First Contestant Cashes in His Chips

By October 5, 2004, 4:00 pm
Big Break II LogoEditors Note: The Golf Channel aired the second episode of The Big Break II Tuesday night, the networks follow-up to its hit series from last fall where 10 highly skilled golfers compete in a weekly showdown of golf skills challenges. The last man standing after the 11-week season wins the Big Break of his golfing career - an opportunity to compete in four Nationwide Tour events televised on The Golf Channel in 2005.
As the players arose from a wild night at the Treasure Island casino, each one of them was well aware that by the time the sun set in the Nevada desert that evening, one player would be heading home.
Co-hosts Rick Smith and Lesley Swanson met the contestants on the range at the Stallion Mountain Country Club and again reminded them just how big the stakes were 'four Nationwide Tour exemptions, $10,000 in cash and a brand new Ford 500. They also let them in on what was in store for the first day of real competition and how the format was going to be set up.
Each week the players will face three separate challenges ' a skills challenge, a mulligan challenge and then the all-important elimination challenge. The winner of the skills challenge will be done for the day, immune from elimination and safe for another week.
The rest of the players then compete in the Top-Flite Mulligan Challenge were they play for an extra shot in the elimination challenge that would ultimately send someone packing for home.
The Big Break IIIts a pretty comfortable feeling knowing that if you can win the skills challenge you can sit down for the rest of the day, remarked Jay McNair, a schoolteacher from Brandon, Fla.
For the first skills challenge a giant wall was erected in front of were the players were to hit, with the idea to force them to hit both a draw and a fade shot into a green about a 185-yards out. Each players shots were to then be measured as to how far they landed from the flagstick and the lowest total would be finished for the day.
Getting out there and being creative, thats the best part of the game for me, said Mike Foster, Jr. of Savannah, Ga., about his prospects of what it took to win the shows first skills challenge.
O.K., so you have to hit around (this big wall), how hard can that be? Well, its your first challenge of the show and youre very nervous. Very, very nervous, said Sean Daly from San Luis Obispo, Calif. Anybody saying that they werent nervous are lying like dogs.
After a variety of good and bad approach shots, it was Foster who stood alone on top at the end. On the strength of a beautiful shot to 4 9 of the flag, Foster could rest easy knowing hed live to see another day.
It was ridiculous how good 4 9 was. He just wiped us all off the map, quipped Don Donatello about Fosters strong performance.
It was then on to the Top-Flite Mulligan Challenge where an old favorite from the original series was brought back to decide who would get the extra shot in the Elimination Challenge. The competitors were to attempt a knock-down shot while trying to break a small, square plane of glass, sitting on a pole about four-feet high and 30-yards away.
It was the first time I had ever taken a ball and a club and attempted to break glass ' and it was fun, said John Turk from Melbourne, Fla.
There were nine panes of glass with each players name on a separate target. The remaining contestants took turns trying to break the glass of someone other than their own. The last player to keep his glass from being broken would get the extra shot in the days final challenge.
And suddenly without warning, things began to get a little spicy as Donatellos target became the focus of the other players.
I happened to do what I always do which is run my mouth, and my mouth kinda got a shoe, a ball and a piece of glass stuck in there, said a chuckling Donatello following his early exit in the mulligan challenge.
After a good amount of trash talking, near misses and glass shattering, the 23-year-old Daly was fortunate enough to win the mulligan as his glass somehow withstood the barrage of knock down shots.
Its such a fun competition to win, said Daly, who now enjoyed the thought of strategically using a mulligan in the days final event.
And finally the moment had arrived ' the Elimination Challenge.
All of sudden the reality of guess what somebodys going home here, said Turk on the serious tone the competition had quickly taken. You could hear a pin drop.
Faced with a long par-3 over water, the players took aim at a green marked for scoring purposes. A 15-foot circle around the flagstick was worth 3 points, a circle outside that worth 2 points and anything on the green and not inside either of the inner circles was to be worth a single point.
The players would each hit a shot from three different locations ' one from 180-yards, one from 146-yards and then the last shot being a wedge from 119-yards.
After the first series of approach shots only three of the contestants managed to score any points, the other six coming up with blanks.
I was feeling good but I was very nervous, said Donatello, who was one of the three to score two points during round 1 of the elimination challenge. I mean, Im telling you my heart was pounding so hard, like I was back at Q-School trying to get my (PGA Tour) card.
Through the completion of the second round of the challenge, two more players managed to get on the scoreboard but still four had yet to tally a single point. It would come down to the final shot of the day.
Daly, Turk, David Gunas Jr. from Amston, Conn., and McNair all now faced a simple wedge shot to a green from just over 100-yards.
The Big Break IIThird shot. Im second to last to go. Everyone has points except for me and Jay. If I dont hit this green Im basically thinking Im going to be going home, said Gunas Jr., who then deftly landed his final shot on the green to earn his first point and put the pressure solely on McNair.
So with the wind swirling, the pressure mounting and a bit of indecision in his club selection, McNair let fly his last attempt only to watch it come up short and with it his dreams of playing with the big boys on tour.
You gotta learn how to lose before you can win, said an obviously disappointed McNair. Its not going to be the end of it, hopefully it will be just the beginning. I just wish it would have lasted a little longer.
Be sure to tune in to The Golf Channel next Tuesday at 9:00PM (ET) as the group takes in some Las Vegas shows and face another round of tough challenges to see who will survive, and who will follow McNair off the show.
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  • 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.

    Getty Images

    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.

    Getty Images

    McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

    Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

    McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

    Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

    McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

    Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

    “That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and 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.”

    Getty Images

    Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

    KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

    The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

    Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

    ''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

    Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

    First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

    ''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

    David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

    Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

    The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

    ''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''