Lets Let the Skins Die a Merciful Death

By George WhiteDecember 1, 2003, 5:00 pm
The Skins Game has just about taken its last gasp of air. Turn out the lights and softly close the door ' its finished. R.I.P., you see, and all that.
The 2003 edition was worth a peek only because it matched Annika Sorenstam against the men. And the men?
Well, there was Fred Couples, a lovable figure battling a shaky back ' but still a retread. There was Phil Mickelson, who probably looked pretty good when this Skins was put together at the beginning of the year ' but at seasons end just hanging onto the ropes. And there was Mark OMeara, who now is a long-lost shadow of the O'Meara of five years ago.
Couples was moderately compelling because he had rebounded from the depths the last two seasons ' seasons in which he finished 131st and 108th on the money list. This year, at age 43, he actually won a tour event and finished 31st in cash won. But he has long since passed his prime, and his presence alone isnt nearly enough to make you want to leave the football games and tune in to golf.
Mickelson is even less a reason, considering that in his last 16 events, he cracked the top 10 only twice. He is in the midst of a dreadful slump ' and his play in the Skins was a clear indication.
And OMeara ' well, OMeara is winding down a career that has seen a multitude of ups and downs. In 1998, he won two majors. In 1999, he still played well enough to finish 45th on the money list. Then he turned his attention to other things ' including the tragedy of his mothers death and the excitement of a budding design career ' and basically tuned out of active golf. He was in here solely because he happened to win it last year ' and he was in it then largely because of his association with Toyota, one of the Skins sponsors. A nice guy, OMeara, but he was totally out of place here. But, so probably was Mickelson.
Then there was Sorenstam. She alone made it worth dropping in on the telecast occasionally, just to see how she would do against the gents. Is that reason enough to drop the lawn mover or snow blower, or to change channels from your Sunday pro football game? As it developed, Annika won two holes, one with a hole-out from a bunker on a par-5, another with a 15-foot putt. That gave her five skins with the carryovers, good for second place behind Couples.
The telecast by ABC was anti-climatic, too. Because it was tape-delayed, it was chopped Sunday to fit the time slot. Therefore, you knew it was going to extra holes when they were on No. 18 with 30 minutes still remaining.
But then came a ridiculous shortening of the three playoff holes, showing only a shot or two of each before Couples winning putt on the third. Much better to have some other means of playing off a tie than to grind it out in hole-by-hole competition. The playoff holes should have been the most exciting part of the day. Instead, they were summarily kissed off to fit neatly into the time package.
Lets face it, after T. Woods, there isnt another compelling face in the sport that could draw us away from other mundane activities. And then he is compelling only if he has competition. Ernie Els would have been a reason to watch. So, possibly, would have been Vijay Singh. And Annika certainly was reason. But the field that was there last weekend? No way.
That, though, is the big problem with having to pick a field long before November. There originally was no dearth of interesting subjects ' the first Skins back in 1983 had Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson. Im not so sure that that field wouldnt have more interest today than what was served up to us last weekend.
Curtis Strange, Ian Baker-Finch, et al tried mightily to make it sound interesting and captivating. But it wasnt. Not even remotely. Couples won and piled up more cash on his already money-leading total. Annika won her two holes and was in the mix for a couple of others. Other than that little bit of drama ' zilch!
Its hardly fair to criticize the participants ' after all, they didnt request to be here. And its hardly fair to criticize the announcers ' they get paid to do this one, just the same as they get paid to do the majors. But its more than fair to criticize the event. Lets let the Skins Game die a merciful death, at least as far as a big-time television event is concerned. It has run its course.
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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.