Leonard among leaders in Tampa Bay

By Doug FergusonMarch 16, 2013, 10:23 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. - Justin Leonard walked toward the 12th green Saturday at Innisbrook and saw a scoreboard that showed he was tied for the lead in the Tampa Bay Championship. He knocked in his 8-foot birdie putt, assumed he was ahead, and then never looked at another board the rest of the day.

He might do the same Sunday.

There's no point in staring at scores, not with so many names separated by so few shots. Besides, the Copperhead course at Innisbrook is playing so difficult even in pleasant weather that it's best not to think about anything except the next shot.

''It is hard,'' Leonard said after his 4-under 67 put him in a three-way tie for the lead with Kevin Streelman and George Coetzee of South Africa. ''There's not a whole lot of birdie holes on those last six holes. With the greens getting firmer and faster as they did today - which I'm sure they will again tomorrow. You have to be pretty patient out there and really pick your spots pretty carefully.''


Tampa Bay Championship: Articles, videos and photos


Adam Scott and K.J. Choi set the tone early for this wild day by going into full retreat.

That allowed for a game of musical chairs at the top of the leaderboard, with nothing remotely close to being settled going into the final day. Sixteen players were separated by only three shots at a tournament where the winner has come from behind to win in four of the last five years.

Streelman finished his 6-under 65 nearly three hours before the last group walked off the 18th green.

''I wanted to get to 6 under today,'' Streelman said. ''I had that number in my mind to at least have a chance going into tomorrow, so I was happy to get there.''

He had no idea at the time he would all the way to the top of the leaderboard.

Leonard ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn and had the lead to himself before a bogey from the bunker on the 15th. Coetzee bounced back from his lone bogey with a birdie on the rowdy 17th hole, where Hooters waitresses serve wings in the grandstands. That gave him a 68.

They were tied at 6-under 207, more evidence that the Copperhead course is perhaps the most complete test in Florida. Even on a warm, breezy afternoon, it was easier to go backward that to move away from the field.

Scott and Choi were proof of that.

Scott had a two-putt birdie on the opening hole to briefly take the lead, and that was the highlight of his day. He three-putted from about 15 feet for bogey on third, made bogey with a wedge in his hand on the par-5 fifth hole and stumbled to a 76. Choi, who also was one shot out of the lead, didn't make a birdie in his round of 76.

They still were only five shots out of the lead.

Shawn Stefani, the 31-year-old rookie who led by one, had a 74 and still was only two shots behind. His day could have been much worse except for a tee shot that caromed off a tree and into the fairway on the second hole, and a big hook on the third that hit the tire of a golf cart and stayed in play. Instead of hitting his third shot from the tee, he could reach the green for a two-putt par.

The group one shot out of the lead included 2010 winner Jim Furyk (67) and Ben Kohles (69), the Virginia grad who last summer went from college to two straight wins on the Web.com Tour to earn a spot in the big leagues.

Defending champion Luke Donald had a 67 and was only two shots behind at 4-under 209, along with 19-year-old Jordan Spieth of Texas, who is coming off a runner-up finish in Puerto Rico and can be set for the year on the PGA Tour the rest of the year depending on how he plays Sunday.

He looks as if he's good enough to win.

The group at 3 under included Harris English, in a tie for the lead on the front nine until he stumbled to a 73, and Sergio Garcia, who never looked happy and sounded even worse on his way to a 72.

English is among 12 players from the top 16 who are not yet eligible for the Masters, and a win on Sunday would take care of that.

Leonard has gone 122 starts on the PGA Tour over nearly five years since his last win, though he felt comfortable in the lead for the final few hours of the third round. Innisbrook requires more smarts than just smashing the ball off the tee, and Leonard used the ninth hole as an example of thinking his way around. Realizing the pin was not tucked on the side, he laid back off the tee with a 3-wood, and then hit 6-iron into 10 feet for a birdie.

He also got up-and-down from a front bunker on the 11th, and then hit 6-iron to 8 feet on the 12th. His only regret was missing a 5-foot birdie on the 17th that would have given him the outright lead. Not that it would have mattered all that much.

There's a good chance he won't even be among the leaders when he tees off.

Spieth, meanwhile, is in a great spot - and not just on the leaderboard.

He had no status this year after turning pro, but he had two good finishes on the Web.com Tour that has left him about $4,500 short of securing status. He was thinking about sticking with the Web.com Tour until deciding to honor the exemption he was given to the Puerto Rico Open, and that worked out well.

''My focus had been on the Web.com,'' he said. ''Now my focus is out there. It's a nice change.''

But he's thinking more about the top of the leaderboard than how much money he needs to earn this week, and he has just as good of a chance as anyone. Spieth showed his shot making with a 6-iron out of the trees that led to 12-foot birdie on the 16th.

''That wasn't a smart shot,'' he said with a smile.

Coetzee is part of a group of young South Africans who have worked their way into the top 50 in the world, and he'll make his Masters debut next month. The best part about a chance to win is getting his PGA Tour card.

He was flirting with the cut line with nine holes to play Friday until a 32 on the back nine, and then a solid round today. Coetzee is still finding his way in America, uncertain about the courses and not knowing the faces that go with the names.

''Golf is golf,'' he said. ''Doesn't matter where you play, everybody still gets to the golf course, and nobody knows what's going to happen.''

That could be especially true Sunday.

Getty Images

Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

Getty Images

Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

Getty Images

Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

Getty Images

Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm