Power Rankings: British Open

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2013, 4:41 pm

While American golf fans may prefer the Masters or the U.S. Open, the Open Championship is likely the most iconic international event in the world of golf. Muirfield Golf Club plays host this week to the season's third major, as players will be greeted by a firm links course that appears more brown than green.

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Ernie Els returns to defend the Claret Jug, having won a year ago in dramatic fashion over a faltering Adam Scott at Royal Lytham. Here are 10 players to watch this week in Scotland:

1. Tiger Woods: Injury issues aside, Woods remains a deserved favorite amid a wide-open field. Already a winner four times this season, he won the most recent of his three Open titles at firm, fast Hoylake in 2006 in conditions similar to those anticipated this week.

2. Ernie Els: A winner last year, Els also hoisted the Claret Jug in 2002, the last time the Open was held at Muirfield. Though he missed the cut last week in Scotland, he won the start prior in Germany and his record in this event is outstanding: 10 top-10 finishes in 16 career starts, with his '02 title capping a run of eight top-10 results in 10 years from 2000-2009.

3. Phil Mickelson: A winner last week at Castle Stuart, Mickelson brings to Muirfield abundant confidence and a self-professed love for links golf in general and this week's venue specifically. The four-time major winner has four top-three finishes in his last six worldwide starts, including a near-miss at last month's U.S. Open.

4. Graeme McDowell: The epitome of 'feast or famine,' McDowell has three wins and five missed cuts in his last eight worldwide starts. There's reason to believe this week's result will tend toward the feast option, though, as the Ulsterman has notched four top-25 finishes in nine career Open starts, including last year's tie for fifth at Royal Lytham, where he played in the final pairing on Sunday.

5. Adam Scott: After last year's heartbreaking collapse at Lytham, the Aussie rebounded to win the Masters this past April. Including his 2012 runner-up, Scott's recent record in the season's third major has been solid, with a missed cut in 2009 his only finish outside the top 30 since 2006. Has finished inside the top 25 in eight of the last 10 worldwide majors.

6. Jason Day: Appearing to be on the verge of a major triumph, Day has come close at each of the first two majors this year and has recorded four top-three finishes in majors since 2011. The Aussie has played the weekend in both of his prior Open appearances, and this year has notched five top-10 finishes in 14 PGA Tour starts without missing a cut.

7. Luke Donald: The Englishman has finished T-11 or better at the Open three times in the last four years, including a tie for fifth a year ago. He's been consistent in that stretch, carding only one round over 73 at the British Open since 2009. Currently ranks seventh on the PGA Tour in scoring average, sixth in strokes gained putting and finished inside the top-25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open earlier this year.

8. Justin Rose: Making his first start in a major since winning the U.S. Open last month, the Englishman returns to the event where he burst onto the international scene 15 years ago at Royal Birkdale. That fourth-place showing as a 17-year-old, though, remains his only top-10 in this event. Rose has missed two of the last three British cuts, but with newfound confidence heads to Muirfield where he was in contention 11 years ago before finishing T-22.

9. Dustin Johnson: Though he's been erratic this season, Johnson has been surprisingly consistent in this event. His 2013 campaign includes a win and four other top-15 finishes, but also contains a pair of missed cuts along with multiple withdrawals. He's been inside the top 15 each of the last three years at the Open, though, including a runner-up showing in 2011.

10. Sergio Garcia: With his controversial comments somewhat behind him, Garcia returns to an event where he has had considerable success. Though his playoff loss in 2007 is most notable, the Spaniard has had seven top-10 finishes in this event since 2001, including an eighth-place showing at Muirfield in 2002. Tied for eighth at the Masters in April and nearly defeated Woods at TPC Sawgrass a month later.

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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 right 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."

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.