Tiger Should Make it Five in a Row But If Not
Let's say one thing here and put it to bed early - if Tiger is playing well, forget it. It's over. But if he's not playing particularly well and someone else is playing very well, then it could be a horse race. Sergio Garcia certainly has a chance.
Garcia had to take a lot with him when he left Fort Worth after winning his first U.S. tournament, the MasterCard Colonial. There's no way to gauge how much of a confidence boost it gave him. It doesn't seem like he would be particularly well suited to the concise shots that have to be hit around the Track that Hogan Built - but he did it. He finished 64-65 at the Nelson on a course that was nowhere near as difficult as this one, then came and went 66-63 on the weekend to nail the Colonial. And he did it against Phil Mickelson, who is No. 2 after Tiger amongst the world's golfers. Mickelson doesn't do Sundays, at least very well, but he still would have won at Colonial had it not been for Garcia.
Garcia is just 21 years old, of course, and he would be finishing his senior year in college had he attended. He beat a field in Fort Worth that included just about every top golfer in America save Woods, and he looked confident doing it. Over 72 holes, that is plenty of time for all the warts to come to the surface. And believe me, there weren't many.
'Ben Hogan and me - everyone talks about how similar we are,' Sergio said while making his victory remarks following Colonial. No, I don't think he meant it the way it sounded. But let's recognize one thing right off - Hogan at 21 wasn't nearly as good as Sergio at 21. Of course, Hogan at 30 or 35 was an entirely different matter. But then, the Sergio at 35 is going to be a lot better than the Sergio of 21.
No, he's not as polished as Tiger, not as gifted off the tee or on the green. He may not even be the second-best or third-best, but you don't know what will happen if a hot golfer such as Garcia stays on fire for a month.
A lot of players said that the winner of Colonial should be a favorite at Southern Hills. The courses are very similar and they have the same architect in Perry Maxwell. Both are par-70s, and both have rather small greens. Sergio Garcia, perhaps?
Woods will, of course, be the favorite. He didn't win Colonial because he didn't play it. He was busy that week winning in Germany. He only played at Colonial one time, in his rookie year of 1997, and he was in contention all the way until he self-destructed on the back nine Sunday.
He should win at Southern Hills, regardless of how you slice it, dice it and chop it. He may not have as big an advantage with the shorter holes and tighter fairways, but an advantage is still an advantage.
But if not Tiger - and if not Garcia - then who? Here's a list of possibles, and why they should or shouldn't contend:
PHIL MICKELSON - Never on Sunday, he seems to be saying this year. However, he has beaten Woods a couple of times before. This year he has been in the top three seven times. That seems to be just dandy, until you realize that those seven have netted him exactly one victory. Three of those Tiger didn't play. One of them (Bay Hill) Tiger won after bouncing a ball or two off gaping spectators, defeating Mickelson in the process.
Mickelson seems to have developed the art of missing the three-footer at the most inopportune times, or blowing his driver into the next area code when it absolutely, positively has to be in-bounds. If he ever fixes such recurring tendencies, watch out! He's 30, which is considered the prime golfing age. And he is a hot golfer - every day but Sunday.
LEE WESTWOOD - Normally he would be expected to lead the contingent from Europe, but this year his wife just had a baby and he's not thinking golf at the moment. It's probably too early to make him a serious contender.
VIJAY SINGH - Early in the year, he made some threatening noises, but lately he's back to missing the putts again. If he gets his game straightened out, he could be a problem. He certainly has the right kind of head for it.
DAVIS LOVE III - Oh, what an enigma. For four or five years he was the ultimate professional when it came to the majors. Last year he took a back seat. This year he looked suspiciously like a contender again with three or four great tournaments on the West Coast, but now it's the same old thing - injuries. This time it's a problem neck. He has had to withdraw from three tournaments, and there's not much time get the rust out.
HAL SUTTON - The real thing. Unfortunately, at 43, he picks up dings to his body and they can linger on. He's not a great putter, but at Southern Hills it's not how many 30-footers you make, it's how many 5-6 footers. He doesn't seem intimidated by Woods, though he certainly respects him. A U.S. Open trophy certainly isn't outside the realm of possibility.
ERNIE ELS - The big fella just isn't gonna make it this time. He tried to make a swing change right before he teed it up in the Byron Nelson, and of course it didn't work. It's a little too late to expect him to catch a wave this time.
JESPER PARNEVIK - Another one that won't be intimidated by the Feline Factor. He has the right kind of game for a course like Southern Hills. His record hasn't been particularly sparkling of late, but he has a knack of heating up at the most unexpected times.
DAVID DUVAL - This guy seems to find it at the majors every time. He is injured pretty often, but if he can swing a club, he'll probably finish in the top-10 - he has the past three years at the Open, you know.
COLIN MONTGOMERIE - It looks like the years ran out on him. During the '90s, it seemed so certain that one day he would win one of these things. But the last two or three years have not been kind to him as far as the majors are concerned. And it doesn't look like this year will be much different.
TOM LEHMAN - Has the right attitude, but looks again like a top-10er without much hope of being a top one. He has won only once since 1996, two if you're counting Loch Lomond in Scotland in 1997. He's 42 now, and while that doesn't mean as much in this Open, he never has been the same golfer since he separated a shoulder at the British Open in 1998.
David Toms, Joe Durant, Jim Furyk, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn all rate a mention. Each of them has played well at some time the past two seasons, though it would frankly be a shock if any of them won.
It would frankly be a shock if anyone won but Tiger, as a fact. But you can dream, as well as a whole bunch of golfers. And Sergio, who did beat a sick Tiger last year in 18 holes of match play in prime time, still is young enough to dream.
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.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."