Carling Coffings Player Blog

By Carling NolanAugust 27, 2010, 10:26 pm

Winning the Big Break is a dream come true. These were the fastest two weeks of my life; all my memories are blurred from the excitement, nerves, exhaustion and pure joy that I experienced on the show. Now that it’s over let me tell you a few things about my experience that you didn’t get a chance to see! INSIDER SCOOP ALERT!

The Schedule

Although we were required to be fully dressed with microphone attached by 6:00 a.m., I decided to get up at 4:30 every single morning and work out. I was in the process of finishing the last two weeks of my 90 day P90X workout. I popped in my P90X video, and after getting yelled at by the DVD trainer for 30 minutes, I was ready to face anything! I don’t think any of us girls ever imagined how difficult it would be to work 15 hours a day filming while under enormous pressure. Being in the best shape of my life was a big key in merely handling the ridiculous schedule.

Socrates once said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” I realized that I would know nothing about what to expect and that I needed to go with the flow and enjoy the game. Because I never knew what was coming next, it was difficult for me to regulate my blood sugars. This added more pressure, but also additional inspiration. Not only was I representing myself and my beautiful family, but I gladly accepted responsibility to everyone with diabetes, or anyone with any handicap, to prove that we can achieve anything.

After having some blood sugar problems in the Shark episode, I decided I needed to make this as easy as possible for myself. So I ate great white grilled chicken and toast for every meal—for 2 weeks straight, no exceptions! I can’t even look at a chicken the same way anymore, because even the smell began to be foul! Thank goodness for my Medtronic’s Insulin pump. I call it “Hank the Panc,” because it acts just like a human pancreas. Ever since going on the pump, my blood sugars have been so much more manageable. Everyone else in the competition had to play by themselves with their backs against the wall, but I had Hank on my side.

Chasing the Dream

Everyone dreams of winning Big Break, but when I saw my fellow competitors, I realized that any one of the eleven of us could win. Over 700 women golfers tried out for the show! I kid you not. Each was filmed hitting balls on the range, and then each had to do an on-camera interview. Kudos to Golf Channel in picking a brilliant cast of 11 unique superstars. My first thought was, “Please don’t get kicked off the first episode!” My second thought was, “Please don’t get kicked off the first episode!”

Gaining the Competitive Edge

Not only have I had great coaches, but my parents have been training me since I was little. I was the youngest of three children. My two older brothers and I have been competing against each other for our entire lives. My parents have held contests for us since we crawled out of the crib, and we competed against each other in speech contests, dance contests, memory contests, push-up contests, sprint contests, long-drive contests and chipping and putting contests, constantly. My parents always gave away great prizes to the winner, and the losers got nothing! This was designed to teach us the rules of life. Competition is unavoidable, and pressure makes diamonds! The only rules strictly enforced in our competitions were that you had to be a good sport if you lost. Each of us soon learned that you were allowed and encouraged to play mind games with your competitors. After a few hard lessons learned by all, each child soon realized that letting others get in our heads or losing focus on the task at hand was the quickest way to lose.

Once I was ten years old (my brothers were 11 and 13), my mom dad and the three kids played golf every day. If the temperature in Ohio was over 32 degrees, we played. Playing golf in winter time in Ohio is great, because the ball rolls much further on the ice. Mom just cheered and held the flag, but the rest of us always divided up into teams and shouted, “Let the games begin.” It wasn’t fun in the Coffing family if someone wasn’t talking serious smack, and times were even more joyous if someone cracked under the pressure and cried (unless it was you). Our motto was, “Everyone gets teased!”

Fast Forward to Big Break

After surviving episode one, I was thrilled. It was in episode two where I won immunity! I haven’t had a jolt of adrenalin like that since I was seven years old and won a new color TV by doing 80 boy push-ups to beat my brothers in the push-up contest.

