Haas (-9) leads delayed Memorial; Woods cards 74

By Doug FergusonJune 1, 2013, 12:59 am

DUBLIN, Ohio – Bill Haas played the best golf in the toughest conditions Friday in the rain-delayed Memorial.

When the second round was suspended as dark clouds rolled in and forced the third stoppage in play, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were close to each other on the leaderboard, even if they were miles away from Haas, who had a 5-under 67.

That didn't bode well for Woods, the five-time Memorial winner who had a most peculiar round in wind and on fast greens. He three-putted from 5 feet for double bogey on the par-5 15th, chopped up the final hole for a bogey and wound up with a 74.

''Tough conditions out there, and I didn't exactly play my best, either,'' said Woods, who had his worst 36-hole total (145) at the Memorial since he first played it in 1997.

McIlroy was in danger of missing the cut until he fired off five birdies, looking more comfortable with his putts and attacking with his driver. He was 4 under for his round and one shot inside the cut line – and one shot behind Woods. McIlroy was in a greenside bunker in two shots at the par-5 15th when play was stopped.

''The major goal today was to try to make it into the weekend,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm on the right track to do that.''

The second round was to resume at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

The Memorial has a long history of bad weather, and it's a tough spot for it to happen. Slugger White, the Tour's vice president of competition, said more storms were expected early Saturday afternoon and into Sunday morning. Ohio is on the western edge of the eastern time zone, allowing for long hours of daylight. But several players have U.S. Open qualifying Monday.

Morning or afternoon, Muirfield Village was no picnic. The wind was a factor in the morning and it began to increase in strength, while the greens were firm and crispy and required caution even on the shorter putts.


Memorial Tournament: Articles, videos and photos


Haas played through it beautifully, taking advantage of one bad tee shot that he thought was headed out-of-bounds on the par-5 11th. He hit a provisional, didn't need it and wound up making a birdie. He also holed a bunker shot for eagle on No. 5 and was at 9-under 135.

He was three shots clear of Matt Kuchar, who had a 70, among those who finished the round.

Charl Schwartzel, who made 10 birdies in an opening-round 65, struggled on the greens and was 1 over for his day and three shots behind. He had three holes remaining. Bubba Watson was at 6 under through 14 holes, and his biggest battle was with allergies. He wore sunglasses under gathering clouds and kept a wet towel around his neck, anything to keep his allergies under control.

The advantage for those still on the course was the rain delay of 1 1/2 hours. It rained hard for a short time, which slightly softened the greens, and the afternoon starters returned to a course with only a breeze.

''The wind died down, made it a lot easier to play the holes,'' Watson said.

Kyle Stanley also was at 6 under and had five holes remaining.

McIlroy got the short end on the par-3 12th, slightly downhill and over the water. The wind not only was strong, it was unpredictable. McIlroy hit his tee shot and could only watch, hopeful it landed somewhere on dry land and in a reasonable spot. The horn to stop play sounded moments later.

Haas has been playing the Memorial since 2005, and he has been coming to Muirfield Village even longer when his father, Jay Haas, was a regular. The son even caddied for the father one year, and he received a sponsor's exemption his first year out of Wake Forest.

''Even though I've never really had great success her personally, I love coming back, look forward to it every year,'' Haas said. ''And part of it might be I've always known how much my dad liked it and how well he did here. Hopefully, I can continue on the weekend and get a better taste in my mouth on how to play it, as opposed to just liking it.''

Only six players from the morning round managed to break 70, a testament to a course that is dry and fast, especially on the greens. The wind was strong early and showed no sign of letting up, even after a 20-minute delay in the afternoon as storms threatened.

The resurgent Robert Karlsson had a 71 and was five shots behind.

For a short time, it looked as though Woods' first objective was to stick around for the weekend. Along with not making birdies, he made a mess of the par-5 15th for the second straight day. From the fairway, he pulled his approach well left of the green and chipped through the green, just into a thick collar of round. He chipped out to about 5 feet, and his par putt caught the lip and spun some 8 feet away. Woods wound up three-putting for double bogey from 5 feet.

It could have been worse. Woods made six par putts from the 4-foot to 7-foot range, and he wound up at 1-over 145. When he played the Memorial his first full year on Tour in 1997, Woods opened with 72-75 and tied for 67th in a tournament cut short to 54 holes.

''I thought I had a good chance to at least get to even par for my round,'' Woods said. ''The last hole I ended up making bogey. All in all, it was a hard-fought day, and that's all I have.''

Woods has never won a PGA Tour event from 10 shots behind going into the weekend. He won at Torrey Pines in 1999 when he was nine shots behind Ted Tryba. Woods has never made up more than a six-shot deficit on the weekend at Muirfield Village.

His tough day wasn't nearly as bad as some of those around him.

Matt Every started the back nine with a birdie and finished it with a 44 on his way to an 84. Brendan Steele had an 81, while Innisbrook winner Kevin Streelman had an 80. And it proved far too tough for Guan Tianlang. The 14-year-old from China missed his second straight cut after a round of 79.

''Those greens are lightning fast,'' Haas said. ''I think that's the biggest deal.''

Even more significant for Haas was how he played the par 5s. He is 7 under on them for the week.

Getty Images

McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.