Rejuvenated Pavin Takes Colonial Lead With 64
Yes, he led that tournament, just as he leads this one. And forget for a moment that he wound up in a tie for 11th after a third-round 74. It is good, he says, to be back.
His score of 8-under-par 132 is one better than first-round co-leader Phil Mickelson, who shot a 68 Friday and Brett Quigley, who matched Pavin's 64.
Considering where Pavin has been since 1996 ' finishing better than 150th on the money list only once ' that 64 was an awfully good feeling.
Yeah, Im pleased ' very pleased, he said, noting the 64 included eight birdies and two bogeys, one on the final hole. Anytime you make eight birdies at Colonial, thats a good thing. Anytime you make eight birdies anywhere, thats a good thing.
Rocco Mediate had the days low score, shooting 62 and standing at 6-under. But Pavin was the subject of all the conversation Friday. Colonial was the last tournament he won ' in 96 ' and he also won in 1985. That was when he was still one of the premiere players in golf.
Pavin ranks 180th and last in driving distance on the PGA Tour at a scant 246 yards a try, but he hit both of Colonials par-5s in two whacks, and the 11th is a major-league whack of 609 yards. The 41-year-old three-time Ryder Cupper has seen his distance steadily dwindle since 96 ' and he wasnt exactly a gorilla before that. He has returned to Bruce Hamilton, head pro at Camarillo Country Club in California, this year, and he says his distance is slowly but surely getting back to previous levels.
Im starting to regain the length that I had been losing the past five years, Pavin said. Ive averaged close to 300 yards the last two days. I think the things that Bruce has been saying is finally starting to kick in.
At the same time he was losing distance, Pavin, one of the Tours most accurate putters, was missing at a more frequent clip. When you lose your vaunted short game and you never had much of a long game, that isnt a very good recipe for success.
But my putting has really come around this year, he said. I worked with Bruce the first time at AT&T this year, and he got me really rolling it well. Im not sure what the stats show (tie for 11th), but the short game has really improved.
Pavin hit a 6-iron ' a 6-iron! ' over the 246-yard fourth hole. He made bogey there, as well as 18, when he hit a tree with his tee shot. He birdied the first three holes of the day, then added another three in a row at nine, 10 and 11. Along the way he made putts of 45 feet, 30 feet and 25 feet.
I feel a lot more comfortable on the golf course than I have in a long time. My swing, Id say, is probably better than it ever has been. I hit a lot of quality shots yesterday (when he shot 68), it seemed like I had a lot of eight-and-10 feet putts. I had longer putts today, but I made them, he said.
Just being back on these grounds is enough to inspire Pavin to do things he could only imagine.
Obviously just coming back to Colonial helps me, he said. I like this course. My record shows that. When I come back here, I feel more comfortable. This course does that to you.
Of course, he has been so far down that he hardly felt comfortable anywhere. Put bad golf together with a failed marriage and a move from Florida back to California, and thats a lot of life changes for one person to absorb.
Im playing with so much more confidence now, as opposed to the last five years, said Pavin. Being back with my old coach has really helped.
But beginning with 1996, its really been difficult. I do know what its like to be way down. Ive been down long enough to appreciate what the good times were like in 1991 to 1996. It sneaks into your mind (that you wont achieve your previous form), but Ive tried to fight that stuff. I never really got to the point that I wanted to quit or anything. I never gave up on myself. But there were times when you really had to wonder.
The hottest group of the day was Mediate and playing partner Blaine McCallister. Mediate had eight birdies and nary a bogey. McCallister, another one who has struggled of late, made seven birdies and one bogey.
All three ' Mediate, McCallister and Pavin ' played in the morning when the weather conditions were benign. But most of Mediates birdies came on long putts ' he made two in the 30-foot range and another five in the 15-foot range.
Its really something to shoot a 64 and lose by two to your partner, said a laughing McCallister. I shot a front-side 32 and he shot a 30. I just cant seem to get the limelight by myself.
McCallister has missed the cut in eight of his last 10 events. What has he been working on during the drought?
My television position, mostly, said McCallister. Gosh, I have had a lot of time off of the weekends. I sit this way, then that way. Ive really been fighting it.
Full-field scores from the MasterCard Colonial
McIlroy gets back on track
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.
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.
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.