After episode two, Maiya asked me to be her alliance, and I said, “Sure!” Although realistically, I thought the whole alliance thing was pointless. Then I found out after she was kicked off that Maiya and Ryann had an alliance, too! Man oooo man! I love Maiya even more now, because she knew how to play the game! As we used to say in our family contests, “OK–so you want to play prison rules?” So from then on, the only alliance I would make for the remainder of the show was with Paul the Butler. He stocked the fridge, and I ate the chicken! Maiya made me realize again that this was a competition and that the only thing I could count on to pair up with were my shoes.

The Birdie Dance

We golfers are the luckiest people in the world, because we don’t have to get real jobs. I realize that golf is a very athletic sport, but it is also an entertainment business. Golf is nothing without the fans and that is who I play for. I love the traditions of golf but I also know that the game sometimes takes itself too seriously, and one of my goals is to change the way the fans participate in the game. I won’t play with a steel faced, 1,000-yard stare and merely give a short wave to the crowd after hearing their applause. I love getting the crowd involved, and that is why I invented the Birdie Dance.

So if you hit a 210-yard shot with a 30 mph crosswind to 12 feet, then it’s time to celebrate! I thoroughly love to be on the golf course, and I can’t wait to bring that charm and enthusiasm with me on the LPGA. The Birdie Dance is a great way to relax under pressure, Happy Gilmore-style! “ I’m just tryin’ to ease the tension, baby! Just tryin’ to ease the tension!” Since Big Break started, I have had people yelling at me even if I make a putt on the practice green to do the Birdie Dance. I love it.

My Putting

People keep asking me how I was able to make all of those long putts. If only I could bottle that power up and sell it on EBay! People ask me, “Are you just a natural?” Ohhhh that would make my life as a professional golfer a whole lot easier!Player Name: First | Last for the Final Stage of LPGA Q-School. We had two months to prepare, so my parents and I moved down to Florida and started our training process. My dad invented something simply called “The Drill Book.” It was a book of golf drills that includes driving range work, short game, trouble shots and most importantly, putting. It would take six hours to do all the drills, and we busted it out every day! My dad coached every aspect of my stroke, while my mom was responsible for getting the balls and keeping my stats in the book. After about three weeks, I wanted to BURN THAT DRILL BOOK! Have you ever seen the movie “Kill Bill”? Well, I wanted to Kill Drill! Seriously though, I stuck to it all winter. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite click at LPGA Q-School, and I missed my card by merely three strokes.

But lucky me—we filmed Big Break just a few weeks later. BAM! Hello The Drill Book success! My short game was finally reaping the benefits of all our hard work, and I couldn’t be happier that I never went all Pyro on the Book. But instead, to my surprise, I caught fire on the greens. Who doesn’t dream about dropping 30-foot putts to win matches? I can’t describe the thrill that exudes throughout your entire body when this dream happens on the most important putts of your entire life! No doubt I got lucky, because nobody drains three long putts to win on three shows in a row, but I have found the harder I work, the luckier I seem to get.

The Competition

How stiff was the competition? If they took the same cast of players and had 11 big breaks, then it is entirely possible that there would be 11 different winners. Each of us has been dreaming about making the LPGA since we were in pigtails. Did you know that the number one fear of mankind is speaking before a group? Death is number seventh on the list of fears. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “People would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. I knew that having ten cameras on us at all times would be more pressure than anyone had dealt with before. I knew that this would be my greatest competitive advantage. This was my ace in the hole. I can still remember my early days as a speaker. It was frightening beyond belief.

My father is one of the greatest speakers in the world. He travels the globe teaching others his thoughts on public speaking. The speaking world affectionately refers to my dad as “The Speech Doctor.” There is nothing he doesn’t know about this subject. My dad taught my brothers and I every aspect of speaking, and we would have family speech contests, where he and mom would judge us on 20 different criteria such as still feet, movement, breathing, light between your arms, slow motion gestures, downbeats, seven kinds of eye contact, vowel elongation and even how to remember up to 50 names of people you meet at an event. One of my brothers is even a director, writer and actor in New York. This is no surprise, because each of us was taught every aspect of camera work.

