Lots of players fighting for their careers at Disney

By Doug FergusonNovember 6, 2012, 10:29 pm

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – One player dug his feet into the sand and hit one bunker shot after another, his focus unbroken. A few hundred yards away, another player cast his line into a pond filled with bass next to the 15th tee on the Magnolia Course.

Disney is a vacation for some, a grind for so many others. It's easy to see who falls into which category.

This is the final PGA Tour event of the year, and the stakes have never been higher. The top 125 on the money list keep full Tour cards, meaning they can play whenever and wherever they want next year except for the majors, World Golf Championships and a few other invitational events that have smaller fields.

That much hasn't changed.

What makes a Tour card so valuable now is that 2013 is a transition year on Tour, which translates into a shorter season with fewer opportunities. The regular season will last only about seven months leading into the FedEx Cup playoffs. After that, a new season (2013-14) will start in October.

For the last six years, players who either didn't get into a lot of tournaments or got off to a slow start could always count on the Fall Series – four tournaments at the back end of the season – to make up ground and get into the top 125. But that opportunity is going away. The Fall Series events, along with two tournaments in Asia, will be the start of the new wraparound season.

Players who finish outside the top 125 can still play, as long as there is room for them at tournaments. They have to get in line behind the fully exempt players, along with 50 others who earned cards through Q-School and the Web.com Tour.

But with more players expected to sign up for more tournaments in the shorter season, playing opportunities for the others could be limited.

That's putting it nicely.

''Those guys are in deep, deep trouble,'' William McGirt said after a few attempts trying to find the right words for a family newspaper.

McGirt was in that position last year, needing a big finish at Disney to keep his card. He didn't come particularly close, wound up at No. 141 and earned his card at Q-School. Knowing that status out of Q-School would be lower this year, imagine his relief when McGirt was runner-up at the Canadian Open to secure his card. He is at No. 70 with just over $1.2 million. The only roller coaster he will be on this week can be found across the street at the Magic Kingdom.

''Compared with last year, this is as relaxed as you can be,'' McGirt said Tuesday. ''I've talked to a couple of guys about that situation. I told them the last thing you can do is think about it. From the U.S. Open last year, it was getting into FedEx Cup, and I went from that to keeping my job. I spent the better part of last year thinking about what would happen. I was mentally fried.''

McGirt wound up playing every tournament for which he was eligible from June to early November, 14 events in 17 weeks.

Disney has been the final official event on the Tour schedule for the last six years, and it's always been fascinating to watch the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Those who were safe inside the top 125 on the money list were mainly concerned about the lines at Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Those on the outside were concerned about keeping their jobs. There is tension over every shot, broken up by the long, low whistle from the train at Thunder Mountain.

Jeff Maggert, who turns 49 in February, has been on Tour for 22 years. His first Tour victory was at Disney in 1993, when the tournament had to set up floodlights on the final hole to beat darkness. He had to go to Q-School last year, made it with a few shots to spare and is on the bubble at No. 122 on the money list. He feels reasonably good about his chances because he has a $51,533 lead over Billy Mayfair at No. 125.

''It's probably going to be difficult for Tour school players to get in events early in the year,'' Maggert said, looking ahead to 2013. ''Guys will play a lot of tournaments because of the shorter season. It's good to be fully exempt. The top 125 on the money list is probably a bigger deal than in the past.''

The top 150 used to be significant. Even if a player wasn't fully exempt, he could count on playing about 15 to 18 tournaments a year.

Not anymore.

''It's not like 125 is really good status and 126 to 150 is pretty good,'' David Mathis said after wrapping up his Tour card a few weeks ago. ''Now it's like 125 is awesome, and 126 to 150 is terrible. That's kind of how the players view it.''

Kevin Chappell began the Fall Series by getting engaged. It's going to be easier to plan a wedding knowing that he's fully exempt next year, but the Californian has work left. Chappell is at No. 123, and only $7,318 separates him from Gary Christian at No. 127. Even finishing last at Disney pays more than that, so it starts with making the cut.

''If you finish 126th and don't go to Tour school, you're 50 people behind the guy that's 125th on the money list,'' Maggert said. ''You've put 50 guys ahead of you fighting for spots to get into a tournament. And if you don't get any starts until two or three months into the season, with a short season, you're pretty far behind.''

A year ago, Roland Thatcher missed the cut at Disney and lost his card by $1,695. Thatcher played out of the Nos. 126-150 category this year and got into 20 events, a number that figures to shrink next year. D.J. Trahan finished 125th on the money list and played 26 times.

Disney bills itself as the ''happiest place on earth.'' There were plenty of long faces on the practice green, which was quiet even for a Tuesday.

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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 three runner-up finishes 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.

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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.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''