Expert Picks: Waste Management Phoenix Open

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 2, 2016, 9:19 pm

This week the 2016 fantasy golf season heads to Arizona, as 132 players tee it up at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. 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: Has only played twice since his win at Tiger's event in December, but he's easy money in Phoenix: three top-five finishes in the last four years, including back-to-back runner-up showings. 

Group 2: Ryan Palmer: Has top-fived twice in the past three years (including a tie for second last year) and comes into Phoenix with three consecutive top-20s. 

Group 3: Webb Simpson: Steady start to the year with back-to-back top-20s. Top-10s in each of the past three years here make him an easy pick. 

Group 4: Martin Laird: Scottsdale resident posted top-five finishes here in 2011 and '15. Fresh off a T-8 finish in brutal conditions at Torrey Pines.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Brooks Koepka: The defending champion hasn't been slowed by his move to a new equipment company this year, as evidenced by hsi tie for third to start the calendar at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Group 2: J.B. Holmes: He's won twice on the ultimate bomber's course (2006 and '08) and was solid last week at Torrey Pines with a tie for sixth.

Group 3: Charles Howell III: The veteran has a decent, not great, record at TPC Scottsdale, but more importantly he's been a fantasy ATM this year with three finishes inside the top 16.

Group 4: Scott Brown: He tumbled from a tie for first thorugh three rounds to T-49 in brutal conditions at Torrey Pines, but after the birth of his second child last month Brown won't be discouraged by a wind-whipped final round.

Will Gray

Group 1: Bubba Watson: Hard to bench the hottest golfer on Tour in Snedeker, but I'll take my chances with the long-hitting southpaw who has finished second here each of the last two years and also tied for fifth in 2012.

Group 2: Kevin Na: A T-3 result in Palm Springs continued his strong start to the season, as he now has four top-3 finishes in his first six starts. He's remarkably solid, and his record at TPC Scottsdale is also strong.

Group 3: Charles Howell III: The guy just keeps cashing checks. Seven finishes of T-17 or better in his first eight starts to begin the season.

Group 4: Martin Laird: The Scottsdale resident is a fixture on the back of the range at this week's venue and last year he shared the lead with Koepka until a 71st-hole bogey.

Randall Mell

Group 1: Hideki Matsuyama: Been knocking on the door in Phoenix the last two years, with T-2 and T-4 in his last two starts. He’s  making first start of 2015-16 season, could set up a breakout year.

Group 2: Kevin Na: Coming off a T-3 at CareerBuilders, Na is coming to a course where he has a history of contending, just not recent history. He has four finishes of fifth or better in Phoenix.

Group 3: Brendan Steele: Seems to really like Phoenix, finished T-6, T-6 and T-5 before faltering to T-26 last year. A horses for courses pick.

Group 4: Steve Stricker: Winter rust ought to be off by now with Stricker making his third start of the year. He’ll turn 49 later this month, but this 12-time PGA Tour winner is working hard on his game again.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.