McDowell shoots 67 for two-shot lead at HSBC

By Doug FergusonNovember 6, 2014, 8:18 am

SHANGHAI - Graeme McDowell typically looks at the leaderboard more often at the start of a tournament. It gives him a sense of how the course is playing and what score he might need to contend at the finish.

There was no need to look Thursday in the HSBC Champions.

McDowell noticed ankle-deep rough at Sheshan International and fairways not as wide as usual. He felt firm greens and saw trees jostling in stiff wind. More than anything, he kept looking at all the birdies that filled his scorecard.

McDowell already had seven birdies when he finished his 12th hole, and a couple of loose mistakes at the end of the opening round didn't diminish his satisfaction. He opened with a 5-under 67 on a tough day in Shanghai to build a two-shot lead.

''No, I didn't need a leaderboard to let me know that 7 under through 12 is fairly strong,'' McDowell said. ''Gauging what's a good score can be a good thing maybe when you're not going well. But it might not be a great thing if you're taking it deep and the rest of them are 3 under par and you're thinking, 'Whoa, this is a very good score.'''

That's not what slowed him. Trouble was lurking everywhere, and not even McDowell was immune.

Rickie Fowler also started quickly with three birdies in his opening five holes, only to spend the rest of the round trading birdies with bogeys. He wound up with a 69, along with U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, Brandt Snedeker, Chris Kirk, Tim Clark and Tommy Fleetwood.

Strong wind added to the demanding conditions.

Jordan Spieth began his new PGA Tour season with two straight bogeys and had to save par with a long bunker shot on his third hole. He scratched his way back and wound up in a large group at 70 that featured Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson, who made bogey from the bunker on his final hole.

It didn't take much for players to stumble. FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel made two double bogeys, only one birdie and shot an 80.

''This is a top event - some of the best players in the world, probably the best field you're going to get in Asia, and you don't want it to be a pushover,'' Fowler said. ''You want a good, solid test. And it's showing that.''

Only 27 players in the 78-man field broke par, compared with 37 players under par on the first day last year when the winning score was 24-under 264. McDowell said he wouldn't be surprised to see something around 10 or 12 under win, even if the wind lets up.

 


WGC-HSBC Champions: Articles, videos and photos


McDowell is the only player this year to finish in the top 10 at all the World Golf Championships, and while he hasn't captured a WGC title, Sheshan International would seem to favor him more than the others. Thursday was his 10th consecutive round in the 60s on this course.

''A big key to this golf course is driving the ball well. I drove it very well today,'' McDowell said.

The exception was on the 603-yard eighth hole, playing with the wind. McDowell hit a 3-wood to avoid the bunker on the right side of the fairway, and he put it in the deep grass for the first time all day. He could only manage an 8-iron out of the rough and still had 215 yards over the creek fronting the green. McDowell pulled that left of the green and failed to get up and down.

No complaints. He did not forget the 20-foot birdie putt he made on No. 14, or the 45-foot putt he holed across the green at the 17th, or the 25-foot birdie on No. 3. And then there was his drive on the 288-yard 16th, a perfect yardage to go with a perfect swing that gave him a two-putt from 15 feet for birdie.

''There were some tricky holes on the front nine,'' McDowell said. ''I made a couple of putts I should have in the first 12 holes, and then I made a couple of bogeys that I shouldn't have coming in. All in all, I think 5 under was a fair representation of my round.''

DIVOTS: Graham DeLaet withdrew after a 45 for nine holes because of a neck injury. The Canadian also pulled out in Malaysia last week with a sore neck. ... Kevin Stadler withdrew after two holes with a wrist injury. ... Jason Dufner had one moment when his body was in China and his head was still in Malaysia. Players were allowed to lift, clean and place their balls last week in soggy Malaysia. Dufner instinctively picked up his ball in the 18th fairway, a one-shot penalty. He had a 72. ''Just one of those things,'' Dufner said with a shrug.

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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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.”