Power Rankings: Honda Classic

By Will GrayFebruary 25, 2014, 2:26 pm

This week marks the 15th event of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season, as players move east to start the Florida swing at the Honda Classic. A field of 144 players will tackle PGA National, where the Bear Trap serves as one of the more difficult finishing stretches on Tour.

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Michael Thompson returns to defend the title he won last year by two shots over Geoff Ogilvy. Here are 10 players to watch this week in Palm Beach Gardens:

1. Graeme McDowell: The Ulsterman appeared to have nine lives while staving off elimination last week in Tucson, but his game seems very much in order. McDowell has now begun 2014 with a pair of top-10 finishes and has cracked the top 10 in each of his last three trips to PGA National, including a T-6 result in 2011 behind a closing 64.

2. Rory McIlroy: A winner here in 2012, McIlroy only made it 27 holes last year before his tooth gave out. This time around, the Ulsterman appears to be returning to form, having translated a late-season win in Australia into a successful desert swing last month. While he got bounced early at Dove Mountain, McIlroy has the length to take advantage of PGA National and is likely motivated to make up for last year's early exit.

3. Charl Schwartzel: Like McIlroy, Schwartzel failed to make it past the second round last week in Arizona, but the week prior the South African was T-5 at Riviera after four straight rounds in the 60s. Schwartzel has only made three prior trips to this event, but each has resulted in a top-15 finish, including T-5 in 2012. He's only had one competitive round here higher than 71.

4. Adam Scott: In Scott's only prior start on the Champion Course, he shot 77-82 to miss the cut in 2011. Suffice it to say, things have changed since then. Scott hasn't played since notching back-to-back top-10s in Hawaii, so the Aussie should be well-rested for this week's date with PGA National. While low scores will be hard to come by, an emphasis will be placed this week on consistent ball-striking and the ability to limit mistakes - two factors that should play to his strengths.

5. Keegan Bradley: Despite an early exit last week, Bradley has been one of the more consistent players during the 2013-14 season, with five top-20 finishes in seven starts since October. Bradley is one of many players in this week's field with local ties, living in nearby Jupiter, and has cracked the top 15 each of the past two years at PGA National, including a tie for fourth in 2013. He's broken par on the Champion Course in five of his last eight competitive rounds.

6. Zach Johnson: A first-round exit at Dove Mountain broke Johnson's streak of three straight top-10 finishes, but he remains a name to watch on seemingly any venue. Fresh off his 38th birthday on Monday, Johnson is third in GIR percentage this season and eighth in par-5 scoring average - two keys to the Champion Course. This will be his first start at PGA National since 2008, when he tied for 30th.

7. Tiger Woods: Arguably the greatest enigma in this week's field. Woods is off to his worst start to a season as a pro, but just two years ago nearly caught McIlroy with a Sunday 62. Now a month removed from a disappointing MDF at Torrey Pines, the current world No. 1 will look to get his season on track while staying at home in nearby Jupiter Island. Failed to break par in any of his four rounds last year en route to a T-37 finish.

8. Rickie Fowler: Fowler is hardly the Tour's most consistent player, but will look to capitalize on his third-place finish at Dove Mountain while returning to an event where he has cracked the top 15 each of the last two years. Fowler has missed the cut in his last three stroke-play starts, but showed signs in the desert that his recent swing changes have begun to yield results.

9. Sergio Garcia: Garcia may still have to explain away his puzzling concession to Fowler during his third-round match, but a solid effort at PGA National will go a long way toward putting the controversy behind him. The Spaniard hasn't played here since 2008 but did tie for 13th in 2007, and his strong play across the past five months included a win last month in Qatar.

10. Lee Westwood: Westwood is struggling to find the form that took him to No. 1 in 2010, having lost last week in the first round after announcing a coaching change. Still, PGA National may be just the venue to get him back on track, as the Englishman lives nearby and has finished inside the top 10 in three of the past four years, including a fourth-place showing in 2012.

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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.