Ugly finishes highlight Tiger's ability to close

By Doug FergusonJune 4, 2014, 2:20 am

DUBLIN, Ohio – It was hard to read the eyes of Jack Nicklaus behind his sunglasses, and maybe that was a good thing. He was in his customary spot behind the 18th green at Muirfield Village as he waited to see who would win the Memorial.

Or who would do the best job of not losing.

It's rare to get such beautiful weather over four days at the Memorial. An ugly finish? That has become all too common this year.

The Sunday follies of so many top players - most of them major champions - stand out even more in the absence of Tiger Woods, who is recovering from back surgery that has kept him away from golf for the last three months.

Without Woods around, all anyone has are memories, particularly around a place like Muirfield Village. He won his fifth Memorial title two years ago with three birdies on the last four holes. One year he was in a battle with Paul Azinger, tied for the lead early in the final round. Woods ended up winning by seven.

Over the last four months, a list that includes major champions Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson has shown that it's either hard to win on the PGA Tour or that Woods was really, really good at it.

Probably a little of both.

''We've seen a lot of things happen,'' Scott said on the eve of the final round, perhaps a pep talk that his three-shot deficit to Watson going into Sunday was not that large. ''It's not a lot when we've seen a lot of leads go the wrong way recently.''

That was rare with Woods, of course.

He went nearly 15 years before losing a lead greater than two shots going into the final round. Graeme McDowell rallied from four behind to beat Woods in the Chevron World Challenge at the end of 2010.

His conversion rate on the PGA Tour with at least a share of the 54-hole lead is 93 percent. Even though Woods hasn't sustained a full season of great play in five years, his reputation as golf's greatest closer in history takes on a new appreciation in times like this.

Consider the final round at the Memorial.

Watson failed to hold an outright lead for the second time this year because of mistakes on the back nine. He bogeyed two of the last three holes in Phoenix. At the Memorial, it was a pair of tee shots that did him in, particularly that monster drive over the trees, off the property and into a neighborhood.

Scott was in position for his second straight PGA Tour win. He was tied for the lead until he put his tee shot in the water on the 12th (double bogey), took two shots to get out of a bunker on the 14th (bogey), and then had some bad luck when his wedge to the par-5 15th hit the flag and bounced back toward the fairway (bogey).

The winner was Hideki Matsuyama, and here's how he got it done. He hit his tee shot into the water on the 16th for double bogey to lose a two-shot lead. From the 17th fairway, he went over the green and made bogey to fall out of the lead. And then he pushed his tee shot toward the big tree right of the 18th fairway, lightly slammed his driver to the turf (the head broke off), only to find the ball had hit the tree and bounced back to the fairway.

From there, he smashed 7-iron at the flag and made birdie to get into a playoff.

He beat Kevin Na, who hooked his drive into the water and still had 10 feet left for bogey when Matsuyama made the winning putt.

These things happen in golf. They just seem to be happening more than usual this year.

McIlroy had a two-shot lead at the Honda Classic until hitting it fat out of a bunker and into the water for double bogey on the 16th hole, and making bogey from a bunker on the 17th hole. He hit as good a shot that has been struck all year on the 18th, a 5-wood over the water to 12 feet, only to miss the eagle putt and then lose in a four-man playoff. The playoff hole was a par 5. Russell Henley was the only player to make birdie.

Scott, in his first chance to reach No. 1, had a seven-shot lead going into the weekend at Bay Hill. He closed with a 76 and finished two shots behind Matt Every. Matt Kuchar blew two good chances in Texas with mistakes rarely seen from him, and he might have blown another chance to win except for holing out from a bunker on the 18th at Hilton Head. Phil Mickelson was right there at Quail Hollow until missing four putts from the 4-foot range and closing with a 76.

The lesson is it's not easy to win on the PGA Tour. The reminder is Woods made it look that way.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.