Watson out front at Doral; Woods 7 back

By Doug FergusonMarch 9, 2012, 11:29 pm

DORAL, Fla. — Bubba Watson and Justin Rose put on an amazing show of birdies in blustery conditions at Doral, making 17 between them while playing in the same group Friday at the Cadillac Championship.

Their playful fuel was decided by Watson’s eagle, giving him a 10-under 62 and a one-shot lead.

Watson belted a 3-iron that barely got over a palm tree, carried over the water into the wind and settled 6 feet away on the par-5 eighth for an eagle putt that gave him a one-shot lead over Rose.

Mark Wilson, the third in that group, shot a respectable 70 and was just along for the ride.

“They did everything right,” Wilson said. “It was some of the best golf I’ve seen collectively between them.”

Watson was at 12-under 132 and will get to play again in the final group Saturday with Rose, who had to settle for a 64.

“Maybe they’ve been cutting the hole a little bigger,” Rose said.

Despite the steady wind, there were plenty of low scores on the Blue Monster. The average score was 69.9, close to three strokes easier than the opening round. There were 12 scores in the 60s on Thursday, and 31 of them Friday.

Tiger Woods played bogey-free for a 67 and actually lost ground. He moved up the leaderboard, but is seven shots behind going into the weekend, with 14 players ahead of him.

“This is the highest score I could have shot today, for sure,” Woods said.

Rory McIlroy, in his first tournament as the new world No. 1, managed a 69 and fell 10 shots off the lead.

Perhaps most peculiar about Watson being atop the leaderboard at Doral is that he really doesn’t like the course. Without many trees except for the waving palms, he can’t figure out where he’s supposed to be hitting the ball. But he kept hitting it long, had short irons into the greens and made his share of putts. That works just about anywhere.

As always, there were a few shots that only Watson can see.

He was so far left of the sixth fairway, that a tree was blocking his path to the green. Watson had only 135 yards to the hole, but instead of playing a sand wedge, he hit 9-iron and aimed it some 20 yards right of the green, slicing it back into the left-to-right wind beyond the hole until the wind pushed it back on the descent. It landed 6 feet from the cup.

His caddie, Ted Scott, keeps notes in the yardage book of how Watson plays each hole in every round. Next to the 9-iron from 135 yards, he put in parentheses, “Wow.”

There was another “wow” inscription two holes later.

Watson was in the fairway on the par-5 eighth, but the best path to the green was around a palm tree near the ropes where the photographers were camped out.

“I took it right up the edge of that tree. There’s a little tree there and it actually nicked that limb a little bit,” Watson said. “I hit it as hard as I could, just a low, what everybody calls a stinger. Hit as hard as I could low and knew it wasn’t going to slice. So all I was protecting was the draw and it went dead straight and came off perfect. And the rest is history.”

He went from one shot behind to one shot ahead of Rose, who had nothing to apologize about his 64. Rose, who contended last week in the wind at the Honda Classic, ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn, the exception coming on the 18th.

Rose was among those caught up in the Bubba show.

“I don’t let it influence my game plan, the way I play the golf course, but definitely you keep one eye on him just out of interest,” Rose said. “He’s a fun guy to watch play golf. When he hits tee shots, there’s a bit of disbelief and stuff like that, or he curves one, starts one in the trees and there’s `Ooohing’ and `Aahhhing’ when it goes back into the fairways.

“No one knows what to expect and I think it’s fascinating to watch.”

Even with the tees moved slightly forward and slightly less wind, the par-4 18th still played difficult. There were five birdies, compared with only two birdies in the opening round.

Adam Scott had one of them, holing a 20-foot putt for a birdie-birdie finish that allowed him to recover from a double bogey on the eighth hole. He shot a 68 and was at 10-under 134, two shots out of the lead.

“Right where I want to be,” Scott said. “The guys shot some unbelievably good scores out there today, so I knew on that back nine as I was kind of falling a long way behind, I needed to step it up, and I was happy the putter really came through for me. Tomorrow, I’m just going to have to be really sharp, because there’s no doubt again there are going to be low scores out there.”

Peter Hanson, who reached the quarterfinals of the Match Play Championship, took another step toward trying to secure a PGA Tour card. He had a 65 and was alone in fourth in this World Golf Championship.

Thomas Bjorn has yet to make a bogey in 36 holes and had another 68. He was four shots behind, tied with PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who had a 67. The group at 7-under 137 included Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and former PGA champion Martin Kaymer.

“You’ll take that any week,” Bjorn said. “I’m not making a big number of birdies, obviously, but when you can keep big mistakes off your scorecard, that’s the key to this golf course. It’s very easy to make some big mistakes and it’s difficult to get it back.”

Phil Mickelson was 1 under after a 71.


Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

Getty Images

Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

Getty Images

McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

Getty Images

Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''