Thanksgiving Turkeys

By George WhiteNovember 27, 2003, 5:00 pm
It seems like a natural thing to do, this being the weekend for ol Tom Turkey to strut. All dressed up and ready for Thanksgiving devouring, we have our own Top Ten Turkeys of this season:
  • Tiger Woods knee injury and subsequent arthroscopic surgery, which deprived us of a Tiger-Ernie Els matchup when Els was at his most potent at the Mercedes Championships. Els won that week ' and the Sony Open the next week ' before going on to win five of his first six around the world this season. Tiger, meanwhile, was obliged to sit and recoup until he won the Buick Invitational in his first action more than a month later.
  • Fuzzy Zoellers disqualification from the Royal Caribbean Classic on the Champions Tour for practicing on the course. Actually, he filmed a television spot there following his first round ' at the request of the events media director! Zoeller agreed to the filming after he was told the tour approved. The media staff approved the sixth tee for the lesson. Zoeller provided only instruction during the lesson, but afterwards the TV cameraman asked Fuzzy to hit a few balls for the segment. Again, Zoeller complied ' but was DQd for his charitable efforts.
  • Little-known Brian Kontaks effort to get into the U.S. Womens Open after Annika Sorenstam was awarded a spot in the PGA Tours Bank of America Colonial. A former Canadian Tour money leader and a non-exempt Nationwide Tour performer this season, Kontak was rebuffed by the USGA, who has a rule that competitors in the Womens Open must be females at birth. I didnt really pursue anything this year, but next year Im definitely going to go through with it, Kontak said. Another turkey for next year, perhaps?
  • The Augusta flap revolving around Hootie Johnson, Martha Burk, the Ku Klux Klan member, the Augusta members and just about everyone but the Boy Scouts. Johnson was wrong in his tyrannical attitude, Burk missed by a mile in her attempt at public relations, the Augusta membership was extremely embarrassed, and the demonstration failed to drum up much support outside of a few Georgians.
  • The sudden onset of bad golf commercials. Titleists Ian MacCallister, the supposed stickler for the rules who dresses in bad plaid; the cart driver who roars up to the clubhouse; the abysmal re-emergence of Sign Boy after a highly successful initial season ' thankfully, Ive forgotten almost all of the really awful ones.
  • Though she apologized publicly afterwards, the ill-fated attempt by Sung Ea Lee to register as a younger player in the Westfield Junior PGA Championship. Lee, a University of Washington freshman at the time, was stripped of the title that she had won. She had written June 9, 1985 as her birthdate on the entry sheet instead of the correct date of June 10, 1984. I made a mistake, and I am very sorry for it, said Lee.
  • The continued imperial attitude of Seve Ballesteros concerning his slow-play indiscretions. It happened first at the Madeira Island Open and wore on throughout the summer. It broke my concentration ' I am the only star here this week who has won a major, he said with a harrumph. His group, incidentally, had finished 27 minutes behind the group in front.
  • The disqualification of Mark Roe and Jesper Parnevik at the British Open for wrongly signing each others scorecards. Because of the DQ, Roe was sent home instead of teeing it up Sunday tied for fourth. Roe had a 67 in the third round and Parnevik an 81, but in one of golfs most outrageous absurdities, they were banished. Do you think they could possibly have been trying to cheat? Stuart Appleby had the best comment: Its a lot like the days when you stole a loaf of bread and it cost you your life, he said.
  • The LPGA rules mean Annika Sorenstam doesnt win the Vare Trophy for lowest per-round scoring average. The LPGA continued to insist on 70 rounds to be eligible for the award, though it now holds only 31 tournaments. Sorenstam played in 16 of them, 60 rounds. Her average score of just over 69 was a full point better than winner Se Ri Paks 70-plus.
  • After 25 years on the European Tour, Sandy Lyle loses his card. How can this be ' a man who has won the British Open and the Masters, who was the best player on the European Tour in the mid-80s? The irony ' at years end he was 41st on the all-time tour money list, only one tantalizing player from the 40th spot and an automatic exemption. Lyle was philosophical in accepting his fate, but still said that, Theres so much money (available) now that the system has become outdated. If it was done on points (for tournament finishes), Id probably be in the top 10.
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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    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.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    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.

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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.