Stat attack!: Northern Trust Open review

By John AntoniniFebruary 17, 2014, 3:00 am

We should get used to the what we saw Sunday during the final round of the Northern Trust Open. It has all the ingredients of becoming one of the top rivalries on the PGA Tour. The right-handed bomber who has won at least once in each of his seven years in the big leagues against the left-handed slugger who won the 2012 Masters and led the Tour in driving distance four times in the last eight years. Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson epitomize the new breed of PGA Tour star – long off the tee, tall as the trees, cool under pressure, and as much of an athlete as any of the basketball stars who dunked the night away at the NBA All-Star Game. Although they didn’t quite play one-on-one in the final round at Hogan’s Alley, the pair were certainly aware of each other’s presence on the leaderboard, and Watson’s two-stroke win over Johnson marks the fourth time in five years the two have finished in the top five at the same PGA Tour event.

Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson in contention at the same event

 Tournament Bubba Watson Dustin Johnson
 2014 Northern Trust Open Won 2nd
 2013 Hyundai T of C T-4 Won
 2011 Farmers Won T-3
 2010 PGA  2nd T-5

Watson led the Northern Trust Open in driving distance - the official stat, not the distance of all drives - marking the fourth straight week either he or Johnson has led the field in that statistic. Watson leads the circuit in driving distance at 320.8 yards in 2013-14 and hammered 18 drives longer than that at Riviera. Johnson was eighth in distance at the NTO at a pedestrian 303.3 yards per poke, but he led the field in greens in regulation, hitting 53, two more than Watson, who was third on the week. However, Johnson’s weekend rounds of 69-66 couldn’t match Bubba’s spectacular bogey-free 64-64, the lowest weekend total at the Northern Trust Open since the tournament returned to Riviera in 1973.

Lowest final 36 holes at the Northern Trust Open since 1973

 Total Scores Player Year
 128 64-64 Bubba Watson 2014
 129 66-63 Doug Tewell 1986
 131 65-66 Tiger Woods 1998
 131 62-69 Fred Couples 1990
 131 67-64 Lanny Wadkins 1985
 131 63-68 Gil Morgan 1983
 131 61-70 George Archer 1983

Watson wasn't just the first player with two weekend rounds of 65 or better at Riviera, he was only the fourth player since 1990 to shoot at least two rounds that low in the same week at the Northern Trust Open. Three of the four would go on to win.

Players with two rounds of 65 or better at the Northern Trust Open since 1990

 Year Player Scores Finish
 2014 Bubba Watson 70-71-64-64 Won
 2009 Phil Mickelson 63-72-62-72 Won
 2007 Charles Howell III 69-65-69-65 Won
 2002 Scott McCarron 69-65-65-71 T-2

Watson's 128 also matched the lowest final 36 on the PGA Tour in 2013-14.

 Total Scores Player Tournament
 128 64-64 Bubba Watson Northern Trust Open
 128 62-66 Jimmy Walker Open
 128 64-64 Kevin Na Open
 129 63-66 Ian Poulter HSBC Champions

But Riviera CC was far from a pushover. Of the 18 courses the PGA Tour has played in 2013-14, it ranks as the sixth-toughest behind Torrey Pines' South Course, the Seaside Course at Sea Island Resort and the three venues used during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Toughest courses on the PGA Tour in 2013-14

 Rank Course Average to par
 1 Torrey Pines South   +1.797
 2 Pebble Beach  +1.385
 3 Spyglass Hill +0.755
 4 Seaside Course +.0255
 5 Monterey Peninsula +0.252
 6 Riviera +0.209

Johnson, meanwhile, finished second for the second consecutive week on Tour. He shot a closing 66 at Pebble Beach a week ago to finish one stroke back of Jimmy Walker. He’s one of eight players to finish second on consecutive weeks in the last 10 years.

Runner-up finishes in back-to-back weeks on the PGA Tour from 2005-2014

 Year  Player  Runner-ups  Next start
 2014  Dustin Johnson  Pebble, Northern Trust  
 2013   Phil Mickelson  FedEx, U.S. Open MC Greenbrier 
 2013   Brandt Snedeker  Farmers, Phoenix Won Pebble Beach 
 2009   Brett Quigley  Puerto Rico, Tampa MC Arnold Palmer 
 2007   Tim Clark  John Deere, Milwaukee T-6 WGC Bridgestone
 2007   Jose Coceres  Mayakoba, Honda T-29 Heritage
 2006   Trevor Immelman  Wachovia, Nelson T-7 Memorial
 2005   Vijay Singh  Honda, Arnold Palmer T-12 Players

It’s worth noting that not only did Snedeker win in his next start the following week at the 2013 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, but Mickelson, too, stayed hot despite the missed cut at the Greenbrier Classic. Lefty won in his next two tournaments at the European Tour’s Barclay’s Scottish Open and the Open Championship. That’s food for thought as Johnson plays this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Unless, of course, he runs into Bubba Watson somewhere along the way.

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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.