Reed bests Walker in playoff to win Hyundai

By Doug FergusonJanuary 13, 2015, 2:06 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii - Four shots behind with four holes to play, Patrick Reed made two birdies and holed out from 80 yards for an eagle Monday, and then closed out his unlikely rally by making an 18-foot birdie putt to beat Jimmy Walker in a playoff at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

The PGA Tour started a new year without a host of big names, but got a compelling finish at Kapalua.

Reed charged back into the picture with his eagle on the 16th hole, a shot that spun back toward the hole and hit the pin before dropping. After three-putting from 100 feet just off the green for bogey on the 17th, he two-putted from 80 feet for birdie on the par-5 closing hole for a 6-under 67.

Then it was up to Walker, trying to become the fifth player to win both PGA Tour events in Hawaii.


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For the second straight day, Walker didn't make birdie after the 10th hole, and this time it cost him. The only big mistake in regulation was trying to play it safe off the short par-4 14th and hitting 4-iron into a bunker. He went over the green and made bogey, his first bogey in 33 holes.

Walker missed birdie putts inside 10 feet on the next two holes. He then wasted a good shot at birdie on the 18th when his chip came out soft and he was short on an 18-foot birdie putt. He shot 69 and joined Reed at 21-under 271.

In the playoff, Walker again had the advantage when Reed couldn't come close to reaching the green. Walker, however, hit it well right into the rough, and this time the chip came out hot and went over the green. He chipped to 6 feet and never had to putt.

Reed hit wedge into 18 feet and holed the putt, giving the 24-year-old his fourth PGA Tour victory and second in a playoff.

''It was there for me to win,'' Walker said. ''It was a bummer I didn't close the door on it.''

It was Reed's first victory since the World Golf Championship at Doral, where he caused a stir by saying he was among the top five players in the world. This should move him to a career-best No. 14 in the world, though he was more interested in what he could do get better.

Four wins before turning 25 puts him in elite company.

Jason Day became the second player on Monday to tie the Plantation Course record with a 62 - Chris Kirk shot 62 earlier in the day as the first player out. Day posted at 20-under 272, though that score never looked as though it would be enough. Russell Henley closed with five straight birdies for a 67 to join Day at 272.

They were joined by Hideki Matsuyama, tied with Walker at the start of the final round. The 22-year-old from Japan also felt as though he lost a good chance to win. He missed birdie chances on the last four holes and missed them all to shoot 70.

Walker and Matsuyama were locked in a spirited duel over the front nine until Walker landed what appeared to be a knockout punch. He holed a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 8, hit a great fairway metal from a downhill lie onto the green at the par-5 ninth for a two-putt birdie, and then made a 10-foot putt at the 10th for his third straight birdie.

That gave him a three-shot lead, and he kept that margin with six holes to play.

It all changed so quickly.

Walker ended his streak of 32 holes without a bogey when he tried to play conservatively off the tee at the 14th and missed a short par putt. In the group ahead of him, Reed birdied the par-5 15th and suddenly took a share of the lead by holing a wedge from 80 yards out for eagle on the 16th hole.

Just like that, it was a sprint to the finish.

Reed looked as if he had wasted his big surge when he three-putted for bogey from just off the green 100 feet away, lipping out his 4-foot par attempt. But he reached the front of the 18th in two shots for a two-putt birdie.

It gave him a chance, and that was all Reed needed.

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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 a trip to Augusta.

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

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is likely 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.

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.