Day rebounds in Rd. 3 to maintain four-shot lead

By Doug FergusonMay 14, 2016, 11:52 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Jason Day set the 36-hole record at The Players Championship on Saturday morning. By the end of a long and laborious day of big numbers, he was hanging on by the seat of his pants on a TPC Sawgrass that was as frightening as ever.

Through it all, one aspect never changed: Day is in charge, and he looks like he will be tough to beat.

On a vastly different golf course with greens that felt like putting on glass compared with the previous two rounds, Day overcame two double bogeys with a strong back nine for a 1-over 73 to maintain his four-shot lead.

But what a wild ride.

Day four-putted from 18 feet for double bogey and made another double bogey when he blasted out of sand across the green into deep rough as his lead shrunk to one shot. From there, the world's No. 1 player played 3 under with no bogeys over the final 10 holes to restore some semblance of order.

He was at 14-under 202. Any thoughts of adding to the record book were gone. But when a shootout turned into a survival, all that mattered was the lead.

Ken Duke turned in the best round of the tournament by making six birdies over his last seven holes for a 65, more than 10 shots better than the average score. He was four shots behind along with Hideki Matsuyama (67) and Alex Cejka (72).


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''I'm just a player on the PGA Tour,'' Duke said. ''They're all good out here, and when you get some good number and make some good putts, the scores are there. ... But it was a great round. This golf course is very difficult with this condition, and it was a really unbelievable round.''

As tough as the greens were to putt - there were 148 three-putts or worse - the Stadium Course still presented its typical set of problems.

Russell Knox was trying to stay in the mix when he put three shots into the water on the island-green 17th and took a 9. That ruined his round (he shot 80) and his chances. Kevin Chappell was three shots behind when he had to play his second shot with his feet on the planks framing the water on the 18th hole. Having made two eagles, he closed with a double bogey to fall six shots back.

Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and defending champion Rickie Fowler all missed the cut when the storm-delayed second round was completed Saturday morning. If there was a consolation, it was not having to take on Sawgrass at its scariest.

Shane Lowry of Ireland, playing in the final group, played his opening four holes in 5 over. That feel-good story of tournament rookie Will Wilcox, who made the first hole-in-one in 14 years on the island-green 17th on Friday? He hit in the water Saturday to make double bogey and wound up with an 82.

Sergio Garcia took six putts from just off the sixth green. Paul Casey took five putts from about 8 feet on the 15th hole.

Day had his moments.

He finished his second round at 15-under 129, breaking by one the 36-hole record Greg Norman set in 1994. Day didn't make a bogey until his 39th hole of the tournament. But that was inevitable.

''You had putts that never stopped,'' Jhonattan Vegas said after a 79.

Day's first blunder was a four-putt double bogey on the sixth hole, which started with an 18-foot birdie putt that he nearly made. It could have been worse. His 5-foot putt for double bogey nearly spun out of the cup. He answered with a wedge to 2 feet for birdie, but then had more trouble off the green at the par-3 eighth. This time, he had to make a 6-foot putt for double bogey.

And while his card was clean on the back nine, the biggest break of all came at the 15th. He was short of the green in three, certain to drop at least two shots, when Day chipped in from just over 50 feet for par. Then, he pounded a 3-wood and hit a towering 8-iron to 6 feet on the par-5 16th. He missed the putt and had to settle for birdie, made a 10-foot par putt on the 17th and finished with a solid par.

One more round, and no one is sure what to expect now.

The opening two rounds were soft and vulnerable, and the 163 rounds under par shattered the record in the 35 years The Players has been at TPC Sawgrass. Day (Thursday) and Colt Knost (Friday) tied the course record with a 63. Day broke the 36-hole record. Lowry and Rory McIlroy set a record with a 29 on the back nine.

Saturday was a different story.

The average score the opening two rounds was 71.02. It was 75.59 on Saturday. There were 82 rounds under par on Thursday, 81 rounds under par in the second round, and only six of them on Saturday.

Of the 76 players who made the cut at 2-under par, 60 of them had a double bogey or worse. There were 86 scores of double bogey or worse.

Day had two of them. And he still has a four-shot lead.

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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.