Woods starts year with 69 and trails by five strokes
Looking for a new start after a disastrous year on and off the golf course, Woods felt little stress Thursday in the Farmers Insurance Open with a 3-under 69 on the North Course that left him five shots behind South Korean rookie Sunghoon Kang.
If the setting was familiar for Woods, so was his middle-of-the-pack position. In four of his six wins at this tournaments, he has been at least five shots behind after the opening round.
“I’m happy with the way I played, absolutely,” Woods said. “I could have been a lot better if I took care of the par 5s a little bit more, but obviously, I didn’t do that.”
Kang, a 24-year-old rookie, finished with back-to-back birdies on the North Course for an 8-under 64, giving him a one-shot lead over fellow rookie Chris Kirk, Alex Prugh and Rickie Fowler.
Phil Mickelson shot 32 on the back nine for a 5-under 67 to match the best score on the tougher South Course, which hosted the 2008 U.S. Open that Woods won in a playoff. Also at 67 on the South was John Daly, whose last win came in 2004 at this tournament. He is the last player to win at Torrey Pines when Woods was in the field.
“This place means a lot to me,” Daly said. “The top golfers play here every year. That says something.”
Woods no longer is No. 1 – he has slipped to No. 3 in the world ranking and can’t improve on that this week – but he has not played the public course he has practically owned since that U.S. Open in 2008. He missed the next year because of knee surgery, and last year while in a Mississippi addiction clinic after being caught in extramarital affairs.
“Welcome back to Torrey,” was a popular phrase from the gallery throughout his round, in which Woods played solidly except on the greens. He made only two putts longer than 3 feet – a 10-foot par save on No. 8, and a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 sixth that bounced along until catching the right corner of the cup.
“I didn’t leave myself any putts,” Woods said. “I kept leaving myself above the hole. And I didn’t take advantage of the par 5s.”
The North Course is not the pushover it has been in past years because of some new length, and not just in distance. Along with being some 90 yards longer, the rough was allowed to grow and is thicker than the grass found on the South Course.
“I didn’t know the North was as long as the South,” Ben Curtis said after a 70. He knows better, but it felt that way if tee shots did not stay in the narrow, canted fairways.
Woods was in shorter grass on half of his 14 tee shots, although four of those misses came on the par 5s. He couldn’t get to the green in two, and didn’t make the birdie putts.
Even so, he looked more like the Woods who ended last year with a playoff loss at the Chevron World Challenge, not the guy who played so poorly for so much of the year that he didn’t win on the PGA Tour for the first time in his career.
It felt like a typical season-opener for Woods, including his position on the leaderboard. In his last four trips to this PGA Tour event, he has trailed by seven, six, five and two shots after the opening round and went on to win them all.
Even so, scoring on the North was lower, and Woods will need to pick up the pace on the South Course. He is playing the first two days with Anthony Kim and Rocco Mediate, whom Woods defeated in that epic U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines.
Mediate was chattering away, as usual, but there wasn’t much conversation about that 19-hole playoff from 2008.
“We didn’t play that golf course,” Woods said.
Kim was among those at 68, a tribute to his great scrambling. He chipped in from 40 feet for par, holed a 30-foot par putt from the fringe and made two other par saves outside 10 feet.
The top of the leaderboard was filled with youth, starting with Kang, who earned his card through Q-School. Fowler was voted the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2010 on a ballot that included Prugh. Kirk finished second on the Nationwide Tour last year, when he hurt his wrist and couldn’t play the last two events.
On the South Course, rookies Fabian Gomez of Argentina and Keegan Bradley were among those at 67
Kang had the recipe on the North Course that Woods couldn’t find.
“This course, all the par 5s are reachable, so I really tried to keep to the fairways and it worked really well,” Kang said. “And I really had a good chance on the par 5s. That’s why I played very well today.”
He played them in 4 under, including an eagle on No. 14 when he chipped in from 25 feet.
Daly has special memories of Torrey from his playoff win in 2004, but he wasn’t in such a great mood a year ago. He missed the cut after rounds of 79-71, and told a Golf Channel television crew that was taping a documentary that he was done. Some media outlets construed that to mean he was retiring, although Daly had made similar comments right after a bad performance.
“You get frustrated,” Daly said.
That wasn’t the case Thursday, a spectacular day of sunshine along the Pacific coast.
Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.
The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up right where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.
"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."
Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.
It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.
Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.
Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.
He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.
Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.
The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.
''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''
Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.
''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.
Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.
“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”
Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.
Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.