Notes: All the Presidents Cup men almost finalized; Belly blunder

By Doug FergusonSeptember 6, 2011, 8:45 pm

NORTON, Mass. – Brandt Snedeker has made the biggest jump without winning in the FedEx Cup playoffs, going from No. 18 to No. 5 with a tie for third at The Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship. He also has made a swift climb in the U.S. standings for the Presidents Cup, and now is only the equivalent of $28,016 behind David Toms at No. 10.

There was some movement in Boston, but not enough to clarify everything. The top 10 players earn spots on the U.S. team before Fred Couples doles out his captain’s pick (one already goes to Tiger Woods).

Jim Furyk finished sixth, moving him up to No. 9 – but he is only $15,809 ahead of Toms, and $43,825 ahead of Snedeker (each dollar counts two points in the standings). Toms is $28,016 ahead of Snedeker –  that’s how much 44th place earns at the BMW Championship, which is the last qualifying event.

Charles Howell III at No. 23 is as low as anyone on the list with a mathematical chance of qualifying.

Rickie Fowler might have hurt his chances the most. He started the final round only three shots out of the lead, but closed with a 77 and tied for 52nd, leaving behind big points. He now is $700,287 behind the 10th spot and would have to finish alone in second or win at the BMW Championship to assure playing his way onto the team.


COMPANY MEN: Acushnet chief Wally Uihlein believes the relationship between manufacturers and ruling bodies is “180 degrees improved” from where it was 20 years ago.

That doesn’t mean the two sides do not – nor should no –  disagree on technology issues.

“I really think we need to let the ruling bodies define the issues and the manufacturers, in the spirit of those ruled upon, need to continue to provide the tension, which ensures the dialogue is open and progressive,” Uihlein said.

He spoke last week at the Bay Club, where he introduced Acushnet’s new ownership, a Korean consortium called Alexandria Holdings. The new Acushnet chairman is Gene Yoon, who said that all operations at Acushnet’s headquarters of Fairhaven, Mass., will stay the same.

The debate between tradition and technology has been around more than a century, and that is not likely to change. Uihlein said he can make an argument “for or against bifurcation” – different equipment rules for pros and amateurs – although that should not be an agenda that any manufacturer could promote.

“We still have a commercial genesis to that thought process,” he said. “We can’t argue that we have the best interest in the game. We can make that argument, but the fact is we represent the commercial landscape. And so, it doesn’t matter how noble our argument is. It’s still going to be seen as to some degree commercially prejudiced.”

Uihlein said it’s up to the R&A and the USGA to not only set the rules, but to assume greater responsibility in the game’s future.

“If not, who does?” he said. “There’s always going to be that question of whose game is it, and who’s responsible for its perpetuation and sustenance.”


BELLY BLUNDER: Brandt Jobe has been so frustrated with his putting over the last few months that he stopped having fun. It reached a point at the Deutsche Bank Championship that he decided to use a belly putter in the third round.

This is nothing new for Jobe, who briefly used a belly putter some five years ago. But it had been so long that he didn’t want to make a full commitment, so he kept two putters in the bag for the third round –  his belly putter and the conventional model.

“I’ve been hitting it real good and putting so bad that the last month hasn’t been fun,” Jobe said. “It was getting to the end of the year and I had nothing to lose, but I didn’t want to shoot 80 if it didn’t go well.”

With an extra putter, something had to give to stay at the 14-club limit, so he removed his 4-iron.

Bad move.

“I needed a 4-iron four times today,” Jobe said, laughing at himself.

He figured he would use his hybrid off a couple of tees, and he was counting on the tee at par-3 11th being a 3-iron. But the wind shifted and Jobe was stuck. He used 3-iron on the par-3 eight and went long, and 5-iron on the 11th and came up short.

Even more comical was the belly putter, and his caddie’s reaction.

On the first three holes, Jobe missed a birdie putt from about 15 feet, a par putt from 6 feet and he three-putted his third hole. He drove the green at No. 4, and his caddie handed him the short putter.

“I said, `What are you doing? No, we’re going to stick it out,”’ Jobe said. “And we made eagle.”


WORLD CUP: The Presidents Cup could feature about 18 of the top 50 players in the world ranking on Nov. 17-20 in Melbourne.

The World Cup is the following week in China, and it could have just as many.

An event that seemed to be losing top players –  particularly from America –  is attracting one of its strongest fields. Six of the two-man teams have both players currently in the top 50 in the world, while Northern Ireland (Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell) and South Africa (Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen) have two major champions.

The United States offers its strongest team in nearly 10 years by sending Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland. The defending champion from 2009 is Italy with Francesco and Edoardo Molinari, while England again puts up a strong tandem of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.

Then there’s Denmark, with Anders Hansen and Thomas Bjorn both inside the top 30.

Five players from Australia passed on the opportunity to play until Richard Green accepted a spot. Then again, the World Cup is the same week as the Australian PGA Championship, and comes right in the heart of the Australasian Tour schedule.


DIVOTS: Starting in 2014, the British Open will move away from holding final local qualifying at links courses near where the Open is held that year. Instead, the four qualifiers will be held at four courses each year in three parts of England (Hillside, Woburn and Royal Cinque Ports) and Scotland (Glasgow-Gailes). The R&A said the change is to make it more convenient for players to qualify. … Patrick Cantlay has won the Mark H McCormack Medal as the No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking at the end of the amateur summer season. He secured that spot with his runner-up finish in the U.S. Amateur. Cantlay had been No. 1 for the previous 13 weeks. Cantlay will receive his award this week at the Walker Cup in Scotland. … The LPGA has launched an official Korean version of its website that will feature live scoring, player information and enhanced blogs with special Korean content. The LPGA already has a website geared toward the Japanese audience.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Ten players on the PGA Tour already have earned more than $2 million this year without winning a tournament.


FINAL WORD: “The season is so condensed that it’s a weird feeling. It’s early September and it feels like October.” –  Brandt Jobe, competing in his first FedEx Cup playoffs.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.