Punch Shot: McIlroy's Irish group or Spieth's Nelson group?

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 27, 2015, 2:00 pm

Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas are playing together at this week's AT&T Byron Nelson. Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Martin Kaymer are grouped at Royal County Down in Ireland. So, if you could only watch one of these marquee groups, which one would it be? Our writers debate. And, fortunately for you, viewers can see both on Golf Channel so you don't have to choose.


I’m as bullish on the next crop of PGA Tour young guns as anyone, but let’s be clear: I would rather watch grass grow at Royal County Down than any group playing this week at TPC Four Seasons.

That’s not a slight on this week’s domestic venue – OK, it’s a small slight. But it’s more about the fact that Royal County Down is on the bucket list of bucket lists, a gem of a layout whose standing is likely enhanced by the scant few times it has been made available for televised consumption.

This week’s Irish Open, then, is a welcome opportunity to take in all that the Northern Irish links layout has to offer. The fact that it features the world No. 1, playing in an enticing Walker Cup revival with Rickie Fowler, is icing on the cake.

Spieth, Thomas and Koepka will battle it out for a variety of prizes in the years to come. Royal County Down hosting top-shelf tournament golf? That’s the must-watch option. 


If Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Martin Kaymer can muster their best at the same time at the Irish Open this week, tournament officials might have to move the gallery ropes back at Royal County Down.

There’s a lot of explosive firepower packed into this dynamic grouping based on what they’ve done over the last year and even the last month. McIlroy is just two weeks removed from his seven-shot runaway victory at the Wells Fargo Championship, where his 21-under winning total shattered the tournament record by five shots. Fowler is three weeks removed from his unforgettable late Sunday charge at The Players Championship. Kaymer proved he can run away and hide on the biggest stages winning the U.S. Open in a tour de force performance last summer.

At their very best, these three could push each other into making this a three-man event.


As compelling as a potential Rory McIlroy-Rickie Fowler showdown at this week’s Irish Open is, it will be another bout 4,450 miles to the west that seems more likely to live up to the hype.

Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas will tee off at 1 p.m. on Thursday at the AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas with an impressively familiar theme. Youth has officially established itself on the PGA Tour and there are few players in the game born after 1990 with as much potential as the marquee threesome this week in Big D.

Since his breakthrough victory at the Masters, Spieth has shown few signs of a post-major hangover, finishing tied for second last week at Colonial. It was also at the Nelson, Spieth’s hometown event, where the golf world was first introduced to the future champion when he tied for 16th place as a 16-year-old.

Koepka has also been impressive, winning his first Tour title in February at the Waste Management Phoenix Open; while Thomas seems to be closing in on his maiden victory with five top-10 finishes in his rookie season.

McIlroy and Fowler have dominated the headlines the last few weeks in professional golf, but this week it will be another group of 20-somethings who steal the spotlight.

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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 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."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.