Expert Picks: BMW Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 4, 2012, 10:30 pm

This week the FedEx Cup playoffs continue with the BMW Championship from Crooked Stick GC. Justin Rose defends the title he won last year over John Senden at Cog Hill outside Chicago. Each week, a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin;'s Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams and staff writer Ryan Lavner.

Jay Coffin

Group 1: Tiger Woods: I'm sticking with him. He may not win, but he'll contend.

Group 2: Justin Rose: He won the WGC-Cadillac Championship earlier this year, so I'll pick him to do well in another tournament sponsored by a car manufacturer.

Group 3: John Senden: I have a buddy that's told me all year that Senden was going to win an event this year. There isn't much time left.

Group 4: Kevin Stadler: Check out his record the last two weeks. Not sure he'll keep it up, but it's worth the gamble.

Ryan Lavner

Group 1: Dustin Johnson: His Ryder Cup selection merely validates his good form of late. With a T-3 and a T-4 in his past two starts, respectively, and with the big ballpark at Crooked Stick, there's little reason to suggest that D.J.'s hot play won't continue.

Group 2: Keegan Bradley: With his regular caddie on the bag for the last two rounds at TPC Boston, Bradley shot 63-69 to record a T-13 finish - his third top 15 in his past four starts.

Group 3: Jeff Overton: Crooked Stick is a bit of an unknown for players - except, of course, for the Indiana product. As long as he doesn't try too hard to dazzle the hometown fans, Overton has a chance to build on last week's T-7 finish.

Group 4: J.B. Holmes: His driving distance may be down this year (310 yards per pop), but the Kentuckian still bombs it. That should set up well at rain-softened Crooked Stick, where big hitters will dominate. 

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Dustin Johnson: With the weight of making captain Davis Love III's U.S. Ryder Cup team off his shoulders, he can free-wheel it at an event he has won before - although that BMW was on a much different (read: longer) track in Cog Hill.

Group 2: Phil Mickelson: The claw/saw putting grip has rejuvenated Lefty, as evidenced by his tie for fourth at TPC Boston and his fourth-place showing in the all-important strokes gained putting category.

Group 3: Greg Chalmers: Australian told his swing coach last week not to worry about coming out to Crooked Stick because he is 'striping it.' At 36th on the FedEx Cup points list, he needs one more solid week to earn his first trip to the Tour Championship.

Group 4: Chris Kirk: He played his way into the BMW with steady finishes at the first two playoff stops (T-46 at The Barclays and T-35 at Deutsche Bank) and hasn't missed a cut since the Greenbrier Classic.

Jason Sobel

Group 1: Adam Scott: I picked him to win the FedEx Cup, so at some point that's got to mean a tournament win, too.

Group 2: Phil Mickelson: Finally starting to peak again, thanks to his new claw putting grip.

Group 3: Bud Cauley: Playing some inspired golf over the final two months of the season.

Group 4: Graham DeLaet: Needs one more big push to get into the Tour Championship and claim a spot in the first three majors next year.

Win McMurry

Group 1: Tiger Woods: One of the things that motivates Tiger the most is being the best. In his eyes, he was just beaten by his biggest rival who is making his youthful stake on being the best player in the world. Tiger bites into Rory's moment in the sun with a win this week and a claim that he is still the best in the game.

Group 2: Jim Furyk: He can breathe a sigh of relief this week after getting a nod from Captain Love. With that security, Furyk crushes all doubt surrounding his captain's pick by showing up big at the BMW. Plus, he's proven he's playing well - see his T-13 last week, as well as strong stats for hitting fairways and greens all year long.

Group 3: John Senden: Coming in off a solo 12th place in Boston, which makes it five of seven top-20 finishes this summer. He's 26th in the standings so he knows he needs to keep up his good play to make it to Atlanta and reap all the benefits of a Tour Championship berth.

Group 4: Kevin Stadler: Back-to-back ties for tenth place make Stadler a no-brainer in Group 4. He's on a hot streak and there is no better time to have one than the playoffs. Look for him to ride the wave into the Tour Championship.

Rob Bolton

Group 1: Tiger Woods: Even though Rory McIlroy deserves the investment, I'm hedging for the mere fact that it's rare to win in consecutive weeks. In his consistent attack, Woods had only four bogeys all week at the Deutsche Bank and finished third. 

Group 2: Phil Mickelson: The tinkering is paying dividends. Using the claw grip at TPC Boston, Mickelson finished fourth in strokes gained putting and placed T-4 on the final leaderboard. His sublime short game should also serve him well at Crooked Stick.

Group 3: John Senden: Never sexy, but always steady. Tee-to-green proficiency has led to a pair of top-20 finishes in the playoffs. Overall, he's logged 11 top-25 finishes among 17 paydays. Crafted his schedule early in the year to focus on the biggest events. 

Group 4: J.B. Holmes: While tempted here by Kevin Stadler - one of four golfers with top 10s in both postseason events - I've read that Crooked Stick caters to long hitters, a philosophy that no doubt has roots in John Daly's annihilation of the track in the 1991 PGA Championship. While the jury remains out if that's an accurate statement this time around, this is the perfect spot to hop on a bomber's bandwagon.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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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.