Wins Just Keep Coming for Ol Man Irwin
Word filtered over from Hawaii that he did it again the past weekend. He got the better of Tom Kite near the end of the Turtle Bay Championship, then just slammed the door. As Sunday evening was drawing to an end, here was Old Man Irwin, once again giving what must have become a very boring victory speech.
I say boring, because he has done it now 38 times on just the Champions (nee Senior) Tour. If he doesnt have it down pat by now, God didnt make little green apples. He started this winning on the Champions kinda slow, taking just two tournaments his first year in 1995, then just two more in 1996. But once he got the hang of it with nine victories in 1997, he opened the sluice gates. Win after win after win came spilling out, and the rest of the Champions Tour still hasnt figured out how to stop it.
Irwin himself will probably do it soon enough, anyway. He has the back of an 80-year-old man. When it is acting up, heaven help poor Hale. He spent most of the summer at its mercy, wheeling around the golf courses like a Chevy on three wheels. Most of the golfing public figured he was probably finished ' after all, the man was 58, for crying out loud! When he went down at the U.S. Open this summer with back spasms, carted out of the playing field with feet up, that appeared to be just about it for Irwin.
But ' here he is back again. And who knows when he will stop winning?
Irwin won the Kinkos Classic in Austin in May. The back started doing its thing in June. The last three tournaments he finished in a tie for 42nd, a tie for 21st and a tie for 38th. They were preparing the farewell dinner.
But then, Irwin jumps up and beats the field at the Turtle Bay event. How do you figure?
Simple, says Irwin. All it took was for the pain to subside. That, plus a little uncomfortable weather. The man who will forever be known for prevailing in the 1979 U.S. Open despite weather more fitting for seals than humans took charge this time in 20 mile per hour winds and squalling rains. If you can ever get this guy in weather where you wear short-sleeved shirts, youve got a chance. Any time you play in your rain suits, forget it. Irwin has a huge advantage in foul weather.
'This certainly helps smooth over some disappointment from this summer with my back, not being able to play at the level I hoped I'd play,' Irwin said. 'This is the first week I've not had some issues with my back so perhaps ... it's certainly not 100 percent, but I'm well on the way now. It could not have come at a better place or better time for me.'
His win at this event last year was his fourth of the season ' at age 57. Someday you assume hes got to slow down. But its not going to be in the foreseeable future.
He still belts the ball out there ' 273 yards on his drives. He is fifth on the tour in driving accuracy, third in greens hit in regulation. More importantly, he is fourth on the tour in scoring average ' despite his back-breaking summer.
Dont ever forget, though, that he was playing over the weekend in Hawaii. When he plays in Hawaii, he wins ' period.
He has gobbled up three Senior Skins in Hawaii, and that doesnt mean much except that it is with three pretty good players and they pay a lot of money. But he has won this event three other times in a row ' Sunday was his fourth in succession. He also won the Hawaiian Open and the MasterCard Championship.
It adds to $3.5 million for Hale in Hawaii. Most people go to Hawaii to SPEND money. Irwin goes to Hawaii and mines it.
'Fortunately I've been able to play well here, he says in aw-shucks fashion. I'm comfortable playing in the wind, comfortable here in Hawaii. I've had too much success to say different. I'm very glad.
If the other players would let me mail it in next year I'd still come.'
Theres not much chance of that happening. The others know that as long as Hale can swing a club, he is eminently capable of winning. Its not the age on the spine, its the size of the wallet on the hip.
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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.