Womens Open Crawls to Exciting Conclusion
But the stories off the course are, for the most part, superior to the accomplishments on the immaculate grasses of Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club.
My favorite so far is the Rip Van Winklian tale told by Amy Hung, a 27-year-old journeywoman from Chinese Taipei. Hung immediately stood out at this championship just for the fact that she isnt a Korean national or an American teenager.
Then she went out and followed up a neat 1-under par 70 on Thursday with an even neater 69 in a round that wasnt completed until Saturday because of meteorological illogic'it has barely rained all week but the threat of lightning has cast an almost continuous pall.
All of which pushed Hungs second round tee time back, enabling her to set an unofficial USGA record for Zs.
You want the truth, Hung said after 36 holes.
Actually, Thursday I went to bed like nine oclock and I sleep in to 11. Thats probably the funniest thing I ever done. I just catching up on some sleep and then relax.
By my count that would be 14 hours of rack time. Which, by the way, is five more than the number of holes Michelle Wie completed before withdrawing halfway through her second round.
Wie woke up with a sore wrist. It got worse. She missed all seven fairways en route to a front nine 42. Her first 18 had produced an inglorious 82.
What she does next is anybodys best guess. Including her own. I definitely have to evaluate because I obviously dont want this to happen again, she said.
Wie said she probably would return to Florida where she works with her coach David Leadbetter.
Yeah, probably going to see some guys, not really sure where or when, but definitely going to see someone.
Maybe what Wie needs the most is a doctor who can convince her not to touch a golf club for six months unless she wants to suffer permanent damage to the injured wrist which would jeopardize a career that is still full of promise but currently mired in the throes of a increasingly desperate stall.
Anyway, the U.S. Womens Open lurches along. The third round finally got underway late Saturday afternoon with first round leader Angela Park still hanging on to a two-shot lead over Hung, Julieta Granada and Ji-Yai Shin.
The goal was to get as much golf in as possible before one of two things arrived: Darkness or more bad weather.
The weather held off and Lorena Ochoa and a red-hot Cristie Kerr had squared off for what promised to be an exciting end to the third round Sunday morning followed by the final round in the afternoon. Meanwhile Shin led at 5-under with Kerr, Ochoa and Park one back.
The USGA caught a break with only 67 players making the cut of 6-over par. But the 36-hole leaders didnt tee off until 5:30 p.m.
The other thing the USGA had going for it, in the interests of finishing Sunday, was the abolition of the traditional 18-hole Monday playoff. This year, for the first time at a U.S. Womens Open, there will be a three-hole playoff in the event of a tie after 72 holes.
Meanwhile there was a definite sense, shared by the players, the volunteers and the media that they were being held captive at Pine Needles.
World No. 1, five strokes back after 36 holes, didnt play a hole Friday. She finished her first round Thursday before weather chased everybody off the course. She didnt begin her second round until Saturday morning.
Like Hung, she slept in Friday. Then she watched a movie. Asked for the name of the movie, she replied, Prison Break.
And speaking of breakouts, how about the prospect of a Granada victory? Last year the 20-year-old Paraguayan won a million dollars for winning the ADT Championship. It was the biggest first-place check in LPGA history.
Two week ago fellow South American, Angel Cabrera, won the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Can two South Americans simultaneously hold the two most prestigious national titles in North America?
Im sure they paying attention (in South America), said Granada, three back when darkness halted play late Saturday. Who knows?
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McIlroy gets back on track
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.
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.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
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.
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.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
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.
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.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
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.
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.