    “It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

    McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

    “That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

    It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

    “When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

    A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

    A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

    Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

    To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

    Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

    McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

    “I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

    A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

    “I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

    A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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    Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

    SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

    The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

    Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

    Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

    ''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

    The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

    ''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

    Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

    ''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

    Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

    He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

    Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

    Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

    He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

    Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.