Expert Picks: McGladrey Classic

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 5, 2013, 10:28 pm

This week marks the fifth event of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season as Sea Island Club plays host to The McGladrey Classic. 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, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams and staff writer Ryan Lavner. They are joined by former 'Saturday Night Live' star Norm Macdonald, who will serve as a celebrity guest.

Win McMurry

Group 1: Brendon de Jonge: He garnered attention in the Presidents Cup and despite experiencing some lows since then, he returns to Sea Island where he tied for fourth last year.

Group 2: Freddie Jacobson: The Swede tied for ninth in his last PGA Tour start in Las Vegas, and despite having only played two competitive rounds in Sea Island (back in 2010), he has the game that translates anywhere when he is playing well, as evidenced by how he started the 2013 season with top-10s in three of his first four starts.

Group 3: Camilo Villegas: Camilo is ready to string four competitive rounds together. At the Open last month, a third-round 77 derailed a top finish, one that could have been much better than his T-26. He tied for 20th in this event last year.

Group 4: Y.E. Yang: Hard to believe the major champ from only four years ago is in Group 4. He's making his first start here, and I believe his game can't be too far away. His best recent finish was third place about six weeks ago on the Japan Golf Tour.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Boo Weekley: Although he may be a tad jet-lagged after his trip to Asia, if the wind blows, the Seaside Course is perfect for a ball-striker like Weekley and he hasn't missed a cut since July.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: CH3 is off to one of his signature early-season runs (this is, after all, the early stages of the 2013-14 campaign), having finished in the top 10 in his last two starts (T-7 CIMB Classic and T-5 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open).

Group 3: Brian Harman: The left-hander lives within walking distance of the Seaside Course and knows the greens as well as anyone. He's also posted top-five finishes in two of his last five Tour starts.

Group 4: Hudson Swafford: After a few years of seasoning on the Tour, the University of Georgia standout could surprise some with his play this season and Sea Island (Ga.) Resort has become his second home.

Randall Mell

Group 1: Zach Johnson: At home at Sea Island helps, but not as much as being on a hot streak (seven top-10 finishes in nine starts).

Group 2: David Toms: Finished second to Tommy Gainey at Sea Island last year, was T-3 there two years before that.

Group 3: Brian Gay: This event can quickly turn into a putting contest. Gay knows how to win those.

Group 4: Chad Campbell: Has had his struggles, but he showed some good form this summer and has a T-7 at Sea Island on his resume. 

Jason Sobel

Group 1: Webb Simpson: Just a few weeks removed from his first win since the 2012 U.S. Open, Simpson often gets hot and stays hot.

Group 2: Chris Kirk: Plenty of UGA products in the field from which to choose, and most of 'em will say Kirk has as much talent as anyone.

Group 3: Camilo Villegas: Ready for a bounceback season, he plays his best golf on courses where birdies are plentiful.

Group 4: Justin Thomas: Don't be fooled by him being the last player ranked in Group 4 - he's got the game to be a household name someday. 

Will Gray

Group 1: Zach Johnson: The resident of nearby St. Simons Island finished the 2013 season as hot as any player on the PGA Tour. Now back on a course he knows as well as anyone, the 10-time winner should be able to keep up a streak of hot play that has now extended more than three months.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: A native of nearby Augusta, Howell combines recent form and past event history better than almost anyone in the entire field. He's begun his 2013-14 season with two top-10 finishes in his first three starts, including a T-5 in Las Vegas, and has finished T-7 or better in two of his three career starts at Sea Island.

Group 3: Vijay Singh: The 50-year-old has experienced a bit of a resurgence in the past few weeks, chasing his runner-up at the Open with a T-23 finish the following week at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. The Fijian played well at Sea Island a year ago before struggles over the weekend dropped him into a tie for 27th.

Group 4: Justin Thomas: The former Alabama product is familiar with Sea Island, having won an SEC championship here in 2012. Having shined last year at the Travelers Championship, Thomas is eager to follow in the footsteps of Max Homa, another recent college player who contended down the stretch at the Open last month. 

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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.