Old Ryder Cup Foes Go Separate Ways
Both their careers have seen their best years. Ballesteros has suffered with a wrenched back and has not won since 1995. Azinger was at the height of his career in 1993 when he was blindsided by cancer.
Ballesteros appears to be sidelined permanently now, withdrawing from a string of events on the U.S. tour this year when his spine just wouldnt hold up to the rigors of tournament golf. Reports last month had him holed up at home Spain, where he was spending a considerable portion of each day laboring to get out of bed.
Azinger, also plagued by a problem back, has not had a prognosis nearly as disheartening, but his golf game has been somewhat underwhelming the past year. He had missed four straight cuts beginning with Honda until, suddenly, he showed some very strong signs of life at Houston.
It was there that he finished in a tie for 6th.
And it was the latest in a career-long series of makeovers for Zinger. He has been on the roller coaster for so long he is beginning to look like a bobble-head doll. He was among the worlds best when he competed so fiercely for the American Ryder Cuppers, then almost lost his game ' and his life ' when he was mowed down by cancer at the end of 93. He slowly built up his skills to the point where he won in Hawaii in 2000, was a captains pick at the 2002 Ryder Cup.
In 2003, he was down again. He went to the starting gate 26 times, missed the cut 14 times and withdrew twice. The back, you know ' isnt that perennially the ailment with golfers?
Finally, he went to see Jim Hardy, much better known of late as a course designer with Peter Jacobsen. That was in October of last year, after Azinger spent most of his earlier career of working with John Redmond. Hardy told Azinger exactly what he wanted to hear ' that there would be no six-month waiting period to see what the results might be. If youre not hitting it better in the next five or 10 minutes, Hardy said at the first meeting, then Im telling you wrong.
Azinger has been much improved over what he was last year. Hardys words were, indeed, exactly what the doctor ordered. Azinger cringes when he thinks back to the in-again, out-again swerves his career has taken.
When I first came out, I was great, said Azinger, And then I just was awful. And then I got OK and then I got awful, then I got actually pretty good. And for a point I got really bad again last year.
The hardest thing is - you think experience will make you play good, but it's experience with desire. None of us can see ourselves, so we have to have good information. If you're not getting good information, it doesn't matter how strong your desire is.
Azinger and Hardy have been working towards flattening out Azingers swing ' the same pattern as it was during the time Zinger was among the worlds best. Azinger had gradually gotten more upright down through the years. Now that he is beginning to see the light, he also has begun to hit the ball squarely in the back instead of the inside.
My swing was just not functional, said Azinger. He (Hardy) was kind enough to work with me. He's not really - I don't even think he fancies himself a teacher because he only works with guys he feels - when he feels like doing, it for the most part. He's got several guys that he'll work with any time, but he's really not allowing too many other players to - he just doesn't have time. He's really busy in golf course design and all that.
And Azinger is beginning to get the feel of the new swing, although to him it is much more a case of getting back to the old swing.
I'm real comfortable right now that I'm not going to be just completely swing-conscious on the golf course, he said. But you have to have some keys. Everybody has a few keys, and I'm just working on a couple keys, and I think I'm going to be just a little bit more effective than I was when I was up there.
Hes just like any other golfer who has found it, then lost it. Nothing is quite as frustrating as having once been one of the best in the world, then watch it slowly erode away.
I think anybody out here who has a talent is either getting good information or bad information, he explained, and I think that most of us out here would jump through a hula hoop and swing if that was a perfect technique to hit good shots.
But it's not, so we would try it and try it and if someone says that's the way I need to do it, you wouldn't hit good shots. The golf ball is going to tell you if the information is good or not.
My point is, I guess, I would say just about everybody out here has the skill to produce whatever someone is asking them to do in a matter of minutes. And it shouldn't take weeks and weeks or months.
Maybe Zinger can do something for his old foe Ballesteros. Azinger himself apparently is on the right track.
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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.
The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up right 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."
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.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
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.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
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.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
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.
“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.