Happy Days Here Again for Gilder Kite

By George WhiteOctober 25, 2001, 4:00 pm
You never know when it will happen, those magical days after you reach age 50 when every shot you hit is straight as a string - high and far and straight.
Bob Gilder birdied the difficult 18th at the Gaillardia Golf & Country Club to break out of a tie with Tom Kite Thursday at the Senior Tour Championship in Oklahoma City, Okla. He shot a 5-under-par 67, Kite finished with a 4-under 68, and both agreed that it was one of those rare days on the golf course.
I hit the ball great today, an enthusiastic Gilder said. I hit some great irons. I hit it right at the hole all day. I felt in control.
Gilder birdied No. 18, a 553-yard stretch of land that was playing directly into a 15 mile-per-hour north wind, by hitting driver, 4-iron and pitching wedge. He then rattled home an 11-foot putt for the birdie and walked away from the hole a happy soul indeed.
Meanwhile, Kite was continuing the excellent run that he has had for several weeks now.
This was another of several good rounds I have played lately, said Kite. I had a 62 at Sacramento a couple of weeks ago. Today I continued to play awfully well. I hit a lot of greens ' I couldnt have missed more than two or three all day, and I never really had to chip. I think I putted all three times I missed the green. It was just a nice, easy day.
Both Gilder and Kite eagled the par-5 3rd hole, which was playing straight downwind. Gilder reached with a 4-iron second shot and dunked in a 25-foot birdie. Kite, who had opened with a 15-foot birdie at No. 1, hit a 5-iron second shot to 18 feet on No. 3 and drained the putt. Kite followed with an 8-foot birdie on the 6th hole to go 4-under at that stage, then parred his way to the clubhouse.
Leading money-winner Allen Doyle shot a 1-over 73, with No. 2 Bruce Fleisher firing a 2-under 70. Hale Irwin, ranked No. 3, got around in even-par 72, while Larry Nelson, trying for his sixth win this season, had a 3-over 75.
Gilder didnt putt the ball well, despite his excellence with the irons. He missed twice from inside six feet on the first two holes. He missed from eight feet at the 12th, inside five feet on the 15th, and had at least a couple of others in which he missed makeable birdies.
I didnt feel quite comfortable with my putting this week, he said. But I did hit good putts the last two holes.
One, of course, was his final-hole birdie. The other, at No. 17, was an eight-footer which saved what looked to be a certain bogey.
Kite putted just like he hit the ball ' very well. His three under-par holes came on putts of 15 feet, 18 feet and eight feet.
Im hitting the ball further than Ive ever hit it, the 51-year-old Kite said. Of course, part of that is due to the equipment. But I weigh close to 170 now, and I only weighed 155 most of my regular-tour career. And the extra weight is all muscle. I hit it 280 now, where I used to hit it 260 on the regular tour. For one thing, my workouts are so much better.
There are other differences, too. With three days play for the normal event instead of four, I always go home, said Kite. That is very important in staying sharp all the time.
At one time, Kite was a wonderful putter, nearly always reliable when it counted. Now, though, he struggles with the blade. Theres no sense in beating myself up over it, but it comes and goes, he said. Ive just got to make sure that on the weeks when it comes, Im not sitting at home. Ive got to make sure Im out here.
Full-field scores from the Senior Tour Championship
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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.