McDowell leads big names through 54 at WGC-HSBC

By Doug FergusonNovember 8, 2014, 9:21 am

SHANGHAI – Graeme McDowell lost command of the HSBC Champions. At least he kept the lead.

McDowell rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole Saturday that stretched his lead to four shots. That was his final birdie on a cold, gray afternoon at Sheshan International. He finished with a 1-under 71 and saw his lead dwindle to a single shot over Hiroshi Iwata of Japan.

U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer and Masters champion Bubba Watson were two shots back.

''Let's be honest. Yes, I had a three-shot lead overnight and it's only one now,'' McDowell said. ''But I'll take this position any week that you offer it to me – a one-shot lead going into the last round on a golf course that I enjoy. Looking forward to the opportunity tomorrow.''

McDowell was at 11-under 205.

He will try to complete a wire-to-wire victory for his first World Golf Championship. If Saturday was any indication, it won't be easy. Not only did he lose ground on the back nine by making mostly pars, several players got back into the mix.

Rickie Fowler overcame a double bogey on No. 9 with a 32 on the back nine for a 69. He was three shots behind, along with Tim Clark (69). Ian Poulter wasn't at his best with the putter and had to settle for a 72, though he remained in the mix just four shots behind with Thorbjorn Olesen (69).


WGC-HSBC Champions: Articles, videos and photos


Iwata was a gate-crasher on a leaderboard top-heavy with major champions. McDowell had never heard of him until this week, and only saw him swing the club once in the group ahead. He referred to him as one of the ''great young players'' from Japan, unaware that he was 33 and in his 10th full season on the Japan Golf Tour.

He can't be faulted for that. Iwata has one career victory – the Fujisankei Classic – and that was only two months ago.

But he made six birdies on a day when the ball wasn't going anywhere, and neither were the players. It took some 5 1/2 hours to complete the round. Iwata rolled in a long birdie putt on the 18th hole for a 68 that put him in the final group.

''Maybe tomorrow coming up the last few holes, I might get a little bit nervous, but so far I'm calm,'' Iwata said. ''So I think I'm doing OK.''

Kaymer won the HSBC Champions three years ago by closing with a 63, and the German showed he was up to that kind of performance again. He made seven birdies against only one bogey for a 66 that put him in the last group with McDowell and Iwata.

Watson looked powerful as ever and might be leading if not for one troublesome patch at the start of the back nine. With a sand wedge, Watson came up woefully short and caught a plugged lie in the bunker. He blasted out some 40 feet away and three-putted for a double bogey. He missed a short par putt two holes later.

As usual, the final stretch at Sheshan International saved him.

Watson hit his approach to 2 feet on the tough 15th, hit wedge to 3 feet on the 16th for another birdie, and then gouged out a wedge from deep rough that awed the Chinese crowd when it descended from the gray sky and plopped down next to the cup for a final tap-in birdie and a 69.

''A couple three-putts today and a double bogey. That's sad,'' Watson said. ''But the birdies down the stretch really helped out.''

Not to be forgotten was his best shot of the day, a long iron over the creek that nearly went into the hole for an albatross 2 on the par-5 eighth hole. The ball settled just over 3 feet from the hole, except that Watson missed that and had to settle for a birdie.

McDowell had a long three-putt bogey on No. 8 and his lead was down to two shots. But on the 10th, it appeared order would be restored. McDowell rolled in the 30-foot birdie putt up the ridge as Watson was taking double bogey, and the lead suddenly was four shots.

That's as large as it got.

McDowell really only missed on a couple of shots. He faced 240 yards to a narrow opening to the green on the par-5 14th. Wanting to avoid the bunker just left of the green, he pulled it into deep rough and took away his chances of an easy up-and-down. He also hit a sand wedge some 25 feet beyond the cup on the short 16th, where Watson and Poulter birdied to close the gap.

''I felt maybe a tiny bit negative coming in,'' McDowell said. ''But when I went back and sort of thought through my round, you know, it was difficult. ... I wouldn't say I felt loose coming in, but I also knew it wasn't something I had to start protecting. I hit a lot of good putts today that didn't go in, and that's probably the main difference between shooting 1 under and 3 or 4 under today.''

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.