Notes: Woods keeps his December tournament

By Doug FergusonJuly 2, 2013, 10:55 pm

The World Challenge that Tiger Woods has hosted every holiday season since 1999 means so much to him that he spent what was believed to be about $4 million of his own money to help cover operating costs in a year it did not have a full title sponsor.

The future of the event is no longer in doubt. The World Challenge is back on the schedule this year.

''There wasn't a doubt whether we could stage it. The question was whether we could get the necessary corporate support,'' said Greg McLaughlin, the president of the Tiger Woods Foundation who also runs his tournaments. ''We're happy that we have a lot of support for the event that we've been able to generate the last few months.''

The tournament is scheduled for Dec. 5-8 at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where it has been since 2001.Graeme McDowell is the defending champion.

McLaughlin said he was not ready to announce the corporate support. Since it began, the World Challenge has raised more than $25 million for college-access programs through the Tiger WoodsLearning Center in Anaheim, Calif., and the Earl Woods Scholarship program.

One of the questions about the World Challenge was how it would fit in when the PGA Tour goes to a wraparound season in October. There will be six tournaments that count toward the FedEx Cup in the fall, with the last official event in 2013 in Mexico on Nov. 17. The World Challenge would follow a two-week break, and then the 2014 portion of the schedule begins three weeks later in Kapalua.

The World Challenge only offers world ranking points, not to mention a healthy holiday bonus. Even with a reduced purse without a title sponsor, McDowell made $1 million and last place in the 18-man field paid $120,000.

McLaughlin believes the appeal is the reduced field and low-key atmosphere. Along with the tournament host, the World Challenge typically attracts Steve StrickerBubba WatsonHunter Mahan, Ian PoulterDustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler. And with theEuropean Tour ending the same week as the PGA Tour, there's a chance of getting additional players before they take their long winter's nap.

''This is our 15th year, and it's very important to Tiger,''McLaughlin said. ''For our foundation, it's the first event we ever did. It would be hard to ever imagine not doing the event. I've had so many people – players, media – stop me throughout the year and say, 'Are you doing the event again?'''

The World Challenge is one of three tournaments this year that benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation. The others are the AT&T National, which has one more year on its contract, and theDeutsche Bank Championship outside Boston. The foundation has taken over operations of that event from IMG.


MAJOR SPIETH: Jordan Spieth is in position where he no longer has to worry about his spot on the leaderboard costing him money. The 19-year-old from Texas already has gone over $1.1 million for the year, meaning he has locked up his PGA Tour card for the 2013-14 season. The only way he can become a full member before October is to win a tournament, which is the only way to get into the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Turns out money still matters if he wants to play in the PGA Championship.

The top 70 in ''PGA Points'' make it to the final major of the year. Points are based on PGA Tour earnings from the Bridgestone Invitational last year through the Canadian Open, which is played July 25-28. Spieth has exemptions into three of the next four tournaments through Canada.

The PGA of America makes no distinction on its points list who is a member. It's strictly money. And with his sixth-place finish last week worth $234,000, Spieth moved up to No. 77 in the standings. Even if he doesn't crack the top 70, the PGA Championship uses the points list to fill out its 156-man field. Last year, seven additional players got into the field off the points list.

The PGA Championship could always offer him an invitation. For a teenager who started the year without any status on any tour, Spieth already has five top-10 finishes on tour and would be equivalent of No. 55 on the PGA Tour money list. That might be more worthy than an international player who sneaks in through top 100 in the world ranking.


FALDO SERIES: Nick Faldo's junior golf program is coming to America.

The Greenbrier announced Tuesday that it will host the Faldo Series Grand Final in October. The Faldo Series hosts more than 7,000 young players (ages 12 to 21) at 40 tournaments in 31 countries throughout Europe, Asia and South America. Among players who have come through his program are Rory McIlroy and Yani Tseng, both formerly No. 1 in the world on the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour.

''The Faldo Series is an incredibly impressive effort,'' Greenbrier owner Jim Justice said.

The Greenbrier also is creating the ''Faldo Golf Center,'' which will feature instruction based on the six-time major champion's teaching theory called ''A Swing for Life.''

Faldo also will start taking students next year at the Faldo Series Academy in Casa Grande, Ariz., his first residential academy for golf and education in America.


DRIVE FOR SHOW: Michael Bembenick received a lot of attention for the 103 he posted in the second round of a Web.com Tour event. Voted the top assistant pro in Indiana last year, he was awarded a spot through the PGA section and had been working too much in the shop in Indianapolis to properly prepare for a tournament.

That wasn't the worst score in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event.

In the last PGA Tour Latin America event before October, organizers gave a spot to Maurice Allen for the Dominican Republic Open that ended June 1. Allen is a long drive specialist, whose swing speed has been recorded at 161 mph.

He opened with 100, and then returned the next day and shot 115.

Allen missed the cut by 67 shots. Over 36 holes, he made one birdie and six pars. His scorecard featured two 10s, an 11 and a 13.


DIVOTS: When he won the Travelers Championship for his first PGA Tour title, Ken Duke pledged $25,000 at the awards ceremony to support the tournament's charities. He then went to the media center for interviews, signed flags and then finally got to his car where he wrote a check before leaving. ... Jason Day is the only player in the top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings who has not won this year. ... The PGA of America has established a New York office which will be led by Kevin Ring, the chief marketing officer. The PGA was founded in 1916 in New York. ... With five top 10s this year, Graham DeLaet has gone from No. 177 to No. 66 in the world ranking, and is up to No. 14 in the Presidents Cup standings.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Stewart Cink finished alone in fifth at the AT&T National, his highest finish in stroke play on the PGA Tour since he won the British Open in 2009.


FINAL WORD: ''I tried it once, but I couldn't see the grip when I did it.'' – Roger Maltbie on using a belly putter.

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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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.