Expert Picks: 2015 Masters

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 8, 2015, 5:26 pm

This week marks the 22nd event of the 2014-15 PGA Tour season and the season's first major, as 97 players tee it up at the Masters. Each week, a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players, based on Golf Channel's fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel includes: senior writers Rex Hoggard and Randall Mell; editorial director Jay Coffin; associate editor Will Gray; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams; host Charlie Rymer and defending fantasy champion Ryan Lavner.

Ryan Lavner

Group 1: Bubba Watson: His length and imagination are a perfect fit at Augusta. Leading the Tour in par-5 scoring, he’s poised to make another run at a third green jacket in four years.

Group 2: Jimmy Walker: Riding high off his win in San Antonio, he’s ranked in the top 5 in putting, birdie average and par-5 scoring – an ideal combination at Augusta, where he finished joint eighth in his debut a year ago.

Group 3: Lee Westwood: Before that missed cut in Houston, the Englishman had top 25s in every Tour start. Add in the fact that he’s finished in the top 11 in each of his last five Masters appearances, and he’s a great value pick in this group.

Group 4: Tiger Woods: Our expectations for the former world No. 1 are so low that hecan only surprise us. He may very well miss the cut, but he also could find a way to finish in the top 10.

Randall Mell

Group 1: Jordan Spieth: Playing like a man on a mission, Spieth has the game, the confidence, the momentum and the good mojo here to win.

Group 2: Dustin Johnson: Just feels like the time is right for this mega-talent to get himself in the hunt in a major again, maybe close it out this time. He looks like he has his house in order.

Group 3: Brandt Snedeker: He won earlier this year, and he has some history to draw upon here. That's enough to generate some sparks this week.

Group 4: Angel Cabrera: Recent form gives you lots of reasons not to pick him, but form seems irrelevant when Cabrera arrives at the Masters.

Will Gray

Group 1: Bubba Watson: The defending champ seems to be flying under the radar, and should be in for another big week. No finish worse than T-14 this season, with only one round over 71, and the course clearly suits his eye and his game. Could enter rarified Masters air with a third win in four years.

Group 2: Jimmy Walker: The early-round grouping might not help him, but Walker is playing great right now, finished T-8 last year in his Masters debut and has a stat line that seems tailor-made for Augusta National: first on Tour in birdie average, third in strokes gained putting and fourth in par-5 scoring.

Group 3: Paul Casey: The Englishman is experiencing a resurgent season, and when he was at the top of his game he tended to play well here. A missed cut at Bay Hill can be chalked up to fatigue, and his top-10 finish last week in Houston shows that Casey is rounding into form at just the right time.

Group 4: Tiger Woods: The variables in play are numerous, but when it comes to this event, and this player, it's worth taking a flier.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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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.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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 title 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.