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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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.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''