Whos Still No 1 There Is No Question
The gap isnt quite as wide as it has been, but when the guys sit around the locker room chatting about the one man theyve got to beat, the answer is still the same as its been the last five years.
Its Tiger Woods.
The elite have gathered at Kapalua in Hawaii this week to begin the 2004 season. Els and Love reiterated it, in case there might have been some doubt. He may have a lot more competition, he may not be as dominant as he was two or three years ago. But Tiger is still the man.
He still brings a lot of - I'm not sure what the word is - but he brings all the credentials to each event, Els told a gathering of the media at the Mercedes Championships. He's the guy You come into a week, you want to try to play the best golf that you can play, but when he's on his game, he's still the guy to beat.
Love was absolutely crucified a couple of years ago for answering reporters question in his straight-forward, honest fashion. He said then that Woods was the best, and that if Woods plays the best he can, he was going to win regardless of what the other players did. Time has proven Love correct ' after all, Woods won an unthinkable 18 times on the PGA Tour in 1999 and 2000 alone. But the gap is narrowing, Davis believes.
Can he be beaten? Yeah - he knows he can be beaten, said Love. He didn't win 20 times last year (roughly the number Woods played.)
You know, there were some big tournaments - five big tournaments - that got away from him, that he really wanted to win. He didn't win some of the bigger tournaments. He won a great percentage of the ones he played in, but he didn't win one, two, three, four, five on his list, and six, The Players Championship.
Tiger, who was always second only to John Daly in the driving distance category, dropped to 11th last year. Though his average of nearly 300 yards a poke represented a personal best, still a lot of players caught ' or passed - him.
But when it comes to hitting every club in his bag, especially when it comes to hitting the long irons, Woods has no equal. He has mastered the 14 clubs better than anybody, believes Els.
Tiger hits a lot of shots that we can't hit, said Ernie. He hits that 2- or 3-iron that goes up high and comes down soft. That's a major bonus for him. And he's a great putter.
But a lot of guys are driving it as long or longer than him. He hasn't got that big of a bonus in him.
Love, for one, doesnt feel as left out as he did two or three years ago. Hes almost 40, but hes finally acquired enough skills to be in Tigers ballpark.
You know, it's nice to know personally that I'm playing well enough to win when I go play, he said. I don't have to sit back and go, Man, I've got to do something or I can't beat the No. 1 player in the world.
But no one is kidding himself. The players know who has the most innate ability of anyone in the world. True, many times he doesnt play the like best in the world. True, many times a Davis Love or an Ernie Els will play better. But a Tiger Woods masterpiece is still better than anyone on the planet ' Love, Els or Vijay Singh included.
His 18 wins in 99 and 2000, his five wins in each of the last three years are undeniable evidence. His five wins last year was ' again ' more than anyone else on the PGA Tour. Until someone does better ' this year, perhaps? - Woods is still the benchmark.
Love reflects, and just shakes his head. We were pointing out, You don't realize how good that is. You don't realize how good his record is, period, until you sit back a little bit and think about it.
His scoring average over the last five, six years is just incredible. (The cuts record) is kind of hard to judge, because we play so many tournaments without cuts.(But) he hasn't missed any cuts in the tournaments with cuts either.
But the scoring average is an incredible record.
Whats the scoring average? The top four adjusted marks in tour history belong to Woods, beginning with a remarkable 68.17 average in 2000 and going through his 68.41 last year.
He does it so often now that it has become commonplace. Els, Love et al are gaining ground, yes. But as 2004 begins, there is still a clear-cut No. 1.
The stuff he's done is incredible, simply says Love.
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Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile
Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.
The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.
"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."
He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).
Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.
“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."
Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.
Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.
Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.
The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.
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.