The Chip - Lucky Yet Unbelievable

By George WhiteApril 12, 2005, 4:00 pm
It will be a long time before they finally pipe down about the events of Sunday at Augusta. And it will be decades before they finally quit talking about the one little chip shot that Tiger Woods stroked on No. 16.
Yes, it was, in a way, lucky. Lucky that it finally toppled in for a deuce. But there was nothing at all lucky about the way the ball lurched up, checked up just before it made a 90-degree turn and then started the long, agonizing roll towards the cup. It would have been a fabulous shot if it had just hung on the lip of the cup. But to have it drop in ' that was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Call the shot 95 percent excellence and five percent luck.
Tiger himself agreed that there was a measure of good fortune thrown in. I just tried to not necessarily try to chip it in - I wasn't thinking about that, he said. I was just trying to throw the ball up there on the hill and let it feed down there and hopefully have a makeable putt.
He did it so masterfully, of course, that the darn thing went ahead and dropped into the hole.
I remember Lanny Wadkins comment just a second or two before Woods struck the shot. Wadkins opined that Tiger could hit a creditable chip and still not be as close to the pin as Chris DiMarco was -15 feet. And its true. I was fully expecting at least two putts from Woods before he had finally tidied up. The shot was just so difficult.
It was, I believe, more difficult than Trevor Immelmans hole-in-one that preceded it by less than 30 minutes. After all, you basically had to hit the ball straight at the flag to ace the hole, then watch it roll back to the hole on the severely sloped green. The ace was a difficult shot, let me say that straight up. But an ace could definitely be had on the hole.
But Tiger's shot - first, he was forced to chop down on the ball, which was up against the collar of the rough. Woods had to, No. 1, pick out a proper line; No. 2, get the club cleanly on the ball, neither skulling it nor fatting it; No. 3, hit the ball exactly on the line he had chosen; No. 4, hit it at precisely the distance necessary before it made the wide, sweeping roll into the cup. And he had to do this while dealing with pressure of the most extreme kind.
I watched the shot, watched the ball roll and twist, saw the Nike swoosh teeter momentarily, for a full two seconds. But I never did believe it had finished moving. The ball always appeared to be hanging so precariously,that it eventually would topple on in. But was it hung up on a spike mark? Would it take the last quarter-roll? An eternity passed in those two seconds, then the ball tumbled into the hole. The roar was heard from Toronto to Timbuktu.
Somehow an earthquake happened, and it fell into the hole, said Tiger.
There was a very real element of failure in hitting the shot. Woods was acutely aware of this possibility as he lined up for the chip. But he executed it ' perfectly, as it turns out.
The biggest danger, I thought, was fatting it and getting too cute with it, he remarked. I said, If anything, just blow it up on the hill. It will come back down, just as long as I'm inside Chris. If I can get inside Chris, even if Chris makes it, I can still make my putt to be tied for the lead.
You know, if I'm outside Chris, I make my bogey, all of a sudden he feels like he's got a free run at it.
OK, you may say, the shot has been made before. Davis Love made a similar chip from a similar place a couple of years ago. But it did not have the same gravity as this one. Davis did not have the white-hot glare of being in the lead at the Masters, trying to shake off a bulldog who would not let go of the pants leg. He did not have the certain knowledge that, if he did not hit the shot precisely, the green jacket could go drifting, drifting away. Not to make light of a brilliant shot by Love, but it becomes exponentially tougher when you place the dire importance on it that Woods had.
All of a sudden, it looked pretty good, and all of a sudden it looked like really good, Tiger said. And it looked like, How could it not go in, and how did it not go in? And all of a sudden it went in, so it was pretty sweet.
Woods had never practiced the shot. No - never, ever, ever. No, you're not supposed to hit the ball over there, he said with a grin.
How hard do you hit it? At what angle? It was strictly fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants stuff. But the fact that it stopped on the lip of the cup, then fell in, was evidence that it was a great shot. It would have been a good shot if it had just stayed on the green. It would have been a great shot if it had died just 10 feet away. It was a near-impossible shot when, with the entire world watching, it fell into the hole from 30 feet away, taking about 45 feet to slowly make its way.
To be frank, Tiger was not always able to pull off the miracles this week. He tried something similar during the first round on No. 13 and the ball took a left turn and picked up speed, rolling, rolling until it plunked into the creek.
And the shot was almost trumped by another, later brilliant chip. If DiMarcos chip at No. 18 in regulation had gone into the hole ' it actually hit the cup and continued on for two feet ' we wouldnt be dissecting Woods shot in near the detail. We would have been exclaiming over the impossible shot of DiMarco. But it didnt go down. So-o-o just another game effort.
I have a feeling we just witnessed a gem that they will be talking about for all time, a shot to place alongside Tom Watsons chip-in at the 82 Open. The name of the tournament is appropriate ' the Masters. What we saw was masterful indeed.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.