Big Four turns into a big flop Ten newcomers to debut

By Doug FergusonSeptember 15, 2009, 3:50 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)LEMONT, Ill. – The “Big Four” in last year’s FedEx Cup delivered a big flop for an encore.

Vijay Singh won the first two playoff events and mathematically clinched the $10 million prize before the Tour Championship. All he had to do was finish four rounds at East Lake to win.

He didn’t make it out of the second round this year. Singh missed the cut a career-high six times, had only three top 10s and is 60th on the money list with just over $1.2 million. He did not reach the Tour Championship for the first time since 1994, when Nick Price was player of the year and Tiger Woods was a freshman at Stanford.

Singh indicated he will play some in the Fall Series as he tries to avoid going winless for the first time since 2001. Singh, 46, had knee surgery in January and never seriously contended.

“It wasn’t the season I was looking for,” Singh told Golfweek magazine. “A lot of mishaps along the way, and it ended up being a real crappy season. … I had a pretty ordinary year, to say the least, and I’m just going to go figure it out. There’s no other explanation.”

Camilo Villegas won the final two FedEx Cup playoff events in 2008 and was second to Singh in the standings. Villegas, who rose to No. 7 in the world ranking at the end of the year, hasn’t won since. The Colombian has slipped to No. 16 in the world and didn’t come close to making it to the Tour Championship.

Sergio Garcia lost in a playoff twice during the FedEx Cup postseason and finished third. He closed the year with two victories in Europe and five straight finishes in the top five to reach No. 2 in the world. Garcia had a chance to go to No. 1 in the world in March.

Garcia now is No. 7 in the world ranking and barely made it to the BMW Championship before he was eliminated.

And then there’s Anthony Kim, a two-time winner a year ago who finished No. 4 in the final standings. Kim had only three top-10s this year, missed four cuts and has slipped to No. 20 in the world.

“I’ve been struggling all year, haven’t gotten putts to fall,” Kim said. “It’s disappointing, but I’ll tell you what, I’ve worked real hard for the last month. I’m going to keep working hard and I’m going to be ready for next season.”



NEWCOMERS: Ten players will be making their Tour Championship debut next week at East Lake, meaning they all have a mathematical chance for the $10 million first prize. For most of them, winning the FedEx Cup is unrealistic.

Some of the perks that come with a spot at East Lake are very tangible, however – namely a spot in three majors, including the Masters. It will be the first trip to Augusta National for Kevin Na, Steve Marino, Brian Gay, Marc Leishman and Jason Dufner.

Gay had already qualified by winning (twice) on the PGA Tour this year.

Marino missed out on the Masters last year when he was 34th on the money list (the top 30 get in). He failed to qualify for the U.S. Open and got into the British Open as an alternate.

“I’m super excited,” he said. “I’ve never played in the Masters. I’ve played in two U.S. Opens, but I didn’t qualify this year. It’s going to be a huge relief not to have to worry about that going into next year.”



HOME ON THE RANGE: Padraig Harrington is peculiar about practice ranges.

Coming off a runner-up finish at The Barclays, the three-time major champion lost some confidence on the range at the Deutsche Bank Championship – not so much because of his swing, but the angle of the range.

“There was something about the angle of the range (at TPC Boston) that I didn’t like, and I hit a number of poor shots on the range,” he said. “And every day I went to the golf course, I wasn’t feeling good about my driving.”

He had no trouble with the angle or alignment at Cog Hill. It remains to be seen how East Lake works out for him, as long as he can get past the pond that covers the first 100 yards.

As for his ranges he enjoys? He likes the TPC Sawgrass and Muirfield Village, but his favorite is at the Masters.

“Augusta, by a long way,” he said. “And they’re changing it.”



FIRST TEE: The First Tee last week began offering its education and life skills program to children of military personnel at 50 installations, with 50 more military installations to start up in the spring.

The goal is to reach 87,000 military children within two years as part of an agreement with the Department of Defense.

The First Tee chapters located near military bases are providing curriculum, equipment and training for eligible kids from ages 5-18. The idea is create fun and safe learning environments that cause kids to get curious about golf and illustrate links between golf and its values used in everyday life.

“The program goes far beyond teaching fundamental golf skills,” said Joe Louis Barrow Jr., CEO of The First Tee.

The first 50 bases were in the United States. The First Tee also plans to go overseas to bases located in countries such as Cuba, Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain.



BABY CONFLICT: Former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy and his wife are expecting their third child early next year, right about the time for him to defend his title in the Accenture Match Play Championship.

The due date is Feb. 15, the Monday of the tournament outside Tucson, Ariz.

Ogilvy has considered his options, and said it’s possible he could be on the Dove Mountain course when Julie goes into labor, in which case he would head home. He lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., just under two hours away.

“Hopefully, if she’s on schedule, she’ll have the baby the week before,” he said. “I can stay at home when I don’t have the early times. There is the potential I’ll be on the golf course. I’ll be disappointed, but it is the birth of my child.”

Ogilvy is a two-time winner of Accenture Match Play with a career record of 17-2.



DIVOTS: Cog Hill became the fourth golf course were Tiger Woods has won at least five times. The others are Bay Hill, Firestone and Torrey Pines. He has won as many times (25) on those four courses as Johnny Miller in his PGA Tour career. … Padraig Harrington has made double bogey or worse in his last 13 events on the PGA Tour. … Six players have qualified for the Tour Championship all three years of the FedEx Cup – Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Hunter Mahan and Stewart Cink.



STAT OF THE WEEK: Lorena Ochoa is No. 1 in the women’s world ranking and No. 11 on the LPGA Tour money list.



FINAL WORD: “How could you not? Every day you wake up to a lifestyle like I have, playing professional golf. As I always say, I’d play this game for free. Just don’t tell anybody.”– Padraig Harrington, on keeping a positive outlook during his struggles this year.

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?''