Notes: Scott teams with Williams; Kaymer or Nowitzki?

By Doug FergusonJune 13, 2011, 11:17 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Adam Scott was getting more attention than usual Monday at the U.S. Open, and not only because he is coming off a runner-up finish in his most recent major at The Masters.

It was because of the guy carrying his clubs.

Steve Williams, the caddie for Tiger Woods since March 1999 who has been on the bag for a record 13 majors, agreed to work for the 30-year-old Australian. Despite speculation, Williams is temporarily filling in. Woods is out of the U.S. Open with injuries to his left leg, and Scott is in the process of finding a new caddie.

Asked if this could be a long-term relationship, Scott replied, “No. He is Tiger’s guy and that’s how it is.”

Williams also will be at the AT&T National in two weeks outside Philadelphia, working either for Scott or Woods if his regular boss can return to golf by then. But if it was strange to see Williams tending to Scott, it was slightly odd for the Kiwi caddie, too.

“I haven’t caddied for another player since I started with Tiger,” Williams said.

Before that, the last player he caddied for was Raymond Floyd.

Scott said he lucked into having Williams on the bag. He wasn’t sure he would be available until last week, when Woods announced he was not fit enough to play at Congressional.

Scott and Williams have known each other for years, dating to when Scott first turned pro and worked with Butch Harmon, when Woods also was working with Harmon. Ten years ago, when Scott was between caddies, it was Steve Williams who suggested he take his younger brother, Phil Williams, to work a few tournaments in Australia.

“He’s been a good friend to me, a bit of a confidant in my career,” Scott said. “I thought it would be worth a call seeing as I’m between guys at the moment. I’m glad he hopped on a plane and came over – got to make the most of him.”

Scott said Williams has seen enough of him in practice rounds and competition over the years to know his game. He doesn’t expect any difficulties making adjustments.

The Australian tried to keep this all in perspective, especially when asked how much he relies on a caddie, such as reading putts.

“Look, I generally try to go play my game,” Scott said. “But if they pay attention the whole day and if I do have a question, they know what to do. That’s what a good caddie is all about. There’s a reason why I’m here. It’s because I know how to play. If I don’t trust myself or my instincts, a good caddie knows when to step in and say the right thing.”

KAYMER AND DIRK: In the last 10 months, Martin Kaymer won his first major at the PGA Championship and spent eight weeks at No. 1 in the world ranking. So who’s the biggest star in his native Germany?

At the moment, that would be Dirk Nowitzki of the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

“People would know his name better than my name,” Kaymer said Monday. “If you asked 100 people in the street who is Dirk Nowitzki and who is Martin Kaymer, they would know him better than me. But I’m working on it.”

Kaymer said the interest in basketball picked up in recent weeks in Germany because of Nowitzki leading the Mavericks toward a title.

“Unfortunately, I never met him,” he said. “But that would be one of my goals next year, or maybe even this year, to go to a game of the Dallas Mavericks to see that. Obviously, basketball is not very big in Germany, but in America he is a superstar and a big role model, one of the best NBA players they have.

“For me, he’s a big role model.”

VENTURI RETURNS: In the most famous moment at Congressional, Ken Venturi stumbled through stifling heat for a 36-hole Sunday and ignored a doctor’s suggestion he withdraw to keep from dying of heat exhaustion. Venturi shot 66-70 to turn a six-shot deficit into a four-shot victory in the 1964 U.S. Open.

So how do you follow up a moment like that? If you’re Venturi, you don’t.

He revealed Monday he has not played Congressional since he walked off he course that day in June, so delirious from the heat that he could barely read the numbers on the scorecard he had to sign.

Venturi said he would give playing tips on the course when the Kemper Open was played at Congressional, but never played a full round.

“But I’ve walked it and I can reminisce with it,” Venturi said. “We did something last May and we went every hole and how it changed and what it does and everything.”

Why did he never play another round there?

“I guess after you make a hole-in-one, you shouldn’t take a mulligan,” he said. “That’s all I can say on that one.”

To commemorate his only major, Venturi donated the clubs he used to be displayed in a trophy case inside the locker room at Congressional. Included in the showcase are two letters he received, from former President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Bobby Jones.

“I’ve been offered a lot of money for certain things,” Venturi said. “What would it be if I sold those? And I thought that someday they’ve got to go somewhere. And I’m glad I have the choice where it goes, and what better place than at Congressional? I will accept all the awards that you’d like to give me. And after I die, you can keep your awards, I don’t want them anymore.”

BIG THREE: For the second time in three years, the U.S. Open has put the top three players in the world ranking in the same group.

In golf, that’s nothing new.

Martin Kaymer was No. 2 in the world when he played with No. 1 Lee Westwood and No. 3 Tiger Woods in the first two rounds of the Dubai Desert Classic. And the top three players were grouped together for the opening two rounds at Doral this year, which at the time was Kaymer, Westwood and Luke Donald.

Those are the top three still, only a slightly different order: Donald, Westwood and Kaymer.

“At the end of the day, you’re still thinking about tournaments,” Kaymer said. “It’s not about world rankings.”

When the U.S. Open first used the ranking, it was Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott at Nos. 1-2-3 in the world for Torrey Pines. So much has changed since then.

Mickelson now is No. 5, followed by Woods at No. 15 and Scott at No. 21. And three years ago at Torrey Pines, Donald was No. 17, Westwood was No. 20 and Kaymer was No. 40.

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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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.