Tour tales: No love lost between Paddy and Sergio

By Doug FergusonDecember 24, 2013, 5:00 pm

There is no love lost between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, as both made clear at The Players Championship and in the weeks that followed. The same could be said for Garcia and Padraig Harrington, as the Irishman showed on a couple of occasions this year in his subtle style.

Speaking to a small group of reporters at the TPC Sawgrass, where the Woods-Garcia flap was starting to unfold, Harrington said of all the times he has played with Woods he considered his etiquette ''absolutely impeccable.''

''I've played with Tiger many times,'' Harrington said. ''I give him an A-plus on his etiquette on the course. I give him an A-plus for his respect for fellow players on the course.''

A British reporter then asked Harrington what kind of grade he would give Garcia.

''I'm not in a position to rank players,'' he replied.

Later that summer, Harrington finished a practice round at Muirfield and was signing autographs. One fan had the British Open program turned to the page that showed Harrington winning his first claret jug. That was in 2007 at Carnoustie, after a playoff with Garcia.

Harrington signed the page and held onto the book for the longest time, staring at the photo with a satisfied smile.

''You like that picture?'' the man said.

''More than you know,'' the Irishman replied.


Among the visitors at The Players Championship was Ulises Mendez, who plays on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. The Argentine earned his card last year when he tied for 15th in Latin America Q-school. His player badge allowed him access to the tournament, and he camped out just beneath the bleachers behind the 17th green.

He stood there for an hour as the best players came through the 17th. It was an inspiring day.

''To know where you need to be,'' Mendez said, ''you need to see where you want to go.''


Steve Stricker made it clear that money was not important.

His plan was to defend his title at Kapalua and walk away from the PGA Tour for the rest of the year. Over the holidays leading into 2013, he reached a compromise and cut his schedule roughly in half. He contacted his sponsors, and they supported him.

Stricker didn't have great expectations starting his year of semi-retirement.

''If I could just make enough money to pay yearly expenses, I'm fine with that,'' he said. ''If we don't have to touch anything I've put away ... I don't need to do what I'm doing just to make money. I'd rather be staying at home, doing things at home with the foundation and with my kids.''

No one else was around during this conversation, but Stricker still leaned in and lowered his voice as he stated what everyone already knew.

''You know, we're pretty conservative with our money,'' he said.

Stricker was runner-up that week at Kapalua and made $665,000. He didn't play for six weeks, and then reached the quarterfinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship to earn $275,000. Two weeks later, he was runner-up at Doral and brought in $880,000.

That should pay the bills.

He finished the year with just over $4.4 million, the third-highest total of his career. His world ranking improved 10 spots to No. 8. And by the end of the year, he had several players contemplating a similar schedule.

Along the way, there were plenty of other moments that showed more about players than just their birdies and bogeys, and the checks they cash.


Rory McIlroy generated a buzz no matter where he went at the start of the year. He had the hefty deal from Nike. He was No. 1 in the world. And he was struggling early with a missed cut in Abu Dhabi and a first-round departure in Match Play. Nothing caused a stir like Friday at the Honda Classic, when he abruptly shook hands with Ernie Els as they were making the turn and walked straight to the parking lot.

Information was a trickle. He was vague during a brisk walk to the car. Later, a statement from his management company said he had a sore wisdom tooth.

There was a golf tournament still going on. Michael Thompson shot 65 on that Friday to move to the top of the leaderboard. It was early afternoon and no one seemed interested. The announcement sounded more like a plea. ''We have Michael Thompson in the interview room,'' the official said.

One voice broke the awkward silence. ''Is he a dentist?'' a reported asked.

No. But he did win his first PGA Tour event that week.


Angel Cabrera is a man of few words and loud actions.

A month after losing the Masters in a playoff, he was walking off the 18th green at TPC Sawgrass following a practice round. Fans thrust programs and flags for him to sign. There was bumping and pushing, and a marshal started to bark at everyone to back up.

Cabrera stepped back about 10 feet, and then instructed only the children to come under the ropes and join him. He spent the next 15 minutes signing for them.


It looked like the scene outside the mansion in ''Young Frankenstein,'' missing only the pitchforks and torches.

The Pure Silk LPGA Bahamas Classic was played on a 12-hole course at The Ocean Club because of flooding. The first round didn't finish because of another storm system in the area. Players gathered in darkness outside the rules trailer to find out the plan for Friday. A computer error led players to believe – only for a moment – that they would keep their same tee time for the second round. Chaos ensued, filled with heated arguments among players and rules officials.

And it was at this moment the LPGA showed its true international flavor.

A group of Swedish players were off to the right, raising their voices in their native language. The Americans were in the front of the pack. The South Koreans were in the back. The Spaniards were in the middle. The Germans were over by the hedges. It was the ultimate melting pot.

And they ultimately got it all worked out.


The woman behind the counter at Starbucks in the Denver suburbs was making small talk with a customer when she learned he was headed to the Solheim Cup.

''Annika Sorenstam was just in here,'' she said. ''Well, I think that was her.''

Think?

Not only is the Swede the most famous LPGA Tour player of her generation, one would suspect writing the word ''Annika'' on the cup would be a dead giveaway. Except that in this case, she can be excused. Turns out Sorenstam doesn't go by ''Annika'' when she's in Starbucks.

Her code name is Maria.

''Maria is the one name that translates on every continent,'' Sorenstam said when she confessed to her alias. ''So I'm Maria Swenson.''


The first day of the Solheim Cup nearly didn't finish because of a rules decision that took nearly a half-hour to determine – and as it turned out, it was the wrong decision. It proved a pivotal part of the fourballs match, which Europe went on to win.

It wasn't the first time a rules official had made the wrong call. Former USGA President Trey Holland, one of the most skilled in the Rules of Golf, mistakenly gave Ernie Els relief in the U.S. Open from a temporary immovable object that was movable. But when an official makes a ruling, it stands.

Brad Alexander, a respected LPGA official, made the wrong call at the Solheim Cup. When the day was over, confusion and anger lingered. Alexander volunteered to accompany both captains to the media center to handle any questions from the press. He explained what happened. He made no excuses. He accepted all the blame. It was classy.

That kind of accountability would have come in handy at Augusta National this year.


The final week of December is the one week no meaningful tournaments are played on any tour in the world.

The golf year is endless, and it can feel even longer.

Mark Fulcher, the caddie for Justin Rose, has been at this a long time. The crowning moment was at Merion, where Rose won the U.S. Open for his first major. This was in late October, halfway around the world in Shanghai. Everyone was tired. Rose was just starting the stretch run to the end of his year. The caddies were talking about the drudgery of early rounds at a tournament.

Except for ''Fooch.''

''The day I stop caddying, I'll either be dead or I won't be excited on a Thursday morning,'' Fulcher said that day. ''Thursday is the greatest day in golf. It's the perfect reset, isn't it? You're reminded, even if you won, that everyone starts all over the next week. And if you've played absolute rubbish, there's always the belief that it's about to turn around. I love Thursday. Just love it.''

It's a good reminder for everyone involved in this game. You never know what's going to happen next. Or when.

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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.

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 trophy was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.