Burke wins second Long Drive title in three years

By Jason CrookOctober 22, 2015, 4:37 am

THACKERVILLE, Okla. – Under the bright lights of the World Long Drive Championship, one of the circuit’s biggest stars shined the brightest.

Tim Burke of Orlando, Fla., blasted a 394-yard piercing drive through an Oklahoma crosswind to top Jeremy Easterly and take home his second World Long Drive title belt in three years as his personal cheering section roared from the stands.

“I just wanted to make sure I put a good golf swing on it … and I hit it pretty good,” Burke said shortly after claiming his $150,000 first-place prize. “I got dedicated this year, got a little better golf swing, learned how to handle the pressure a little better and everything came together tonight.”

Burke, 29, wasted no time getting to the championship round, bombing drives of 401 and 403 yards on his first attempts in the quarterfinals and semis to roll past Justin Young and Will Hogue, respectively. Each time he asked his fans for help before, during and after his turn. And each time, they delivered.

“It’s awesome; they were at the first one, too. It’s the best, just having a little section, it makes me feel comfortable and able to let go,” Burke added.

Easterly, for his part, said he was “speechless” just making it to the final. The 38-year-old beat out the only other two-time winner of this event in the field, superstar Jamie Sadlowski, in the semifinals.

After registering a 380-yard drive, Easterly watched as Sadlowski couldn’t manage to find the grid, hitting ball after ball out of bounds, even switching drivers halfway through his turn and frantically jumping off the stage to find a tee to hit his final ball before time ran out.

“It hurts a little bit when you beat yourself and not hit a good shot in, but that’s life,” Sadlowski said. “It’s hard. Maybe I took those first two world championships for granted, maybe I didn’t enjoy them enough to realize how hard this is. Falling short, it hurts.”

But in the end, Burke put an end to Easterly’s Cinderella run. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound fan favorite proved to be too much.

“He’s a great competitor, you’ve got to give him everything you got and it still may not be enough," said Easterly, who came up eight yards short in the final. “I hit a good ball, not a great ball, but he’s got a lot of horsepower and he can put a good number up.”

That number Easterly refers to may be something long drivers are chasing for a long time to come, because Burke is already looking ahead.

“I was definitely hungry to get No. 2 after last year. I just worked really hard this year. I feel blessed and I’m just going to keep it rolling,” Burke said while surrounded by friends and family on stage. “I’m in an elite club and I’d like to get Nos. 3, 4 and 5.”

So, rest of the long-drive world, consider this your official notice - this may only be the beginning of the Tim Burke Era.

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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.