Furyk takes Bridgestone lead with 63; Woods 7 back

By Doug FergusonAugust 2, 2012, 10:32 pm

AKRON, Ohio – Jim Furyk made a detour to Florida to sit on his back porch and hang out with his kids as he tried to figure out why decent golf was producing ordinary scores. The short break appeared to do him a world of good Thursday in the Bridgestone Invitational.

With seven birdies and a 30-foot eagle putt, Furyk had a 7-under 63 for his best score ever at Firestone and a two-shot lead over Lee Slattery of England.

The conditions could not have been more ideal with sunshine, heat and very little wind, along with carpet for fairways and smooth greens. It showed in some of the tee shots on the South Course - 58 drives of at least 350 yards, and a 427-yarder b Branden Grace of South Africa – and mostly in the scoring.

Luke Donald, the world's No. 1 player, and Masters champion Bubba Watson were among those at 66. Thirty players in the 78-man field at this World Golf Championship managed to break par.

Tiger Woods was not among them. He was 3 under after back-to-back birdies to start the back nine, but had to lay up with his third shot on the par-5 16th after driving into the trees and ended his round with a three-putt bogey from 25 feet for a 70. It was his second-worst start at Firestone, a course where he has won seven times. The other was a 74 in 2010, his last week without a swing coach.

''I think I averaged about four putts per hole, so it was a great day on the greens,'' said Woods, who lost his touch on the greens but at least kept his sarcasm.

Since missing out on a chance to win the U.S. Open, Furyk has tied for 34th in two tournaments and missed two cuts, including last week in Canada. For a guy who is 15th in the Ryder Cup standings - even a win this week would not make him eligible for the U.S. team - this was no time to be stuck in neutral.

So when he had another weekend off after rounds of 70-70 at the Canadian Open, he flew home for three days.

''I think more than anything I needed a little time to clear my head,'' Furyk said. ''It wasn't anything that was going wrong, (but) why I wasn't playing better. I just felt like I needed to come in here and quit concentrating on trying to be so mechanically sound and just go play some golf and try to score and get the ball in the hole a little bit. It worked today. I did a lot better job of scoring.

''It's been a while since I made seven birdies and an eagle in a round,'' he said. ''So it was a lot of fun.''

The average score was 70.33, which is on the low side for Firestone.

Defending champion Adam Scott, in his first tournament since making four straight bogeys to lose the British Open, had a four-putt from just inside 10 feet early in his round and shot 71. So did Phil Mickelson, while British Open champion Ernie Els had a 73.

This is a course where players can smash it off the tee, and most of them did. Watson said he hit driver on all but three of the long holes. When he was asked how many fairways he missed, Watson replied, ''I don't know. I shot 4 under. That's all I know.''

That ultimately was all that mattered.

Grace, who along with Woods is the only player with three wins this year, crushed a tee shot into the speed slot on the 656-yard 16th hole that left him only 222 yards to the hole. One problem.

''It was a reasonable opportunity,'' Grace said. ''But I was right between clubs. I could either thump a 3-iron or hit my rescue, and going just over the back of that green and chipping back is not the best.''

So he laid up with a gap wedge, and then hit another gap wedge just over the back of the green, the very place where he feared his hybrid might go. He settled for par.

''Tiger and I were talking about it going up the 17th,'' Grace said. ''It's a pity you hit a great drive and go gap wedge, gap wedge. It doesn't make sense.''

Grace had one of three drives that traveled over 400 yards, and there were 58 drives of at least 350 yards. Firestone always allows for extra distance when it's dry and the fairways are running fast. But it reached the point that when Furyk was told he hit seven drives over 300 yards, he said, ''That's it?''

''I never crack the top 150 in driving distance on tour,'' Furyk said. ''If all of a sudden, out of all the guys that played today, I was 30th in today's field, I would say I was a lot longer than normal. But if I end up being - was there 80 guys in the field, 78? If I was 63rd today, I really wouldn't worry about it.''

He was 59th.

''It was hot,'' Furyk said. ''The ball is going pretty far and the ground is quite firm. Statistically, it'll probably look pretty good.''

What looked superb was the 63 on his card, on a course he loves and has twice come within a shot of either winning or getting into a playoff. Furyk is No. 15 in the Ryder Cup standings, and he has played on every team - Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup - since 1997.

Even if doesn't earn one of the eight spots after the PGA Championship next week, he would have three weeks to audition as a captain's pick. One of the knocks against Furyk is that he doesn't make a lot of birdies. His strength is staying in every hole and fighting for every shot, as he showed against Donald in the last Ryder Cup in Wales.

''Eventually in my career, I'm going to miss playing on those teams, and I'm hoping it's not this year,'' Furyk said. ''I'd be lying if I said it wasn't on my mind. But I'm also wise enough to know that it's there in the back parts of my mind right now. And I know the only way to take care of business is to really focus on golf and the next shot and the next round, and forget about it and just try to play as well as I can and let those things work themselves out.''

Woods, meanwhile, said he would head to the practice green to work on his pace.

He missed nine putts from around 15 feet or closer, including a couple of them inside 5 feet for par. The rest of his game was reasonable, and starting out seven shots behind is no cause for him to panic.

''I was 3-under par. I mean, that's not that bad,'' Woods said. ''At the time I was three back of the lead and hadn't made a thing. I thought that was a good sign. Unfortunately, finished awful and here we are.''

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. 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.

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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.

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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.