Power Rankings: Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

By Will GrayJanuary 14, 2014, 9:26 pm

While the PGA Tour contests the Humana Challenge in California (our Power Rankings for that event can be viewed here), some of the top talent in Europe heads east to the U.A.E. for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Abu Dhabi Golf Club serves as the first venue of the three-week Desert Swing and will welcome a field that includes reigning Open champion Phil Mickelson.

Be sure to join the Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge to test yourself against our panel of experts, including defending champion Charlie Rymer. For more fantasy assistance, check out John Antonini's "Stat attack!" and our expert picks for Abu Dhabi and Humana.

Jamie Donaldson returns to defend the title he won last year in a playoff over Justin Rose and Thorbjorn Olesen. Here are 10 players to watch this week in the Middle East:

1. Rory McIlroy: The Ulsterman missed the cut last year amid much fanfare from his new equipment manufacturer, but his prior record here is stellar - four consecutive top-five finishes from 2009-2012, including back-to-back second-place showings. Having snapped his winless drought late last year in Australia, McIlroy appears poised for a return to form in 2014.

2. Martin Kaymer: While McIlroy's record in the Emirates is impressive, Kaymer's is better: a tie for second in 2009 sandwiched around wins in 2008, 2010 and 2011. The German tied for eighth here a year ago and began to find his stride during the latter half of 2013.

3. Sergio Garcia: Another player with an outstanding history in Abu Dhabi, Garcia has cracked the top 15 in each of five starts here since 2006. The Spaniard started strong out of the gates in 2013 and now enters off a pair of top-five showings in his two most recent worldwide starts.

4. Henrik Stenson: The Swede will have a tough time topping his 2013 performance that ended with a string of trophies, but he'll begin at a venue where he was runner-up in both 2006 and '08. Stenson was the hottest player on the planet during the second half of 2013 and will tee it up this week with an abundance of confidence.

5. Phil Mickelson: The southpaw didn't light it up in his lone prior appearance in Abu Dhabi, finishing T-37 in 2011, but he experienced a rejuvenation of sorts while claiming his fifth major title in 2013. As he eyes a reduced playing schedule that will focus on the majors, Mickelson is equipped with a new driver, but the same go-for-broke mentality that has netted him 45 career worldwide wins.

6. Luke Donald: The former world No. 1 struggled in 2013, but will look to bounce back in 2014. Donald will be making just his third start in Abu Dhabi, but he tied for 11th here in 2008 and finished T-5 the last time he was in the Middle East at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.

7. Jamie Donaldson: The defending champ is not lacking confidence or momentum, as he has notched five consecutive top-15 finishes dating back to last year. In addition to his win a year ago, Donaldson has three top-25 finishes in six career starts in Abu Dhabi and ended his year in 2013 with a pair of high-profile runner-up finishes in Turkey and South Africa.

8. Branden Grace: The South African finished fifth here a year ago, the start of a strong 2013 campaign that netted him a spot on the International Team at the Presidents Cup. Grace already has his new year off to a strong start, having finished runner-upto countryman Louis Oosthuizen at last week's Volvo Golf Champions.

9. Joost Luiten: Luiten nearly took home the title last week in South Africa behind an albatross during the second round, ultimately tying for third. The Dutchman won twice last year on the European Tour and has had some success in Abu Dhabi, where he finished T-6 just last year.

10. Thomas Bjorn: Nearly out of the top 100 in the world rankings last summer, Bjorn is now back inside the top 25 thanks in large part to his win at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in his final start of 2013. The Dane sandwiched that win in South Africa with a pair of top-10 finishes, and now heads back to an event where he tied for third in 2012.

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Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:11 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.

He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.

Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.

McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.

“I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”

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DeChambeau comes up short: 'Hat’s off to Rory'

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 12:48 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Amid a leaderboard chock full of big names and major winners, the person that came closest to catching Rory McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational turned out to by Bryson DeChambeau.

While Henrik Stenson faltered and Justin Rose stalled out, it was DeChambeau that gave chase to McIlroy coming down the stretch at Bay Hill. Birdies on Nos. 12 and 13 were followed by an eagle out of the rough on No. 16, which brought him to within one shot of the lead.

But as DeChambeau surveyed his birdie putt from the fringe on the penultimate hole, McIlroy put an effective end to the proceedings with a closing birdie of his own to polish off a round of 64. DeChambeau needed a hole-out eagle on No. 18 to force a playoff, and instead made bogey.

That bogey ultimately didn’t have an effect on the final standings, as DeChambeau finished alone in second place at 15 under, three shots behind McIlroy after shooting a 4-under 68.

“I thought 15 under for sure would win today,” DeChambeau said. “Rory obviously played some incredible golf. I don’t know what he did on the last nine, but it was deep. I know that.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

DeChambeau will collect $961,000 for his performance this week in Orlando, just $47,000 less than he got for winning the John Deere Classic in July. While he would have preferred to take McIlroy’s spot in the winner’s circle, DeChambeau was pleased with his effort in Sunday’s final pairing as he sets his sights on a return to the Masters.

“For him to shoot 64 in the final round, that’s just, hat’s off to him, literally. I can’t do anything about that,” DeChambeau said. “I played some great golf, had some great up-and-downs, made a couple key putts coming down the stretch, and there’s not really much more I can do about it. My hat’s off to Rory, and he played fantastic.”

