Leaderboard Tightens Up at Futures Tour Event
And at only one shot back at 137 are Sarah Lynn Johnston (67) of St. Charles, Ill., and Perry Swenson (70) of Charlotte, N.C. Johnston's hot putter needed only 24 strokes, while Swenson hit 16 greens and threatened to break away all day. But that pair is trailed by the trio of Chiharu Yamaguchi (67) of Tochigi, Japan, Alena Sharp (69) of Hamilton, Ontario, and Stephanie George (71) of Myerstown, Pa. -- all tied at 6-under-par 138 at Lost Creek Country Club.
'There are a lot of great players within two shots of the lead,' said Swenson, a rookie from the University of Texas playing in her third tournament as a pro. 'Really, anybody is in it because the scores are so tight.'
And tight it was all day with more lead changes than Tour veteran Kelly Cap cares to remember. Cap charged to the lead with consecutive birdies on holes 11 and 12, but tumbled down the leaderboard with a triple-bogey-7 on the par-4 15th hole. Cap encountered a tricky downhill lie that squirted under a tree. A flop shot and three putts later from 50 feet, and suddenly, Cap had left the door open.
'It was kind of a kick in the gut today,' said the player from Youngstown , Ohio , who dropped back to 140 (-4) with her 1-over-par round of 73 today.
But while Cap was struggling to dig herself out of trouble, Gleason was gunning for a number to put on the leaderboard. The second-year pro posted a 67, rained in three consecutive birdies on holes 11, 12 and 13, and then, as if to tell her peers that 'the little kid' means business, the petite pro drained a 25-foot putt on the 18th hole for the clubhouse lead.
'I knew I was playing well and the cup looked really big today,' said Gleason, 24, who played college golf at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro . 'Even though this course is short, you have to hit it well off the tee. You have a lot of wedges in your hands out here, but you still have to dial them in.'
Downey and Turner, who grew up playing amateur golf together in upstate New York , had their own little match play today in the same pairing. The two chased each other throughout the round, with Downey scoring birdies on two of her last three holes and Turner rolling in birdie putts on 17 and 18. Both posted scores of four-under-par 68.
'It was fun to play with Danielle because we had never played together as professionals until this week,' said Turner, 27, in her fifth Futures Tour season.
But make no mistake. The field knows this year's title is up for grabs and Sunday's final round is an invitation for a slugfest. Only three shots off the lead is a hard-chasing group of four players tied at 139 (-5) that includes Nicole Castrale (70) of Palm Desert, Calif., who is seeking a third consecutive win this season, former Ohio State All-American Allison Hanna (70) of Portland, Ore., 2004 winner Naree Song (71) of Seoul, Korea and rookie Becky Berzonski (67) of Erie, Pa., a recent grad of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
Birdies are abundant on the 5,973-yard course that features tight fairways and small greens. And eagles are always accessible to big hitters who manage themselves wisely, as evidenced by the two opening shots of rookie Ashley Prange of Noblesville, Ind., who went eagle-eagle, fired a 6-under-par 66, and charged into a nine-way tie at 4-under-par 140. With 25 players scoring in the 60s today -- including fourth-ranked Kyeong Bae of Seoul , Korea , who matched Prange's low round of 66 -- low scores tend to shift the leaderboard on a regular basis.
Still, Downey is hoping her best round is yet to come on Sunday.
'To win this in 54 holes would prove a point,' said Downey , who won the 2004 rain-shortened Lima tournament in 36 holes. 'I don't want to be a one-tournament wonder.'
Seventy-nine players made the 36-hole cut at 147 (+3), the season's lowest cut.
Sunday's final round of the 54-hole event will begin at 8 a.m., off the first tee only. The leaders will tee off at 12:20 p.m.
Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
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."
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.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
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.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
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.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
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.
“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.