Finding Inspiration

But my dad was right. Speakers are made, not born, and after learning how to speak, I began to love it. I also love working behind the cameras and directing as well as being in front of the cameras and performing. That is why I became a communications broadcasting major at Ohio State. I worked for Jim Tressel at, where I interviewed players and coaches, and filmed games. I also did the sound, editing and producing of over 20 videos for the website. Seeing Jim Tressel lead world-class athletes to a National Championship taught me about teamwork and intensity. If watching Ohio State football doesn’t inspire you as an athlete, then you’re meant for something else.

The Eliminations.

I felt horrible for Elena who was kicked off first. She is an absolutely stunning beauty who has an incredible faith, and her positive attitude and determination to win every golf tournament is quite intimidating. The next person to go home was Kelly. Although I had never played against Kelly in competition, she is a living legend as a swing coach in Florida. I would be honored to work with her as my coach any day, and I can’t tell you how much each of us girls respected her abilities and golf knowledge.

Maiya was next to go. I really enjoyed her friendship. She not only knew how to cleverly play the game, but she has nerves of steel. She didn’t even flinch during the first elimination with Elena and was barely edged out by Ryann. This was a big win for Ryann, but also a setback for Ryann, because now the alliance had been broken.

Stacy was next on the chopping block. I have had the pleasure of playing with Stacy many times, and getting to know her has been wonderful. She is also one of the most pure women I have ever met. You will not find a person more dedicated to her faith, and she not only talks the talk, but she walks the walk. Ryann shocked the world when she was eliminated next. Ryann can drive the ball 300 yards and pick off a house fly from 75 yards with a wedge. She is probably the truest athlete of us all. She won two tournaments this year on the Duramed FUTURES Tour, and I think she was the favorite to win if you asked each of us girls. Ryann was eventually beaten by Taryn on a par five in final elimination. Ryann was only 230 yards out before taking her second shot, and she decided not to go for the green, but to instead layup. There was trouble near the green, but I can’t help but wonder if she will forever think about that decision. When Ryann’s 20-foot putt lipped out, it was an exit that nobody predicted, but nobody was all that sad, because it was like having Muhammad Ali eliminated before he had a chance to punch your lights out.

Seema was the next to be eliminated. I have known Seema for many years. I think Seema was disappointed in how she played overall on Big Break, and she was a little embarrassed at how many times she was saved by someone else or by finding the send/save card under her chair at breakfast. When I won immunity late, Seema told me, “I don’t mind if you send me to elimination, but please don’t save me.” Seema was ready to prove she is a great golfer. Seema is also a fashion goddess, so funny and one of the most endearing golfers I have ever met. If you don’t love Seema or her beautiful sister (and caddy) Nisha, then there is something wrong with you. As someone once said, “Choose your friends wisely, because your enemies will choose you.” I gladly choose Seema as my friend, and I would trust her with my life!

Chris Brady was the next to find the exit. Chris is a rare case of business smarts and athletic genius as she is now working as an engineer on a nuclear power plant project after a successful career on the LPGA. Before making the LPGA, Chris won state titles in golf, tennis and track in high school. Talk about intimidating. I am still working on the whole chewing gum and walking thing. I thoroughly enjoyed conversations with Chris, and I am now president of the Chris Brady fan club. It was only after seeing Chris leave that I said, “I might be able to make a run at this Big Break thing.”

Taryn, Sara Brown, Lili and I were the ones still standing, but Taryn was next to go. Taryn is the only person on Big Break who played in a U.S. Open. She put the dagger in many of her opponents on Big Break. I saved her the episode before only because the winds on the island tended to blow from right to left. As brilliant as she played under pressure, I felt that I might have a slight advantage because of her tendency to pull the ball a little left. It is much like a professional baseball coach calling in a left hand pitcher to close against a right handed batter. The big advantage is that the curve ball or change-up will start out directly at the batters head before breaking over the plate. At no time did I ever feel that I would definitely be able to beat Taryn, but only that I might beat her. Both Sara and I were able to make difficult putts to eliminate Taryn. Taryn, with nerves of steel, never lost, but was merely beaten by brilliant (somewhat lucky) shots. Win or lose Taryn handled herself always with nothing but class.