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Balky putter leaves Stenson with another close call

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 12:34 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – After missing a short birdie attempt on the 16th green Sunday, Henrik Stenson raised his putter and seemed poised to break it over the top of his head. It’s easy to see, then, where things went wrong for the big Swede during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Stenson started the final round with a one-shot lead, and he appeared ready to turn a number of close calls at Bay Hill into a victory after rolling in birdies on two of his first four holes. But he made just one more birdie the rest of the way and could only watch as Rory McIlroy raced past him to claim victory.

“I got the pace wrong on a couple of putts. Whipped it by on 15 and I left it short on 16,” Stenson said. “They’re very slick and undulated, and when you get the grain slightly wrong, you’re going to look a bit of a fool at times. It’s very shiny around the hole and you’ve got to get the pace right, and I was off on a couple of them.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Stenson bogeyed his final hole to finish his second straight round of 1-under 71, this time needing 30 putts. At 13 under, he ended up alone in fourth place, four shots behind McIlroy – the fourth time since 2014 that he has finished T-5 or better in this tournament that he has yet to win.

Despite yet another close call in his hometown event, Stenson opted to view things with a positive slant following a missed cut at the Valspar Championship and with a week off before his final start of Masters prep at the Houston Open.

“I haven’t felt comfortable with my swing and my long shots for quite some time, and it’s starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were. So we’ll keep on working on that. It’s a good time of the year to start playing well.”

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Focus shifts to Augusta as Woods continues to impress

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 12:30 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – On the final question of his final meeting with the media at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Tiger Woods offered his shortest and most direct response of the week.

Back when he launched this latest version of his comeback, before the Hero World Challenge in December when his world was filled with more doubt than possibility, could he have envisioned heading down Magnolia Lane carrying as much momentum as he’ll have on his fused back in a couple weeks?

“No,” he said.

That was it, outside of maybe the slightest hint of a grin. But there was also nothing more that needed to be said.

Woods’ bid for a record ninth title at Bay Hill ended when his tee shot on No. 16 bounded over a fence and out of bounds Sunday. His title bid last week at the Valspar Championship lasted two holes longer but eventually arrived at the same conclusion: close, but not quite enough.

But given where Woods stood a few months ago – even a few weeks ago – his Masters preparation has been nothing short of a success.

“If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year, that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments, I would have taken it in a heartbeat,” Woods said.

In three straight starts in the Sunshine State, Woods compiled three top-12 finishes. He nearly broke the Trackman equipment with his driver swing speed, flaunted a transformative short game and stirred memories of years gone by with each shockwave he sent through the galleries.

And yes, that continued in a big way Sunday at Bay Hill as there was about a 45-minute stretch where it seemed like maybe, possibly, Woods might somehow find a way to chase down Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson.

“It was a clinic I thought today, except for two tee balls,” said caddie Joe LaCava. “No. 9 he got away with it, but you know what I mean. It was a clinic ball-striking except for the tee balls at 9 and 16. Other than that, it was great.”

This week Woods officially became the Masters betting favorite in Las Vegas, a statement that would have seemed ludicrous to type in the wake of his missed cut at the Genesis Open just four short weeks ago. At that point his ability to simply tee it up the following week at PGA National was seen as a great coup, and a sign that he might still be able to make a go of it in his latest comeback attempt after so many previous attempts were aborted or derailed by further injury.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Now here we sit, with his last competitive shot before the Masters in the rear-view mirror, and suddenly the man seems to have all the shots necessary to make a legitimate run at a fifth green jacket.

“I’m looking forward to it. I miss playing there,” Woods said. “I’ve been there for the dinner, and as great as that is, it’s frustrating knowing that I’m, I would have to say, young enough to play the event where some of the other champions are not. And I just have not been able to physically do it, which is difficult.”

It’s a testament to Woods’ rapid ascent that the number of questions he faces about his health and stamina dwindle with each passing round. Seemingly overnight, the focus has shifted back to mental preparedness, shot selection and equipment tweaks he might make in order to nab his first win in nearly five years.

In the span of a few weeks, performances that once seemed on the brink of extinction have become the new normal.

“I don’t want to get too high or too low. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. But you’re seeing improvement each week,” LaCava said. “I know you hear that from him, too. But it just seems like he’s getting better and better with his swing and trusting it more, which I think is huge.”

The latest effort came Sunday on a course he knows like few others. Woods realized entering the day that the odds were stacked against him, and as it turns out even his most valiant effort wouldn’t have been enough to keep pace with McIlroy. But when he buried a birdie putt on No. 13 to get within a shot of the lead, his third in the last four holes, a familiar glint returned to his eye as he trudged to the 14th tee.

Realizing the moment, the ever-expanding crowd responded with a “Tiger! Tiger!” chant that enveloped the tee box and caused McIlroy to step back off his birdie putt across the lake on the 11th green. And while his title bid ended in abrupt fashion a couple holes later, it was still a snapshot from a scene that so recently seemed improbable.

For a second straight Sunday, Woods donned his traditional red and black and exceeded expectations. Even, as it turns out, the ones he set for himself.