Fowler tops McIlroy, Stenson for win in Abu Dhabi

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2016, 1:42 pm

Forget about Spieth vs. McIlroy. In the end it was the somewhat forgotten third man in the marquee grouping at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, Rickie Fowler, who left the U.A.E. with the trophy. 

Fowler shot a 3-under 69 in the final round to finish at 16 under, one shot clear of Thomas Pieters and two ahead of both Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson. The win is his fourth worldwide victory since May and cements Fowler, who began the week at No. 6 in the OWGR, as one of the game's elite players.

Fowler finished his third round early Sunday morning and amassed a 54-hole lead after finishing off a 7-under 65. He built on that advantage with birdies on each of the first two holes of his final round, but let the field back into the tournament with a double bogey on the par-3 seventh.

What followed was the first of two key hole-outs that led the American to victory, as Fowler jarred a lengthy bunker shot for eagle on No. 8 to erase his blunder from the previous hole.

"My caddie responded with, 'Golf's funny that way,'" said Fowler, who will move to No. 4 in the world after the win. "I said, 'Well if you flip them, that's two pars in a row.'" 

Fowler followed with pars on each of the next eight holes, and he held a tenuous one-shot lead on No. 17. After his approach sailed long, he chipped in again - this time from the rough to build a two-shot lead that essentially sealed the tournament.

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"This is a big one," Fowler said. "It was a lot of fun today. It was a bit stressful at times; Thomas was playing well. It was fun to go kind of head-to-head with him being in the same group, so we had a good time. It's just nice to come out on top this week."

McIlroy's T-3 finish was his fifth top-3 finish in the last six years in Abu Dhabi, but he did not go down without a fight. After making the turn in 1 over, McIlroy played his final seven holes in 5 under, including a closing eagle that got him to 14 under and gave him at least a slim chance of victory.

Like McIlroy, Stenson ended with a flurry that included birdies on three of his final four holes. But once again, the Swede came up just short in his first start following a 2015 season that included five runner-up finishes and no wins.

The story of the week, however, is Fowler, who was largely overshadowed in the lead-up to the event by two of the only five men ahead of him in the world rankings. But after handling "overrated" questions less than a year ago, Fowler has now demonstrated that he can both win and do so regularly against elite fields.

His four most recent victories - The Players, the Scottish Open, the Deutsche Bank Championship and Sunday in Abu Dhabi - all included strong closing finishes en route to victory over some of the game's best.

This is the second straight time that Fowler has topped Stenson, who was a runner-up at TPC Boston, and this is the third time Fowler has beaten McIlroy dating back to his first professional win in Korea in 2010 and his first PGA Tour win at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship.

Spieth, who will remain world No. 1 after this week, finished T-5 after a closing 68.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

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."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.