Garcia (67) goes from abysmal start to contending

By Will GrayMay 13, 2017, 9:41 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Less than two hours into The Players Championship, Sergio Garcia appeared to be headed for the exits. Instead, he’ll enter the final round firmly in contention with a shot to win the tournament for the second time.

Garcia stumbled out of the blocks in his first start since winning the Masters, playing his first six holes Thursday in 4 over. He managed to get things back on track – thanks in no small part to an ace on No. 17 – and successfully battled windy conditions to shoot a third-round 67.

The Spaniard, who won here in 2008 and lost in a playoff two years ago, now sits at 5 under and just one shot off the clubhouse lead held by Emiliano Grillo.

“Yesterday it was important to make the cut after how overwhelming everything has been, after the Masters,” Garcia said. “Today even though it was much tougher with the windy conditions and how gusty it was out there, I was able to hit some really, really good, quality shots.”

Garcia began the day nine shots off the pace, and he made it an even 10 after bogeying the first hole. But he carded six birdies in the middle of his round from Nos. 4-13, then added an eagle on the par-5 16th to move onto the first page of the standings.

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Lifting a major burden may loosen up some players when they next return to action, but according to Garcia the pomp and circumstance of the opening round made it more difficult to focus on the task at hand.

“I felt like a little bit in chains on Thursday because of that,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Come on, you have to play well after winning the Masters. You have to, you have to, you have to.’ And I kind of probably put a little too much pressure on myself. I tightened up a little bit and I didn’t play as well as I’ve been playing.”

Garcia has effectively rebounded since that rocky start, and while the leaders were still on the front nine when he finished his third round, he was keenly aware that his score had afforded him a chance to add another prestigious title to his tally.

“I just like this golf course,” Garcia said. “I’ve told you guys many, many times it’s one of my most favorite golf courses we play all year, and for some reason I can see what I want to do.”

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.