Woods shows he's not intimidated by McIlroy

By Damon HackSeptember 20, 2012, 11:18 pm

ATLANTA – When it comes to responding to insults, Tiger Woods is on a level with Tony Soprano and Miss Piggy.

Like his pal Michael Jordan, who spent his career checking into hotels under the name of the kid who beat him out of a spot in high school basketball, Woods can turn a put-down into a stretch of superior play.

When Phil Mickelson once suggested that Woods was using inferior equipment, Woods came back from knee surgery for a four-shot victory at the 2003 Buick Invitational.

When Stephen Ames disparaged Tiger’s driving accuracy before the 2006 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Woods was ruthless in his retort, thumping Ames, 9 and 8, with cold-hearted glee.

Two days after Greg Norman suggested that Woods was “really intimidated” by Rory McIlroy, Woods went out in the first round of the Tour Championship and beat his supposed intimidator by three shots. Tiger’s round of 66 was good enough to be tied for the first-round lead with Justin Rose in the FedEx Cup finale.

No word on whether Woods warmed up with a bucket of balls with Norman’s picture on them.

Norman’s comment was the background noise of Woods and McIlroy’s latest round of golf together. (Woods is 6-2 against McIlroy when paired together).

While Tiger made his way up the second fairway, one member of the gallery shouted “Ray Lewis!” referring to the Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker.

Woods cited Lewis in his Wednesday news conference as the reason intimidation is fiction in the game of golf. There is no crying in baseball. There is no de-cleating your playing partner in golf.

Woods was not amused by Norman’s comments Wednesday, but he had fun with McIlroy on Thursday. The two walked side by side for much of the round, talking about the fast speed of play with only 30 players in the field, enjoying the kind of rapport rarely seen between Woods and other would-be rivals.

As Rory has ascended to No. 1 in the world and claimed victory in three of his last four starts, his relationship with Tiger has been analyzed from every angle.

Why is Tiger close with Rory and distant with Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson? How can Tiger, taught to beat everything on the golf course, share laughs with Rory on the fairway?

“He’s a great kid,” Woods said. “Over the years, certain pairings I’ve enjoyed. Rory is one of them.”

Woods went on, speaking like the veteran of golf (and life) that he is, and not the single-minded destroyer he has long been viewed to be.

“You probably don’t believe this, but I get along really well with a lot of guys out here,” Woods said. “Rory is no different. This is a fraternity out here. That’s one of the great things about being out here for 17 years. You get to know the guys quite well.”

Woods, at 36, may be learning to enjoy his walks more, even as he seeks to stack trophies on his mantel and prove the doubters wrong, be they Norman or anyone else.

Woods may not be closing out tournaments as he once did, but he’s still getting after it, still grinding hard against Rory and the rest.

And as he showed on Thursday, amid sharp barbs from the Shark, few can parry a blow better.

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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.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.