One Time With Tiger: Zac Blair

By Will GrayNovember 28, 2016, 11:00 am

The first call Zac Blair made was to his dad.

Blair had just finished a second-round 68 at the 2015 Memorial Tournament, and he was sweating the cut line. A few minutes after completing his round, Blair quickly realized two things: he would be sticking around for the weekend, and he had a third-round tee time alongside Tiger Woods.

“I remember we were at lunch or something like that and we were looking through our phones,” Blair said. “We called my dad and I was like, ‘I’m playing with Tiger.’ And he was like, ‘Nah, no you’re not.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ And it ended up working out.”

It’s hard to think of two more disparate playing partners than the men that showed up for the 8:28 a.m. tee time on June 6, 2015 at Muirfield Village. Woods was in the midst of a difficult season, but still only three years removed from the most recent of his five Memorial victories.

Blair, on the other hand, was a baby-faced rookie who was more likely to get carded for an R-rated movie than asked for an autograph. At age 24, Blair had turned pro only one year prior and had made just 22 PGA Tour starts before he and Woods were drawn together.

Little did he know, Blair was about to have a front-row seat for a record-setting round that Woods would just as soon forget.

Like Blair, Woods made the cut on the number but he struggled with a two-way miss all morning Saturday. Consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 8 and 9 meant Woods made the turn in 6-over 42 – a jarring performance, especially on a course where he was once so dominant. Things didn’t get any better on the inward half, and after chunking a pair of pitch shots Woods closed with a quadruple bogey on the final hole.

It added up to a 13-over 85, the highest round of his professional career and a low point in an already underwhelming stretch.

Blair’s 2-under 70 barely registered as the golf world attempted to come to grips with Woods’ performance, but for Blair the experience of playing with the 14-time major champ still exceeded his expectations.

“After the round, I liked him even more,” Blair said. “He talked to me the whole day, he was a gentleman the whole time. He was having a pretty rough round and he could have thrown in the towel, but he stayed a true professional the whole day.”

Blair shared his perspective on social media after the round, tweeting a note of appreciation to Woods that he closed with #GOAT, for “Greatest of All Time.”

“I just wanted to let people know how awesome he was,” Blair said. “I wasn’t expecting a lot going in. I wasn’t expecting a ton of interaction, as a rookie out there and then the best player to ever play. But he was great. He was just another guy out there, playing golf. It was cool.”

And while Woods likely hasn’t dwelled much on the series of wayward shots he produced that day, Blair has vivid memories of a few that found their target.

“He still hit some shots where you were like, ‘Wow, that’s why he’s the best player to ever play,’” Biair said. “I still remember he hit this shot on No. 15, high 3-iron that I mean, only a few people can hit that shot. Like the sound and everything. He knocked it up there to like 20 feet or something and I’m just thinking, ‘OK, he’s still got it. He’s still the man.’”

Blair first met Woods at the 2000 PGA Championship when he was 9 years old and his father, James, a well-known Utah club pro, was in the field. Blair recalled asking Woods for an autograph, and he went on to win the tournament a few days later.

Fifteen years later, James was the first person Blair wanted to call with the news the two were paired together, and it remains an experience he will cherish despite Woods’ aberrant performance.

“It’s definitely the coolest round I’ve ever played,” Blair said. “It was awesome. He was my idol growing up, and my favorite golfer ever, and to get to play with him – I hope I get another chance, for sure.”

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up right where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

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

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.