Greg Normans big week starts with a big distraction

By Doug FergusonOctober 7, 2009, 4:02 am
Presidents Cup

SAN FRANCISCO – Greg Norman couldn’t hide the obvious discomfort. He sat at a table Tuesday for the opening press conference at the Presidents Cup, his right arm suspended by a black brace from shoulder surgery a week ago.

As for his heart?

That he will keep to himself.

Norman returns to the spotlight this week as captain of an International team that has never won on American soil. Adding to the attention was his statement four days ago that he has separated from tennis great Chris Evert, his wife of 15 months.

He went public on the eve of his big week because her absence from Harding Park would only lead to speculation. Now that he’s here, Norman was determined to keep his private life just that.

“I’m not going to talk about any of my personal life right now,” Norman said. “The situation right now is we are here for the Presidents Cup, and it’s all about the Presidents Cup, and my guys are in a great state of mind about being positive and getting out there and playing. And come Thursday, they are going to perform. I know they will perform in a positive fashion.”

In one week, the Presidents Cup became about more than just golf.

Along with Norman’s announcement that he has separated from his wife, Kenny Perry arrived in San Francisco needing one big hug from his extended family on the PGA Tour. His mother, Mildred, died Thursday of blood cancer. The funeral was Saturday in Kentucky, and Perry decided to play the Presidents Cup because his family insisted.

“You hate to lose one of your heroes,” Perry said.

Even talking about her before only a half-dozen reporters, he worked hard to keep his emotions in check. He said his goal for the week was “not to bring the team down,” yet he was inspired already by how his teammates have lifted him up.

Emotion has worked its way into the Presidents Cup over the years. Jack Nicklaus was the captain in 2005 the year his 17-month-old grandson drowned in a hot tub. On the eve of the singles matches, the American players presented him an oil portrait of his beloved Jake, and the room filled quickly with tears. The next day, they delivered him the gold cup.

This year, there is trouble in so many corners.

Along with Norman’s marital woes and Perry grieving over his mother, Phil Mickelson remains in the throes of a tough year as his wife and mother recover from breast cancer. It remains doubtful that Amy Mickelson will join the wives this week.

Few other golfers have dealt with as much loss as Norman over the years, mostly inside the ropes. While he is in the Hall of Fame on the strength of some 75 victories around the world and two British Open titles, the Shark is renowned for being the only player in history to lose all four majors in a playoff. Even last year at 53, with Evert at his side on a honeymoon like no other, he was in the lead going to the back nine of the British Open until he stumbled to a tie for third.

Someone suggested that this time, Norman’s team would be there to pick him up.

The first question to Geoff Ogilvy alluded to Norman’s “public announcement” and whether players could sympathize with what he is going through.

“What’s he going through?” Ogilvy said in a subtle challenge to the reporter. Once he forced the reporter to mention the separation, Ogilvy said it was the first time all day he had heard it brought up. Then came a clarification.

“First time I heard of it was when he (Norman) came out of here early on and was wondering why we were all talking about that and not the golf tournament,” Ogilvy said.

“He’s a big boy and he can handle everything that’s going on with his life,” Ogilvy said later. “It has not been discussed until I walked in this tent, and I don’t even think it’s an issue.”

That’s just how Norman wants it.

He is in charge of an eclectic team from eight countries on four continents. That includes 46-year-old Vijay Singh, who already is in the Hall of Fame, and 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, the youngest player ever in these matches.

They are playing under a fabricated flag – the International team represents every country outside the United States except for those in Europe – and for a captain who still has one of the highest profiles in golf.

Perhaps this is the time for players to rally around a captain.

Norman would have none of it.

“We haven’t even talked about it,” he said. “We talked about my shoulder, absolutely. It’s pretty hard to ignore that. But at the end of the day, somebody’s private life is their private life. They respect that. So they just come in, knowing this is all about the Presidents Cup. This has nothing to do about me. Just because I’m captain of the team, it’s all about the team. And I’m making sure they know that.

“It’s all about the Presidents Cup, not about anything else.”

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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.