Facing Sara Brown

Now there were only three. I have been playing against Sara Brown since I was in grade school, but this was the biggest match of both our lives. I wish I had a dollar for every time Sara Brown beat me in high school and in college. How good an athlete do you have to be to be awarded Female Athlete of the Year at Michigan State University (twice), which is the fifth largest college in the United States? She won so many college tournaments on the road that the newspaper merely referred to her as “Out of Town Brown!” I once broke Jack Nicklaus’ scoring record at the Scarlet and Gray course at Ohio State with a first round score of 66, and “Out of Town Brown” came back to beat me in the final day of the tournament by two strokes. As much as I love Sara, her father, Mike, her mother, Debbie, and her brother, Josh, there is nobody I want to beat more on the golf course than Sara Brown. It’s like the Yankees against the Red Sox, Ohio State versus Michigan or oil against water. Unless you’re from Ohio State, you don’t know how bad losing to anything from Michigan makes you feel. Since turning pro, Sara and I have played evenly against each other, and I felt like I could win. This Big Break dream would now be decided with a three-hole playoff, and may the best stroke player win!

I had Sara on the ropes on the first hole, but let her slide. That’s what Big Break does to you. The pressure is enormous, because each competitor knows that this is the biggest break each has ever had and that dreams are won or lost by a single shot or mistake. So you have to accept moments of choking and use those moments to get your composure back quickly. I then had the ability to forge ahead on the next hole but missed an 8-foot putt. Momentum is something that can really rattle you and bring you down, but I remembered something my father taught me. My dad was an All-American Wrestler, Athlete of the Year at the University of Arizona, and he won two Olympic trials in 1980. He always said, “Momentum always swings to the left and to the right, so never complain about being tied.” I was quite concerned on the third hole, when Sara came through (like always) and hit her ball 12-feet from the pin. As Yogi Berra said, It’s like Déjà vu all over again.” I estimated that I was about 22 feet away, and even worse, I had to putt directly over her line. I knew that if I made the putt it would put so much pressure on Sara that I would probably win, but if I missed the putt, the opportunity would be so great that Sara would most likely drain it.

I lined up my putt, and then thought about the mistake I have made in the past in this situation. Sometimes when you desperately need to make a long putt, you are so worried about leaving it short that you blast it by. I made sure I didn’t do this. I made sure to hit my line and make a solid putt that would go only 17 inches past the hole. I kept my head down and concentrated on not letting either elbow lose integrity. Then I took a deep breath and tried not to think about the outcome. The putt didn’t look like it was going in, but at the end as it slowed down, it dramatically broke towards the hole and DRAINO. I think I leaped higher than Michael Jordan. How did this little diabetic girl from Middletown Ohio shock the world? I still wake up and pinch myself. Sara eventually missed her putt, and I was stunned that I had reached the finals. It felt great to be in the finals and to do so against such great champion as Sara Brown made me realize I had earned it.

The Finals

It was now down to me and Lili Alvarez. I have met thousands of people and competitors in this beautiful game of golf. Lili might be one of the greatest people I have ever met. Years ago, I met Lili, and we discussed how she wants to one day be in politics in Mexico. She explained how she wants to make positive changes for her county. When she describes Mexico, she paints a picture of its beauty, culture and traditions, and how important family and friends are to the Mexican people. Her cool head, incredible intelligence and passion for life have had a profound effect on me. Lili is as genuine as they come, and I am confident that one day she just might be the president of Mexico. I was sincerely worried that she might beat me in the final match play 10-8. Of all the great athletes who competed on Big Break Sandals Resorts, I felt that Lili outplayed everyone and deserved to be in the finals.

