Big Four Head for Collision

By George WhiteMarch 15, 2005, 5:00 pm
Oh no ' now Vijays smack-dab in the mix, too. Tiger, Phil and Ernie have all had periods of brilliance in this young season. With all four on the verge of heading to The Players Championship in two weeks, then the Masters in less than a month, something has just got to give.
Singh lost a playoff to Padraig Harrington at Honda when he blew a putt of 2 feet. But he looks like he finally has gotten adjusted to the shafts he put into his clubs just this season. He won the Sony, remember, and then when the tour got to his adopted state of Florida, he promptly put together a tie for third at Doral to go with his almost at Honda. He looks awfully scary heading into this week at Bay Hill.
Woods? All he has done is win twice, at the Buick Invitational and at Doral. He at last put graphite in his driver to get a little extra distance ' he now clubs it 306 yards per measured drive, third on the rankings. But equally as important, he is putting the ball brilliantly. Hes cut his average per-hole strokes down to 1.68, while last year he was at 1.724.
Mickelson might have had the most impressive season over-all. His wins at Phoenix (FBR), Pebble Beach (AT&T) and his battle down to the wire against Woods at Doral would seem to indicate as much. Mickelson also has taken a giant step in his putting, standing second on tour this year, as compared to 43rd last year.
However, Woods still seems to have Mickelsons number. Mickelson had some untimely short-putt misses against Tiger in the closing holes at Doral. And he did likewise in the final holes at the U.S. Open last year against Reteif Goosen. He won a close one over Els last year at the Masters, but until he can do it consistently in the big tournaments, he still cant be considered Woods equal yet.
Incidentally, its worth taking a second look at Els. He finished second to Singh at Sony, remember, and the last two weeks has notched wins in the Middle East (Dubai and Qatar). Qatar was against a weak field and he had to come from a five-stroke deficit the final day. But Dubai was against some fairly strong competition. He now comes to Bay Hill and his American home of Orlando. Is he getting ready for something big?
David Toms has shown flashes of brilliance this year, also. He won the Match Play and was fifth at both Doral and Honda. A sure, steady player, he bears watching closely. The Masters would appear to be a little too long for him, but if Mike Weir can do it, then Toms can, too.
Adam Scott won the Nissan, but his victory was derided by just about everyone because it was rain-delayed and just over 36 holes. But come on, people, he played the best of anyone who showed up. And just to prove that he is worthy of some consideration, he came back the next week and went all the way to the quarterfinals of the Match Play before he ran into a sizzling Toms.
Geoff Ogilvy won the alternate event in Tucson while the Match Play was going on. Ogilvy is an interesting character. An Australian, he is now in his fifth year on the American tour. He is now 27, just about to enter the prime years of a golfers career, and he battled tenaciously at Honda. He was tied for the lead on the back nine at Honda and shot a 64 and 67 in the second and third rounds, respectively. Hmmm
Justin Leonard won the Bob Hope, but what to make of him he has missed three cuts this year. He, too, probably doesnt have enough length to seriously contend at most venues. But every year he will pull a real surprise ' dont forget hes won nine times and got into playoffs another four.
Oh yes ' Harrington. Hes already proven hes the best player on the European Tour. Hes playing a full PGA Tour schedule this year for the first time, and it really came as no surprise that hes won for the first time in America now. Harrington always takes an extended time off around New Years and usually takes awhile to get tuned up. This year, he served notice that he is jumping out of to an early start, in only his third start.
They head to Bay Hill now, the Big Four minus Mickelson, all on a collision course with the victory circle. And in two weeks, all four will be at The Players. Is this the year and the big guns will all be on top of their games at the same time?
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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.