Poulter arrives in Hong Kong after whirlwind travel

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2015, 4:52 pm

After scrambling for paperwork and making a mad dash for the airport, Ian Poulter has finally landed at the UBS Hong Kong Open.

The Englishman awoke Monday to realize that his European Tour membership - and Ryder Cup eligibility - were unexpectedly in jeopardy because of a drop in the Official World Golf Ranking. Needing to add a start on short notice, he grabbed a last-minute sponsor invite when Rich Beem agreed to return his spot in the field after already flying to Hong Kong. 

"It's obviously really unfortunate that Rich has basically been asked to give his invite back. I didn't want that, the tour didn't want that and I don't think anyone would want to ask a guy who had flown halfway round the world to play a tournament to give his spot up," Poulter said Wednesday. "It's unbelievably generous of him to say, 'That's fine.' I am so grateful that he has given me the opportunity to get my numbers in. If he hadn't done that, then everyone would have been in a situation that no one would have wanted."

Poulter has made only nine European Tour starts this season, but he expected to play 13 events - the minimum for membership - by playing an upcoming stretch that included the WGC-HSBC Champions. But when the OWGR cutoff fell on Monday, Poulter dropped to No. 51 when the top 50 in the rankings qualify for the event in China.

Poulter is a self-professed follower of the world ranking permutations, but he was caught off-guard by a two-week window that saw him drop from No. 42 to No. 51, ending his nine-year streak of remaining inside the top 50.

"Obviously this wouldn't have happened if I had played better, but even still, dropping the way I did in the last couple of weeks was drastic. It was an incredible drop," said Poulter, who began the year ranked 27th. "It's really bizarre. It's put everyone in a bad position, and I am just really grateful to everyone for helping me out. It's down to bad play and poor management of my schedule, and neither of (those) things are good."

Poulter also clarified the scramble that arose from his passport and visa paperwork. Anticipating starts next month at the WGC-HSBC and BMW Masters, Poulter had already sent both of his passports out to be processed for Chinese visas. They had not yet returned when he realized he was going to need them for his unexpected trip to Hong Kong, but as they were already being processed there was nothing to expedite.

Thankfully for Poulter, the passports arrived back at his Florida home at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday, allowing him to make his 9 a.m. flight to New York and subsequent connection to Hong Kong.

"It was a shock to the system to realize that I wasn't going to make my numbers, and then you throw the passports situation into the mix," he said. "If they had arrived at midday, I was done because I couldn't have physically made the flight in time and I would have missed the start of the tournament."

Poulter arrived in Hong Kong at 7 p.m. local time Wednesday evening, and he will head to the first tee at 12 p.m. Thursday without the benefit of a practice round.

"It's not been great preparation. I don't have a caddie, I don't have a yardage book," he said. "I don't know how the course is playing or how the greens are running or anything. I have no idea. So it will be a bit of a case of suck it up and see tomorrow."

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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 phoned 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. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm