D. Johnson moving on, but questions still linger

By Doug FergusonMarch 10, 2015, 2:02 am

DORAL, Fla. – Whether by choice or coercion, Dustin Johnson sat out for six months.

That much should not be forgotten as Johnson, fresh off another World Golf Championship title that renewed his credentials as an elite player, tries to move forward even as there are lingering questions about his past.

And those questions linger in part because the PGA Tour doesn't release all information about suspensions.

''We don't think the fans really want to know about most of the stuff we would be talking about,'' Commissioner Tim Finchem said Sunday. ''We don't think there's a large volume of it, and we don't think much of it is very serious.''

Heading into the final major of last year, Johnson was No. 5 in the Ryder Cup standings, a lock to make his third straight team. He was No. 4 in the FedEx Cup, poised for a shot at a lucrative payoff. And then he walked away under curious circumstances by announcing a leave of absence in a statement that contained words like ''personal challenges'' and ''mission of self-improvement.''

The PGA Tour said nothing except to wish him well, and to deny a report by Golf.com that Johnson was suspended for six months. Golf.com reported Johnson failed three drug tests, the last two for cocaine, including in 2012 when he missed three months for what he said was a back injury from lifting a jet ski out of the water.

Six months later, Johnson looks as good as ever.

In the last five weeks, he has tied for fourth at Pebble Beach, lost in a playoff at Riviera and won at Doral.

There was a vibe on Twitter and in the locker room at Riviera when Johnson was in the playoff that it was not right for him to leave quietly and return with so little inspection. Johnson was helped because most of the attention went to Tiger Woods and his lost tooth and lost game.

Johnson received no earnings in golf tournaments for six months. He has averaged $164,183 per tournament in his career and missed at least seven tournaments he ordinarily would have played.

The tour is required under its anti-doping policy to announce a suspension (but not the substance). There have been two cases in seven years. But when it comes to recreational drugs, the tour conveniently tucks that under its ubiquitous ''conduct unbecoming a professional'' category, in which the tour is not required to publicly disclose anything. And it rarely does.

Conduct unbecoming could be a 3-iron that gets hurled into the water or any other fit of frustration. It could be comments that disparage another player. It could be marijuana.

John Daly was hearing rumors in late 2008 that he had been suspended for life because of a series of incidents. He called The Associated Press to set the record straight: He was only suspended for six months. The AP called the PGA Tour, which said it does not comment on discipline.

Finchem said it doesn't make sense to announce a fine when it would only serve to remind people of something ''that five people saw on the fourth green.'' Then again, millions of television viewers heard Patrick Reed berate himself over a three-putt in Shanghai by using a gay slur. The only comment came from Reed, who apologized.

By not saying anything, the tour creates a vacuum filled with speculation, innuendo and rumors.

These are what follow Johnson.

When asked if the Golf.com report on the failed drug trusts were accurate, Johnson said ''no'' in an interview with the AP and then quickly and politely said he was done answering those questions.

They came up again when Johnson won the Cadillac Championship. And he will face more questions if he wins a major.

Finchem said there are some cases that require comment, though his analogy of a brawl, such as a player ''slugging somebody in the stands,'' didn't resonate.

''When we get into substance abuse, it's kind of in between,'' Finchem said. ''I mean, I can see some of the benefits of dealing with that differently. Thus far, we have chosen not to.''

And here's where it gets sticky. If a player is mysteriously absent for a period of time - maybe he needs to clear his head, or even work on his chipping - speculation easily follows that he might be suspended. Even if the tour says otherwise, how much credibility does it have?

''If it triggers a situation where a player is stepping away from the game, or maybe being suspended, but we really don't know, does that create confusion?'' Finchem said. ''And that's one point that we are giving some thought to on that particular situation.''

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour is inviting you to draw your own conclusions. That's safe for the tour. Is it fair to the player?

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.