Stars Shine on 2003 PGA Tour

By George WhiteNovember 14, 2003, 5:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)In the beginning it was an old hand at winning, and in the end it was a new hand. Veteran Ernie Els won the Mercedes Championships to kick off the 2003 PGA Tour season. Chad Campbell won the season finale, the Tour Championship, for the first victory of his career.
 
In between, every kind of hand imaginable had a part in the year. There were 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds, a host of 40s, and even a 50-year-old ' Craig Stadler was the first current Champions Tour player in history to win on the PGA Tour. Tiger Woods won five times, Vijay Singh and Davis Love III won four, and Singh won the money title.
 
But at the outset, it was Els who won the first two of what would eventually be seven worldwide wins this year. While Woods was home in Orlando rehabbing his surgically repaired knee, Els got off to a red-hot start by winning the Mercedes Championships and then hung around Hawaii for another week to win the Sony Open. A 31-under-par score at the Mercedes set a PGA Tour 72-hole scoring record.
 
Obviously, to shoot 31 under par - I obviously haven't done that - nobody's done it, Els said to a roomful of laughter. That's kind of an understatement. I have to thank my golf swing, because under pressure it really stood up to the test. That's a good sign.
 
Els went off to Australia and the Pacific Rim, and the next four tournaments were won by the cream of the PGA Tour ' Singh, Mike Weir, Love and Woods. Woods win came in his first time back since knee surgery Dec. 12.
 
When you're cooped up on the couch forever, said Woods, laying at home and just practicing - I miss competing. Not necessarily getting out there and all the other stuff that goes with it, but I've missed getting out there and competing with the guys.
 
That, to me, is my rush - going out there and having to hit a golf shot that really matters. That gives me a big rush and I missed that.
 
Weir won again for the second time this year when he rolled to victory in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, followed by Woods victory in the first World Golf Championship event of the year ' the Accenture Match Play. And Woods was the first to win three when he overcame food poisoning to capture Bay Hill. It was Woods fourth time to win Bay Hill in as many years, becoming the first since Gene Sarazen did it at Miami 73 years ago. Oh ' and he won it by 11 strokes!
 
Love won the first of the big championships when he obliterated the field with a 64 the final day to win The Players Championship. I was chasing my own potential today, and I think that's the difference, he said immediately afterwards.
 
I was trying to win and win a big golf tournament and I wasn't concerned with anybody else, but yeah, it is a step up for me in the level of play that I felt was coming, and I've been almost quietly saying it was coming. I feel like I've elevated my game this year, not just this week, but this year, back to where I am comfortable and where I feel like I can compete with anybody.
 
The Masters was all Weir, who grittily put away Len Mattiace in a playoff on Sunday when Weir went the entire day without a bogey.
 
It was a long road, said Weir. I mean, it took me six years to even get on the tour out of college. And those times missing Q-School and playing overseas and the commitment that that takes not only for myself, my family, my wife It's a lot of time away, even though she did travel with me before we had kids, caddied at odd times.
 
And it's an unbelievable progression that I've finally gotten here, but I think even back then I believed I that would I get here somehow. I would figure it out. My golf swing wasn't very good back then and I knew I would kind of figure out a way to do that and overhaul that.
 
A remarkable milestone in PGA Tour history occurred at the Bank of America Colonial, where Annika Sorenstam became the first female since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to play on the tour.
 
First of all, I just feel very fortunate to do what I do, said Sorenstam. And for me to come here, get the opportunity to really push myself and live my dream - and I hope other women and girls feel the same way that they just got to follow their heart.
 
Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open, and he spoke about what a long road it had been for him, too.
 
Your first win is always a special moment. My first professional win was on the Nike Tour (now the Nationwide Tour), and that was a very special moment, Furyk began.
 
Winning my first tournament on the PGA Tour in Las Vegas, it was really special. And then I thought the most excited I'd gotten ever in my professional career was probably the Ryder Cup. And at the Country Club, what a great comeback, and coming back from nowhere to win that tournament. And this certainly ranks - it's hard to try to rate where everything sits or falls, but this is the most special day. And this means the most to me right now.
 
Kenny Perry won his third of the year at Milwaukee, following up big wins at Colonial and Memorial. Ben Curtis stunned the world with a remarkable win at the British Open when Thomas Bjorn let it slip away over the closing holes at Royal St. George's. And in back-to-back weeks, Craig Stadler won the B.C. Open and Peter Jacobsen won Hartford. Stadler is 50 and also a winner on the Champions Tour, while Jacobsen is 49.
 
Craig Stadler called me last night, revealed Jacobsen, and he left a message on my phone. He said, Look, if you win, we will be paired together in January at the Mercedes Championship, because they pair you in order of your victories.
 
I actually thought about that all day. I love Craig Stadler, he's one of my great pals all the way back from college days. I actually thought about that ' I said, All right, playing with Stads at Kapalua!
 
Next, it was Shaun Micheels turn to shock the world by winning the PGA Championship with a brilliant 7-iron to only a couple of inches on the 72nd hole. But then, toward the end of the year, it was up to Singh to pour it on, finishing the last eight tournaments no worse than sixth place.
 
Maybe because I've hit a million balls and because I've been out there the longest forever and maybe because Im just dedicated and wanted it more, said Singh after he won the Funai Classic. I've worked hard throughout my career. I'm working hard physically and with my golf game and I haven't slowed down.
 
I think, in the last few years, my physical side probably may have been lacking and boosting that part of my game up, starting to get stronger, I think my golf game just went up a notch more. I think thats the catch right there.
 
The PGA Tour has never been stronger, believes Woods.
 
Top 50 players - probably the deepest it's ever been, said Tiger. Players are getting so good, so consistent now, I mean you look at the top 50 players, you can't really say, Why is that guy in the top 50? Before you might have questioned that.
 
Now everywhere you go, everyone is solid. Everyone has enough game to be there and they deserve to be there.
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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.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

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.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


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.