Spieth gets Open practice in on long Monday

By Ryan LavnerJuly 13, 2015, 8:39 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – After arriving on a charter flight from Illinois, Jordan Spieth was the last player on the Old Course Monday evening.

It was nearly 9 p.m. local time when he wrapped up his first 18-hole practice round for the Open Championship, the first time he had seen the course in four years.

Of course, this experience is nothing like that quick spin around St. Andrews with his U.S. Walker Cup teammates. Here this week, Spieth is the 5-1 favorite to win and join Ben Hogan (1953) as the only players to win the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in the same season.

In the past 21 hours, Spieth captured the John Deere Classic for his fourth victory of the season, flew across the pond, checked into his rental house and then, finally, began his Open prep.

Showing no sign of jet lag on a calm, sunny afternoon, Spieth played a practice round mostly by himself, in front of only about 100 fans, accompanied by caddie Michael Greller, swing coach Cameron McCormick and manager Jay Danzi.

In the group ahead was Tiger Woods, who spent Monday with Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland. Woods stayed back to putt on the 16th green as Spieth played through. They shook hands, hit shots around the green and chatted for about 10 minutes.

Approaching the 17th green, Spieth asked the fans whether the road to the right of the Road Hole is out of bounds. (It is not.) He clipped a few shots off the cart path and the road, and then Greller threw him four balls so Spieth could try and bank shots off the wall and onto the green. After each strike, he flinched and spun away, lest he catch one in the face. One attempt sailed up and over the wall and into the grandstand, sending two fans scurrying for the souvenir.

With the massive grandstands empty and long shadows stretching across the famed 18th, Spieth smashed a drive down the left side of the fairway. Greller posed for photos on the Swilcan Bridge as Spieth strode up the 18th fairway alone, trailed only by a videographer. When he arrived at his ball, he surveyed his options and hit a flip wedge to a few feet. 

After a little more work, he signed autographs for the handful of fans waiting by the green, bounded up the steps and across the pedestrian walkway, and left the course. His long Monday was complete.

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.