The match was a blur, and each of us was never more than 1-up during the entire match. Lili had some trouble with her putter, and I think that cost her, but momentum swayed from left to right. It came down to the 17th hole, and we were still tied. But I again found myself on the green putting some 20-something feet away with Lili looking at only a difficult 8-footer. Unlike the putt against Sara Brown which I didn’t think was going in, it was the opposite against Lili. My ball was a long way away, but it was at least straight up the hill. As soon as it left the putter, and I saw it tracking I said, “Oh my gosh – I think this is gooiinnnnnnngggggggg INNNNNNN!”

I can’t begin to describe the feeling of making that putt under pressure so intense that your hands shake. All of the work I put in, all of the coaching I received, all of the competitions against my brothers and dad, and all of the unconditional support from my family raced through my mind. I did know however that Lili would not waver and that this was far from over.

Lili missed a difficult 8-foot curling putt, and the rest is history. Lili hit good shots on the 18th hole, but her ball found the only tree in the fairway, and she got one of the worst bad breaks in Big Break history. Lili never made an excuse, complained about the bad break or showed any bitterness. Lily gave me the final putt, hugged me and whispered in my ear, “You deserved this win – your putting was incredible.” I didn’t tell anyone this, but I immediately wept and had difficulties holding back a river of tears. I knew how much this title meant to Lili, how much she wanted to play in the Lorena Ochoa event, and how excited she was in representing her home country of Mexico. Losing to Lili Alvarez in the final would have been an honor in itself.

I will never forget Lili Alvarez. Late in the competition, I was feeling some heat from some of the other girls. Some were quite offended by my Birdie Dances. Some felt like I was taunting them with the Save/Send card. I sincerely liked everyone on the show, and it was upsetting to me not to be liked by people I respected so much. I was really down, and Lili pulled me aside and said, Yes, some of the competitors hate that Birdie Dance, and you definitely got inside their heads with that Send/Save card. So what! This is a competition. I am spicy, and I have my Spanish flair and passion for life, and you have your brilliance in front of the camera and your Birdie Dances. Don’t ever be afraid to be yourself. You are a wonderful person and a great golfer. Life is a Birdie Dance, Carling, so don’t you ever be afraid to hear the music.”

I Won!

Winning Big Break is the greatest accomplishment of my career because of two reasons: The incredible doors it opened up for me, and because I was fortunate enough to beat some of the best future LPGA stars in the game.

One of the neatest things about winning Big Break is how it brought families together. I have been told by so many moms and dads and sons and daughters how each Monday night the family couldn’t wait to watch another Big Break Sandals Resorts episode together. When I was growing up, my family always turned out the lights on Friday nights, and we watched the X-Files together. Is there anything more important than family?

I am also so excited about how many diabetics have reached out to me. When you are diabetic, you sometimes feel that you are the only person in the world struggling with this terrible disease. I remember how wonderful it was each year when I was young going to Diabetic Camp. Every camp member was dealing with the same thing that I was, and I felt so normal. This season I decided to donate a percentage of my earnings to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. So playing in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational will not only take my game to a whole new level but will greatly improve my donation for a cure.

One of my favorite sayings is a Japanese Proverb: Fall seven times–Stand up eight”.

Never give up on yourself! I learned that on Big Break.

I will be driving off to LPGA Q-School in a few weeks, and The Drill Book is riding shotgun! And since I’m just a small town girl from Middletown, Ohio, I can’t wait to donate a $2,500 shopping spree from Dicks Sporting Goods to Middletown High School. Hopefully they will produce many more athletes to come! Finally, this entire experience has lighted my passion for the camera like never before. After being on Big Break, I know that sports broadcasting, acting and creating films is on the Carling Dream horizon. BUT FIRST…Time for the L….P….G….A!!!!!!! (We did it, dad!)

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

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.