Woods co-leads PGA through 36 holes

By Doug FergusonAugust 11, 2012, 1:02 am

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – The major known as ''Glory's Last Shot'' turned into one last chance for Tiger Woods.

On the toughest scoring day in PGA Championship history, Woods made putts from one end of Kiawah Island to the other Friday for a 1-under 71 that gave him a share of the lead with Vijay Singh and Carl Pettersson going into the weekend.

''It was tough out there – wow,'' Woods said.

Wow, indeed.

In relentless wind that began at sunrise and whipped up the Atlantic waters with 30 mph gusts, par never looked better in this championship. There were more rounds in the 90s - two of them by club pros - than in the 60s. There were 41 players who failed to break 80, a list that included Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan.

Singh, a three-time major champion who hasn't won in nearly four years, scratched out five birdies in a remarkable round of 3-under 69. Only three other players managed to break par in the second round - Michael Hoey of Northern Ireland at 70, and Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ian Poulter at 71.

It's the second time this year that Woods has had a share of the lead in a major going into the weekend. He missed one chance at Olympic Club in the U.S. Open, when he stumbled to a 75-73 to tie for 21st. He was in the penultimate group at the British Open until a triple bogey on the sixth hole of the final round took him out of the mix.

One last major, one last shot.

''I've been in this position many times over my career,'' he said. ''Again, we're just at the halfway point. We have a long way to go.''

Six players were atop the leaderboard on this day of survival. Singh was the first to post at 4-under 140, and it didn't look as though anyone would be able to even match that as the wind never let up on The Ocean Course.

Pettersson stayed in the lead as long as he could until a few errant tee shots cost him at the end of his round and he had to settle for a 74. Woods, playing on the opposite side of the course, showed early on that he figured out something with his putter.

Along with birdie putts of 15 feet and 40 feet on the opening two holes, there was a collection of big par saves - from 20 feet on the third hole, a pair of 8-foot par putts a few holes later. There were even two short par putts that swirled 360 degrees around the cup and dropped.

The only disappointment was the way it ended. After hooking a tee shot that rattled around the corporate tents and allowed him a shot into the 18th, he ran his birdie putt about 6 feet by the hole and three-putted for bogey.

It cost him his first outright lead in a major in three years, but this was not a day to complain.

''It was fun, but it also was tough,'' Woods said. ''You were getting blown all over the place. It was just a very difficult day.''

Poulter was tied for the lead until a bogey on his last hole, though he showed again that he can thrive in windy, demanding conditions. The last time he was in serious contention at wind-swept Royal Birkdale in 2008, when he was runner-up to Padraig Harrington.

''The golf shots this golf course asks you to hit time and time and time and time again ... you really have to hit phenomenal golf shots,'' Poulter said. ''The room for error is so tiny, and when you get it wrong, you can be 15 feet below the level of the green in a bad lie with not much of a shot.''

The course played so difficult that the afternoon groups were delayed 20 minutes, and one player failed to finish - Joost Luiten of the Netherlands, who was 1 over for the tournament and will return Saturday morning to complete his round. The scoring average was 78.11. The previous record for the PGA Championship was 76.8 in the opening round at Llanerch Country Club in 1958.

Singh is 49 and without a PGA Tour win in nearly four years. He stood tall in the wind, however, even as he kept his head down.

''After a while, you don't really think about your score,'' said Singh, whose last major victory was at the 2004 PGA on the first visit to Whistling Straits. ''You just think about each hole, each shot and just try not to mess up. It was one of my better rounds. I didn't strike the ball as good, but I scored really, really well. And I think that was the key.''

There were 44 players under par after the opening day. Going into the weekend, there were only 10.

Rory McIlroy didn't make a birdie until his 14th hole – a tough par 3 that he has birdied both rounds – and had a 75. He was at 2-under 142, along with Jamie Donaldson of Wales, who had a 73 and was thrilled after his morning round. ''That's the best I can do,'' he said.

Adam Scott also had a 75 to join the group at 143 that included Aaron Baddeley (75), Blake Adams (72) and former Masters champion Trevor Immelman (72).

''I thought 2 over today was like shooting 2 under yesterday,'' Pettersson said. ''I hit some squirrely shots, which is typical when it's blowing 30 mph. But I hit some really good ones, too.''

Mickelson, who is No. 8 in the Ryder Cup standings going into the final week of qualifying, came out firing into the wind with a 4-iron to about 2 feet and then a driver off the fairway to give himself a decent chance at birdie on the 11th. He didn't advance any further up the leaderboard. He also didn't fall too far back, and that was just as important. He was in the group at even-par 144, not knowing what the weekend will hold.

Graeme McDowell had a 76 and was tied with Mickelson, still only four shots behind.

''I was very happy to get off that golf course, I have to say,'' McDowell said. ''I'm trying to think of the last time I remember a golf course playing this difficult, because it's a links wind, blowing across a golf course which is super soft, with some of the most difficult pins on the course out there. It's brutal.''

Woods was not immune to the windy conditions. With a sand wedge in his hand on the third, he knocked it over the green and appeared headed for bogey until his 20-foot par putt was true all the way. He looked solid on par putts at No. 5 and No. 7, and his chip from below the ridge on the ninth stopped a turn from falling.

He never looked as if he would miss, even rolling in a 12-foot par putt on the 17th. The only big blip came at the 18th, his second bogey of the round. Already this week, the PGA statisticians have Woods for 23 one-putt greens. Asked if there was a putting performance that stood out among his 14 majors, he cited the 1997 Masters and 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He won those two by a combined 27 shots.

Then again, he had put some distance between him and the field.

This PGA Championship remains wide open, and so much depends on whether the wind continues to blow, and the scores continue to soar.

Doug Wade, a club pro from Dayton, Ohio, had a 93. That was one shot away from the PGA Championship record for the worst score. Michael Frye, a club pro from Sedona, Ariz., finished par-birdie-par on three of the tougher holes for a 90.

They weren't alone, of course. Mahan and Fowler had 80, Kuchar an 82, Nick Watney an 81. It was a long list of suffering, so difficult that no one would embarrassed or angry. Most were just happy to be off the golf course.

''If you had a golf course like this and you asked me to go and play golf in windy conditions, I'd say, 'No, I'm not going to play.' I guess nobody is going to go out and play in conditions like this,'' Singh said. ''But it's a major, and we have to go out there and just struggle and manage yourself the best you can.''

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

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.

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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.

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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.”