Power Rankings: 2017 Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Will GrayMarch 15, 2017, 1:34 pm

The 2017 fantasy golf season stays in Florida this week, as the PGA Tour heads to Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. A field of 120 players will tackle Bay Hill Club & Lodge for the first time since Palmer's death in September.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to submit your picks for this week's event.

Jason Day won this event last year by one shot over Kevin Chappell. Here are 10 players to watch in Orlando:

1. Henrik Stenson: He's done everything but win this event in recent years. Stenson is an Orlando resident who has finished T-8 or better each of the last four years, including a runner-up in 2015. He enters off a solid T-7 showing in Tampa that included an opening-round 64 and is almost certain to factor this weekend.

2. Rory McIlroy: McIlroy exceeded expectations with his return from injury in Mexico, finishing T-7 after leading at the halfway point. Now he returns to a course where he tied for 11th just two weeks ago, and if the Ulsterman can card fewer double bogeys than last year he should once again find his way onto the first page of the leaderboard.

3. Hideki Matsuyama: Matsuyama has cooled since his torrid stretch to end the year, but he did win in Phoenix just a few weeks back and his Bay Hill track record includes a T-6 finish last year. As is often the case, his result will be largely dependent on his work on the greens, but his ball-striking stats should be among the field leaders.

4. Justin Rose: There hasn't been much discussion about Rose in recent weeks, but he is quietly piling up some very solid results: a runner-up at Sony to go along with T-4 finishes at Torrey Pines and RIviera. The Englishman has three top-10 finishes in Orlando since 2011 including a second-place showing in 2013.

5. Jason Day: The defending champ returns to make his first start since withdrawing from the WGC-Mexico Championship because of an ear infection. Day hadn't cracked the top 10 at Bay Hill before his win here last year, but the form that took him to world No. 1 for much of last year still lurks just below a thin layer of rust.

6. Rickie Fowler: Fowler went toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods at this event in 2013 before ultimately finishing third. Now he is back at Bay Hill to honor the passing of a legend, and his form includes a win at the Honda Classic the last time he teed it up in Florida. It could be an emotionally-charged effort this week.

7. Francesco Molinari: The Italian hasn't won before on the PGA Tour, but he's been a regular contender at Bay Hill. Molinari tied for ninth last year and was T-5 here in 2015, with four straight finishes of T-34 or better dating back to 2014. He tied for 14th at PGA National and was T-20 in Mexico in his most recent start.

8. Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker has stockpiled the close calls at this event, with four top-20 finishes at Bay Hill since 2008. That includes a T-8 finish in 2014, and Snedeker boasts top-10 finishes in three of his last four worldwide starts highlighted by a T-7 in Mexico.

9. Charles Howell III: Howell is an Orlando resident who is making his annual push to crack the OWGR top 50 in time to make the Masters. His Bay Hill record is solid: eight straight made cuts dating back to 2009 with four top-25 finishes across that stretch.

10. Tyrrell Hatton: The Englishman is making his first appearance at Bay Hill, but he's been on a worldwide tear of late. Hatton has finished T-13 or better in each of his last four worldwide starts, a run that includes a T-4 finish at the Honda Classic when he played in the final pairing on Sunday.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.