McGirt takes NTO lead, eyes first Tour title

By Will GrayFebruary 15, 2014, 10:58 pm

After a sizzling 65 on Saturday, William McGirt now finds his name atop the standings at the Northern Trust Open. Here's how things look after three rounds at Riviera, where McGirt hopes to hold on for his first career PGA Tour victory:

Leaderboard: William McGirt (-12), Charlie Beljan (-10), George McNeill (-10), Jason Allred (-9), Brian Harman (-9), Bubba Watson (-8)

What it means: McGirt started quickly with birdies on five of his first six holes, adding three more on a four-hole stretch from Nos. 10-13. As a result, he takes a two-shot advantage into the final round as he looks to hoist his first trophy and punch a ticket to his first Masters in the process.

Round of the day: Two weeks removed from a close call in Phoenix, Watson once again played his way into contention with a 64 Saturday at Riviera, tying for the low round of the week. The southpaw made seven birdies on his round and failed to drop a shot, moving from deep among the chase pack into the top 10 with one round to go. He's now in position to notch a third top-10 finish in just five starts this season.

Best of the rest: McGirt began the day three shots off the pace but quickly erased that deficit with a barrage of birdies to start his round. The 34-year-old took just 28 putts during the third round and made a total of eight birdies on a course that has shown its teeth all week. McGirt reached 14 of 18 greens in regulation Saturday and capitalized on the momentum created by his outward nine of 4-under 31.

Biggest disappointment: Last year, Sang-Moon Bae led here after 36 holes but faltered during the third round. This year the script repeated itself, as Bae played his way back to the pack with a 1-over 72 after holding the overnight advantage. The Korean made three birdies Saturday but countered them with four bogeys, including one on the home hole, and now will begin the final round four shots off the pace set by McGirt.

Main storyline heading into Sunday: All eyes will be on McGirt as he looks to capture a maiden title, but should he slip there are several players eager to take his spot at the top. The chase group includes Beljan, who lost in a playoff here a year ago, and Allred, who needed to survive a Monday qualifier just to gain entry into this week's event.

Shot of the day: A veteran usually knows all the angles, and Jim Furyk proved that maxim on Saturday. Facing a difficult pitch at the par-3 sixth hole, Furyk opted to play the ball 20 feet past the pin and into a backboard. He then watched as the ball trickled back down the slope and ultimately into the hole for an improbable birdie, one that helped the former U.S. Open champ to an even-par 71 in the third round.

Quote of the day: "It's just another round of golf. Take what it gives me, play my game, and at the end of the day there's a 13-month old at home that probably won't care if I shoot 65 again or 75." - McGirt

Getty Images

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.  

Getty Images

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.” 

Getty Images

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.”

Getty Images

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.