Power Rankings: 2015 Players Championship

By Will GrayMay 5, 2015, 4:55 pm

The 26th event of the wraparound season is upon us, as the PGA Tour heads to Florida for The Players Championship. A field of 144 will tackle the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, where the winner will receive $1.8 million. 

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Martin Kaymer won this event a year ago by one shot over Jim Furyk. Here are 10 players to watch in Ponte Vedra Beach:

1. Jordan Spieth: Not all early exits are created equal. Spieth played lights-out last week in San Francisco before getting bounced by Lee Westwood, but there is reason to think his hot streak will continue on a course where he finished T-4 in his event debut last year.

2. Rory McIlroy: The world No. 1 enters with plenty of momentum after hoisting the trophy at TPC Harding Park. While fatigue could be a factor after seven competitive rounds and a cross-country flight, McIlroy was T-8 here in 2013 and T-6 a year ago.

3: Jim Furyk: Furyk's runner-up last year was his third top-five finish at TPC Sawgrass since 2006. He turned the momentum from a breakthrough win at Hilton Head into a fourth-place showing at Harding Park, and the veteran ranks third on Tour this season in strokes gained tee-to-green.

4. Hideki Matsuyama: The Japanese phenom has a stat line to behold: sixth on Tour in strokes gained, fourth in GIR percentage and third in ball-striking. He has turned those numbers into five straight top-25 finishes, including three top-10s, and his T-23 finish last year at TPC Sawgrass included four rounds at par or better.

5. Sergio Garcia: The Spaniard won here in 2008 and has logged four top-25 finishes in this event since, including a third-place finish last year. Garcia clearly feels comfortable on the Stadium Course, and he played well at the Masters (T-17) in his most recent stroke-play start.

6. Henrik Stenson: Stenson won at TPC Sawgrass in 2009, but a nasty flu bug has limited his effectiveness since a near-miss earlier this year at Bay Hill. Despite slowing down recently, the Sweded still leads the Tour in both strokes gained tee-to-green and strokes gained putting: a formidable combination.

7. Jason Day: The Aussie had a rare hiccup last week, going 0-3 in match play, but he's likely to get back on track at a course where he finished T-6 in 2011 and T-19 in 2013, his most recent appearance. Day's four top-10 finishes this season include a win in San Diego and a T-4 at the Zurich Classic when he held a share of the 54-hole lead.

8. Lee Westwood: Westwood surprised many with his elimination of Jordan Spieth last week, but the Englishman appears to be finding his form and has a strong record of success at TPC Sawgrass. Westwood has notched five top-10 finishes here, including three in his last four starts dating back a T-4 showing in 2010 and including a T-6 finish last year.

9. Justin Rose: Westwood's countryman is high on current form, but low on past success here. While Rose finished T-4 last year, that was his first top-40 finish since 2009 and he has missed the cut five times in 11 attempts. His momentum could overcome that course history, though, as Rose was T-2 at the Masters before his win last month in New Orleans.

10. Zach Johnson: Johnson's track record here shows that the Stadium Course favors those who can keep the ball in play. The veteran has a run of five straight top-30 finishes in this event, highlighted by his T-2 finish in 2012, and 13 of his last 15 rounds on the Stadium Course have been at par or better. He enters with four top-25 finishes in his last five starts.

 

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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.