Notes: Nine spots available for British at Travelers

By Doug FergusonJune 24, 2015, 3:25 pm

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Kevin Kisner had to wait until a week before the U.S. Open to find out for certain that he had a spot in the field at Chambers Bay.

He'll have a little more time to prepare for the next major.

As many as nine spots for the British Open are available this week at the Travelers Championship.

Kisner is not playing, though that shouldn't matter. The leading five players – not already exempt – from the top 20 in the FedEx Cup will be part of the field at St. Andrews next month.

Kisner already has playoff losses at Hilton Head and The Players Championship. His tie for 12th at Chambers Bay moved him up to No. 14 in the FedEx Cup, making him virtually a lock for the British Open.

Charley Hoffman (No. 6) and Robert Streb (No. 11) also are set to be exempt. Both won PGA Tour events in the fall. Steve Bowditch, who won the AT&T Byron Nelson, is at No. 18. He essentially needs to make sure he stays in the top 20 after the Travelers to be exempt.

Everyone else from the top 20 already is in the British Open. Daniel Berger, the Tour rookie who lost in a playoff at the Honda Classic, is at No. 27 and would need a solo third place to get into the top 20. But then, third place would get him to St. Andrews, anyway.

The leading four players who finish in the top 12 at the TPC River Highlands also are exempt. The Travelers is the first of three PGA Tour events where top finishers can get into St. Andrews. There are four spots available at The Greenbrier Classic, and one spot at the John Deere Classic.


AUSSIE OMEN: Anyone looking to win a major might want to consider playing the Australian Open this year.

Rory McIlroy was going through a slump in 2013 after going through a management change. He finally won at the end of the year in the Australian Open when he birdied the last hole to beat Adam Scott.

The next year, he won back-to-back majors at the British Open and PGA Championship.

Jordan Spieth was winless on the PGA Tour in 2014 until he found his form late, starting with a 63 in the final round to win the Australian Open.

He has won the past two majors.


MAJOR SHARING: Jack Nicklaus once pointed out that rivalries in golf don't always require going head-to-head as much as trading off victories in the majors. Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer had that 18-hole playoff at Oakmont that Nicklaus won in the 1962 U.S. Open, but they rarely battled each other on the back nine.

That's been the case with Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, though it's very early. Spieth is just 21.

They were paired together for the opening two rounds of the 2013 Masters (Spieth tied for second) and the 2014 British Open (McIlroy won). They have played in the same event only five times this year, and only 13 times in the last year.

But they own all the majors – the last two for McIlroy in 2014, the first two for Spieth in 2015.

The last time four consecutive majors were split by two players was in 1972. Lee Trevino won the U.S. Open and British Open at the end of 1971 (the PGA Championship was in February that year), while Nicklaus won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1972.

That's happened only three other times since the PGA Championship began in 1916:

- Bobby Jones won the British Open and U.S. Open in 1930, and Tommy Armour won the PGA Championship and the 1931 British Open (the first major of the year).

- Walter Hagen won the PGA Championship in 1925, Jones won the British Open and U.S. Open in 1926, and Hagen added the bookend with another PGA title in '26.

- Hagen won the 1921 PGA and the 1922 British Open, followed by Gene Sarazen winning the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.


YOUTH IS SERVED: For the first time in 90 years, five straight majors have been won by players in their 20s – Jordan Spieth (21) in the U.S. Open and Masters, Rory McIlroy (26) in the British Open and PGA Championship, and Martin Kaymer was 29 when he won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 last year.

The kids still have a way to go to catch up to a streak in 1920s.

Walter Hagen was 28 when he won the 1921 PGA Championship, the start of seven consecutive winners in their 20s (Hagen twice, Gene Sarazen three times, Bobby Jones and Arthur Havers).


DIVOTS: Ollie Schniederjans will play the British Open (he's exempt as the No. 1 amateur in the world last year) and then turn pro. He will try to play a number of PGA Tour events, and possibly some Web.com Tour events, and at least try to qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals (the new version of Q-school). ... The Australian PGA Championship will be counted as a European Tour event for next year. It will be played Dec. 3-6 at Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast. ... Martin Kaymer can go back to the PGA Grand Slam of Golf even if he doesn't win a major this year. Because Jordan Spieth has won the first two majors, the tournament goes to its alternate system. Kaymer gets in as the defending champion. If Spieth (or Kaymer) wins another major, a points list from the majors will be used.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods are the only players since World War II to win at least four times on the PGA Tour before turning 22. Woods had six wins and a major. Spieth has four wins and two majors.


FINAL WORD: ''You have to use your brain, which is a rare thing in modern golf and something we're not very good at, I don't think.'' - Geoff Ogilvy, on playing Chambers Bay in the U.S. Open.

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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.