Scott heads into hibernation after Sony Open

By Doug FergusonJanuary 14, 2014, 1:31 am

HONOLULU – As badly as Adam Scott needs to get away from golf, he was in no rush to leave paradise.

Not long after the Masters champion wrapped up his final round at the Sony Open just 10 minutes away from the shores of Waikiki Beach, he was headed to the Big Island with surf champion Kelly Slater and his crew to take in some surf, sun and maybe even a little golf.

No doubt, Scott is on a wave he wishes could last the rest of his career.

But it's time to take a break, and he can feel it. Whether he goes home to Australia or to the Bahamas, the switch will be turned off. He won't return to competition for six weeks at the Honda Classic.

''There's heaps of work to do, but there's got to be a break somewhere,'' Scott said. ''I could keep playing. I feel like I'm playing well. But you can't continue to perform at the level you want if you play all the time. I'm forcing myself to take a break, and I can see it's coming. My brain didn't completely switch on these two weeks.''

The rest of his game appeared to be in order.

A pair of par 5s on two islands kept him from serious contention. At the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, it was a long iron he smothered into a hazard on the 15th hole in the third round that turned a sure birdie into a bogey. At the Sony Open, he had 155 yards for his second shot to the par-5 ninth in the third round and made par. Both killed his momentum.

He still had a pair of top 10s in Hawaii.

The six-week break is the longest he has had away from competition since the start of last year. That worked out just fine. Scott had the moment of a lifetime when he won the Masters for his first major, even more meaningful because it was the first green jacket for an Australian. He won a FedEx Cup playoff event. Finally going home for a celebration, he gave the Aussies more reason to cheer when he won twice, was runner-up and won the World Cup team title with Jason Day.

Try finding an encore for that.

''It might be some of the best golf I've ever played over the 12 months,'' Scott said. ''To walk away and trust it will be there when I come back ... I think I've done enough work over the last year or two to leave it for a few weeks.''

The break will last only a few weeks and will include plenty of golf, except that he won't care. Scott's friends love to play golf when he's around, and that's what he'll do.

Scott said he will switch back on about three or four weeks before the Honda Classic.

He doesn't play a lot of tournament golf, which is not to suggest he's idle. The hard work takes place in the Bahamas. Scott is all about the big picture now. Yes, that means the majors. More than that, it's all about the process.

One of the most amazing chapters in his career is how he bounced back from a collapse at Royal Lytham & St. Annes – a four-shot lead with four holes to play in the 2012 British Open, only to make four straight bogeys and lose to Ernie Els. Scott might have been the only one who saw that day as a breakthrough. He played the best golf for 68 holes. He knew, finally, he had the game to win a major.

And then he did.

What's interesting is to hear him say his confidence was just as high toward the end of 2012 (the year he blew a major) as it was at the end of 2013 (the year he became a major champion).

''Lytham was that turning point where the confidence grew from the experience and performance in a major, and I think it's been pretty much the same ever since,'' he said. ''It all accumulates a bit. But that was a real spike in confidence in 2012.''

It was watching a replay of the Masters that reminded him of the real source of satisfaction.

Scott first watched highlights about 10 days after the Masters. He mostly saw the 20-foot putt he made on the 18th green, and the 10-footer on the second playoff hole that made him a major champion.

''What I experienced looking back is that elation of achievement is so short-lived,'' he said. ''But it's longer if you enjoy the whole process. That moment of sheer joy is very short. It didn't carry on for days and days. It's numbed by formalities and all those other things. You've got to enjoy getting there as much as what happened. It was only a few hours, and then Hilton Head started, and there's another tournament. The Masters is in the past and you're looking forward.

''It's incredible that a lifelong dream can be achieved, and it's so short.''

The encore doesn't start at the Honda Classic or the other two events he plays in the Florida swing, but when he gets back to the Bahamas and switches back on.

''You know when you're ready to get back into it because you're willing to put in the hours, and it's not effort,'' he said.

As for the performance? Can he do anything to top the last 12 months, especially that one glorious Sunday in April?

Probably not. And that's OK with him.

''It will be the biggest of my career,'' Scott said. ''I don't know how anything could surpass that as a big moment. But it will be a lot of fun to try. Maybe winning the Slam, all four in a career. Hopefully, it's not all downhill.''

Right now, it's as open as the Pacific horizon.

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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.