Power Rankings: McGladrey Classic

By Will GrayNovember 5, 2013, 9:16 pm

This week marks the fifth week of the PGA Tour's new 2013-14 wraparound season, as the Tour returns to the U.S. after two weeks in Asia. Sea Island Club's Seaside Course plays host this week to The McGladrey Classic, the penultimate official event of the 2013 calendar year.

Be sure to join the Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge to test yourself against our panel of experts, including defending champion Charlie Rymer.

Tommy Gainey returns to defend the title he won last year by one stroke over David Toms. Here are 10 players to watch this week along the Georgia coastline:

1. Zach Johnson: A resident of nearby St. Simons Island, Johnson finished the 2013 season as one of the hottest golfers on Tour, a stretch that he capped with a win at the BMW Championship in September. Dating back to last season, Johnson has seven top-10 finishes in his last nine starts overall and should benefit from the friendly confines this week at Sea Island.

2. Webb Simpson: A winner his last time out at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, Simpson is clearly carrying some momentum into this week's event in Georgia. He's also familiar with Sea Island, having lost to Ben Crane in a playoff here in 2011 in his most recent McGladrey appearance.

3. Matt Kuchar: One of many players in this week's field with ties to the Peach State, and at No. 8 is the highest-ranked player in this week's field. He's notched a pair of top-25 finishes in his previous two McGladrey appearances and has shot par or better in each of his eight prior competitive rounds at Sea Island.

4. Brendon de Jonge: The Zimbabwean remains on the short list of most talented players without a PGA Tour win, though he nearly got one here a year ago when he tied for fourth. A course like Sea Island that demands tee-to-green accuracy while yielding a high number of birdies will usually be in de Jonge's wheelhouse.

5. Charles Howell III: Howell continues his quest to earn a Masters invite, and may find an elusive victory this week after a pair of top-10 finishes in his two most recent starts. The Augusta native also has a pair of top-10 finishes in three career McGladrey appearances, including a T-7 result last year after carding 68 or better in each of the four rounds.

6. Boo Weekley: Weekley is making the long trip from China to Georgia this week, having tied for 11th at the WGC-HSBC Champions. The veteran finished the 2013 season ranked sixth on Tour in GIR percentage and seventh in total driving, two trends that should bode well this week on a course where Weekley tied for 27th a year ago.

7. Jeff Overton: Overton tied for sixth here in 2011 and in two career appearances has shot in the 60s in seven of eight competitive rounds. Already with three starts under his belt in 2013-14, the former Hoosier has finished T-16 or better each time he's teed it up this season, including a T-9 in Las Vegas after opening with a 63.

8. John Peterson: Though Peterson has cooled since his torrid run through the Web.com Tour Finals, he now returns to a course where he finished second during the 2011 SEC Championship. A former NCAA champion while at LSU, Peterson tied for 21st at the Frys.com Open and has the ability to go low on nearly any PGA Tour venue.

9. Luke Guthrie: Guthrie is currently riding a hot hand, having parlayed his tie for fifth in Las Vegas into a fourth-place finish at the BMW Masters in China two weeks ago. Now back in the States, the former University of Illinois product will look to keep up his momentum, having shot 71 or better in each of his first eight rounds to start the 2013-14 PGA Tour season.

10. Harris English: A former standout at the University of Georgia, English will certainly have some crowd support this week at Sea Island and has already shown the ability to win on the PGA Tour. The 24-year-old tied for seventh in his most recent start at the CIMB Classic and tied for 15th at McGladrey a year ago. 

Getty Images

McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.