Battle Lines Being Drawn

By September 14, 2005, 4:00 pm
Editor's Note: The Golf Channel unveiled the first episode of The Big Break IV ' USA vs. Europe, the networks fourth installment of its hit television series. As the title suggests however, this seasons format has been tweaked to include a team dynamic. But that in no way means the stakes arent high for each individual, as the 12 contestants will be vying for entry into select European Tour tournaments in 2006.
 
The start of the Big Break IV was much like beginning of the previous seasons: players of all ages, from all over the country flying in from different locations. That, however, is where the new season jumped to another level. Or in this case, another continent: The Big Break IV headed across the pond to the famed Carnoustie Golf Club in Scotland.
 
Big Break IV
T.J. Valentine celebrates after draining a long putt to keep his team in the match.
Last seen, Carnoustie was busy making a verb out Jean Van de Velde at the 1999 British Open. Now its to be the home of the Ryder Cup-style Big Break IV ' USA vs. Europe.
 
Big Break II you looked at it like you were going to meet the competition, said Bart Lower, speaking about the unique team format that this series presents. This time though, for me, was like Im going to meet my team.
 
And with that, team United States squad boarded a plush British Airways jumbo jet and headed over the Atlantic to meet up with there soon to be rivals from all over Europe.
 
Now we have little competition going. Now its not just boys having fun, said T.J. Valentine, after seeing a video in which Guy Woodman of England predicted his side would have the advantage in the upcoming contests.
 
That temperament rolled onto the range before the players began the competition, as the two teams finally got their first up close look at each other.
 
We sort of waved to them, and some of them didnt wave back and I thought, Oh God, is this going to be this serious all the way through, said Marty Wilde Jr. on what he perceived as a brush off by the Americans.
 
Co-hosts Vince Cellini and Stephanie Sparks eventually met with both teams and informed them they were not wasting any time and to head to the tee box.
 
Playing in three sets of twosomes, each team played the 17th and 18th holes at Carnoustie and the team with the fewest number of strokes would be given a shot to win a 2006 Ford Explorer.
 
Although no one was to be ousted from the show on the first day, it didnt take long for tensions and nerves to start to take hold.
 
I got to take the first shot of Big Break IV. The nerves kind of came in when I peeked up before my tee shot and saw everybody, admitted Valentine. Theres going to be a lot of people watching this shot dont screw it up!
 
Sure enough, Valentines opening salvo found a burn to put the first American twosome in a tough spot. He more than made up for his miscue, however, as he rolled home two straight clutch, par-saving putts to keep the score tied after the first pairing.
 
In the second group to go off, the U.S. sent out self-proclaimed country boy Tommy Gainey from Bishopville, S.C.
 
A guy with two gloves and a baseball swing, recalled Gainey on his welcome to the big time moment. Everybody was anxious to see me hit.
 
Up to the challenge, Gainey laid up just shy of the burn, much to the delight of his partner Randall Hunt.
 
Tommy takes out his 5-wood and he just ripped it! said Hunt.
 
The good vibe was short lived, as Team USA took a disastrous trip into one of the nasty bunkers at Carnoustie and fell five shots back of the Europeans heading into the final pairing.
 
Even though they had a substantial lead, I knew anything could happen in the Big Break, said Lower of the U.S., hinting at a possible comeback for him and his teammates.
 
After trading pars on the first hole, the Europeans clinched it with another easy par at the 18th to advance to the Prize Challenge for the Ford Explorer.
 
Its a good thing we came out a little bit squirrelly, because now we understand the snowball effect that can happen, said Lower about his teams defeat. So it was a good learning experience for us.
 
The Ryder Cup is the greatest event in golf for the greatest players in golf. So for the level we are, this is our Ryder Cup, added Edoardo Gardino of Italy, who had the opportunity in the past to caddy for the likes of Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal.
 
The European team then gathered at the home hole to take dead aim at a six-foot circle that was painted around the flagstick. From 100-yards out, any player knocking it inside the circle would drive off with a brand new vehicle.
 
You got one shot, and youve got to hit it pretty close, as the target is very small from 100-yards, said Wilde on the chances of cashing in.
 
In a driving rain that had kept up for most of the day, no one on the European side could quite dial in the number, leaving the Ford Explorer safe from a new driver.
 
Gathering all the players together once again, co-hosts Cellini and Sparks informed the group that come the next day, someone would be given the boot from the show and be traveling back to their home country. And an infamous glass breaking challenge would once again be making an appearance.
 
The Big Break IV: USA vs. Europe airs each Tuesday at 9 p.m. (ET), while Big Break IV: All Access airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. (ET), as part of the networks Top Shelf Wednesday lineup of premium programming.
 
Related Links:
  • Big Break IV Home Page
  • Big Break IV Photo Gallery
  • Contestant Bios
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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.