Grace, DeLaet share early Honda lead in Round 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 28, 2013, 8:17 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Branden Grace was downright bullish when it came to the Bear Trap on Thursday in the Honda Classic.

Grace knew from television and from Charl Schwartzel about the notorious four-hole closing stretch at PGA National. It didn't seem to bother him Thursday when he birdied every hole in the Bear Trap – Nos. 15, 16 and 17 – and added a birdie on the 18th for a 5-under 65 that gave him a share of the lead with Graham DeLaet of Canada among early starters.

Dustin Johnson finally got his game on track to join the group at 66.

Tiger Woods turned around his fortunes with one risky decision. He stepped into the water left of the sixth fairway to play a shot that was half-submerged in a creek, turning a likely double bogey into a par that enabled him to salvage a 70.

Grace, part of the core group of young South Africans on the rise, is making his Honda Classic debut.

''I sat down with Charl last week at the Match Play and he said, 'Listen, the four finishing holes are quite a beast out there.' So I was a little nervous coming here,'' Grace said. ''I just thought, 'What's going to happen around that corner?'''

The first one was easy after a tee shot to 2 feet on the par-3 15th. He holed birdie putts of about 18 feet on the next two holes, and then his 3-iron barely cleared the water in front of the green on the par-5 18th, leading to a simple up-and-down to finish in style.

Some of the tees were moved forward because of rain earlier in the week that softened the course, and players were allowed to lift, clean and replace their golf balls. PGA National is converted into a par 70 for the tournament, however, which keeps scoring at a premium.

''This is a golf course that you have to really hit good shots,'' said DeLaet, who missed only one green in regulation. ''You can save yourself with a few putts here and there, but if you're hitting it poorly, it's going to eventually catch up to you.''

Woods didn't hit it all that poorly, except for his tee shot on the par-4 sixth, with the tees moved forward 40 yards. He drove it left and down the bank into the water. Because of where it first crossed the hazard, he would have had no chance to get near the green after a penalty drop. Woods saw enough the ball to give it a shot.

He removed his shoes and socks as the gallery came to life, and then put on rain pants and removed his sweater. The ball shot out with a big splash, leaving Woods about 80 yards to a front pin. He hit wedge to 8 feet and saved par.

''I wasn't trying to advance it very far, just make sure I got it back in the fairway and give myself some kind of wedge shot in there, which I did,'' Woods said. ''I was 1 over at the time, and if that ball is not playable from where it's at, where I crossed was pretty far back. ... Looking at 6 – 3 over – and all of a sudden I flip it, make par there and birdie the next.''

Woods said it was an otherwise boring round, and he was right. He dropped one shot from the middle of the 10th fairway (his first hole), and another when his plan to hit a cut from around a palm bush didn't go as far as he wanted and left him a long, tough bunker shot.

Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world and the defending champion, was among those who played in the afternoon.

Johnson, playing alongside Woods, was coming off a miserable stretch of golf in which he missed the cut at Pebble Beach, missed the cut at Riviera and then was bounced from the first round of the Match Play Championship by Alex Noren.

But he spent enough time at home in South Florida with Claude Harmon III, mostly on his driver. His miss was a hook, and it was a big miss. This time, he kept the ball in the short grass for most of the cool, cloudy morning and took advantage of his birdie chances.

The weather didn't get much better at the start of the Florida swing.

In a year that already featured high wind on Maui, a fog delay at Torrey Pines and snow – yes, snow – in Arizona for the Match Play, players showed up in sweaters because of a front that moved through behind the rain.

This is not what Grace imagined during this stretch run leading to The Masters.

''I've never seen or touched snow before last week,'' said Grace, who grew up along the Garden Route of South Africa near some of the world's most pristine beaches.

He is covering a lot of new territory.

One week after this first experience with snow, Grace played his first practice round with Ernie Els on Tuesday.

Grace, just like former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, honed his game through Els' golf foundation at Fancourt. It was a big deal to play with his idol for nine holes, though Grace politely left out that they have played with each other once before – in a one-hole playoff in South Africa when Grace beat Els and Retief Goosen for his second pro title. Grace went on to win five times last year, four of them on the European Tour.

Johnson was joined at 66 by Boo Weekley, Sean O'Hair, Billy Horschel and Fabian Gomez.

Charles Howell III shot 67, an important start for him. Howell is at No. 64 in the world, and he has until the end of March to move into the top 50 and qualify for the Masters in his hometown of Augusta, Ga.

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.