Matsuyama, three more tied for Players lead

By Nick MentaMay 7, 2015, 11:30 pm

With rounds of 5-under 67 Thursday, four players - Hideki Matsuyama, Charley Hoffman, Kevin Na, and David Hearn - share the lead through Day 1 at The Players Championship. Here's how things look after 18 holes at TPC Sawgrass:

Leaderboard: Matsuyama (-5), Hoffman (-5), Na (-5), Hearn (-5), Merritt (-4), Martin (-4), Horschel (-4), Todd (-4), Howell III (-4)

What it means: Matsuyama, the winner last year at the Memorial, already has seven top-10s this year, including a T-5 at the Masters and a run to the Round of 16 last week at the Match Play, which technically goes in the books as a T-9. Hoffman is back on top of an important leaderboard after playing second fiddle to Jordan Spieth for four days at Augusta. Na has previously enjoyed success at Sawgrass, having held the 54-hole lead in 2012 while battling some serious mental demons. And, finally, Hearn is in search of his first PGA Tour victory at a venue he seems to enjoy. The 35-year-old Canadian is a combined 18 under in his last nine rounds at The Players. Only Rory McIlroy (-19) and Sergio Garcia (-21) have played the Stadium Course better over that stretch. 

Round of the day: Matsuyama, Na, and Hearn turned in tidy rounds, making just one bogey each, while Hoffman can blame a triple bogey on the first, his 10th hole of the day, for the fact that he isn't on top by himself. 

Best of the rest: Six more names sit just one shot back, including reigning Tour champions Billy Horschel and Derek Fathauer, the latter of whom won the Tour Championship last year on the Valley Course.

Notable names: The top two players in the world got off to wildly different starts at Sawgrass, and that hoped-for showdown over the weekend now looks unlikely. Playing in the same group, Rory McIlroy posted a 3-under 69, highlighted by an eagle at the par-5 16th, while Jordan Spieth struggled to a 3-over 75. In the afternoon, playing one group apart, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson both put the ball in the water off the tee on the 18th hole en route to closing double bogeys and matching 1-over 73s.

17 struggles: Louis Oosthuizen and J.B. Holmes both arrived at the par-3 17th late in the afternoon with a share of the lead at 5 under par - and made double bogey after finding the water. Holmes finished with 69 and Oosthuizen with 70. A total of 21 players rinsed their ball on the 123-yard hole, which played to a scoring average of 3.2, fourth hardest on the course.

Biggest disappointment: Gary Woodland failed to carry any momentum from one coast to the other. The runner-up at last week's WGC-Cadillac Match Play signed for a 7-over 79, playing the last four holes of the Stadium Course in 6 over. Of the 143 players in the field, Woodland is tied with Paul Casey for last place through Round 1 (call it the McIlroy effect). Honorable mention in this category goes to Brooks Koepka, who made consecutive quadruple bogeys on 17 and 18 en route to a 6-over 78. 

Shots of the day: Fathauer capped off an eagle-birdie-eagle stretch with a hole-out from 130 yards on the par-4 fourth, knocking his ball off the flagstick and underground. Jason Bohn had a hole-out of his own for eagle from 134 yards on the par-4 sixth, when his ball landed next to the pin, took two hops sideways and found the cup.

Quote of the day: “I guess top-5s in four majors aren’t that good. Like I said, I’ll take care of my business and I’ll be just fine.” - Fowler (3-under 69) responding to a recent poll of Tour pros that labeled him "overrated."

Storylines to look for heading into Friday: McIlroy and Fowler sit just two shots off the early pace and are in position to vault their way to the top of the board, while Spieth, Woods and Mickelson will all need to rebound from over-par starts if they want to stay around for the weekend.

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.