He Fights the Eternal Grind
There are two more weekends to make the 125, this week and then next week at Tampa. For some, it is most definitely life-changing. If you dont make it above the water-line, you sometimes find it is an impossible task. Some will try after being exempt this year, yet never again make it.
Bob Burns was almost that person last year. He was in danger of missing the 125, yet a victory at Walt Disney saved him. His win bought him a little time, but he admits this in-again, out-again business is getting old. Hes been chasing 125 since 1992, sometimes making enough money to play on the PGA Tour, sometimes lapsing back onto the Nationwide Tour.
Burns is a typical guy who continually chases that magic number. He was an all-American at Cal State-Northridge, won the 1990 NCAA Division II Championship. That wasnt so difficult, but ever since his house was near the epicenter of the 1994 California earthquake, it seems like nothing has been easy for him.
He played the Nationwide in 92 and 93, then made the big tour in 94 and 95. In 96, he was in the minor leagues again on the Nationwide, yo-yoed back up to the bigs in 97, then back again to the minors in 98. But since 1999, hes managed to hang on, putting in time at the 93, 99 and 03 Q-Schools along the way.
You can't take anything for granted, Burns said, especially if you are one of the guys that's always trying to get that 125 spot - which I have been in my career. So you have to treat every tournament as if its a qualifier for the next year.
Not to downplay it, you are playing to win the tournament, but you know, (it) just doesn't always work out that way. You see a lot of people haven't won out here. A few people have won a lot. So there's a big discrepancy there.
There was always that nagging little knife in between his shoulder blades, ready to twist in any given October. He lives an existence that is far more traveled than the 30-40 guys who seem to always be winning. These men, the ones who are always on the outside looking in, are the lifeblood of the tour, bouncing up and down between the regular tour and the Nationwide, making what by normal standards is a comfortable living, but always fearful that this year might be the last one.
I have been on the bubble quite a bit, Burns said in the classic understatement. Even when I got my card through the Nike (now Nationwide) Tour (in 1998), I was 14th on the money list going into the last event there. And I won the (Tour) Championship; ended up finishing first on the money list, so I guess it's not anything terribly unusual for me.
But coming in last year, 118 on the money list - I think I had about $535,000, right about what we felt the number was going to be at the end of the year. Not that I felt secure, but I knew I still needed some good tournaments coming in. I had played pretty well at Vegas; ended up missing the cut by one. It really inspired me to come here and play well because I felt like my game was in good shape.
And, of course, he ended up winning on the Disney courses. This year, though, its the same song, umpteenth verse ' he ranks 156th on the money list. Hes missed 15 of 26 cuts, although lately it looks like hes found it again. He has made the cut in nine of his last 11 events. Unfortunately, of course, the door is about to slam just as he finally is about to get it together. Remember, theres just this week and next week.
For Burns, though, this is a year when he can stop worrying. His victory last year brought him a two-year exemption ' this year was the first, next year will be the last. Burns, now 35, hopes its time he broke the chain. Hes getting awfully tired of having to sweat it out every October.
I'd be lying if none of the guys that are on that bubble coming down to the end of the year, including myself - obviously we're thinking about it, he said.
I'd say at this point in my career, even the last couple of years of my career, I haven't put as much pressure on myself; whereas, I have to do it, I have to succeed because I know that there's always golf to be played.
It's my job. I have learned that. I have been doing it for almost thirteen years. I will continue to do it and I will play out here for a long time, you know, I might not finish in the 125 every year, I might not win every year, but I still think I have got quite a few good years in me.
Hes one of the boys who have always struggled for the 125. Burns doesnt like it one bit, but the fact is undeniable. Finish on the wrong side of that number, and golf isnt a game anymore. Its nothing but an occupation ' an ugly, grinding occupation.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
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.
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.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
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.
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.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
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.
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.
Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title
The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.
Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.
Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.
Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.
Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.