Stock Watch: Pebble shines; Scottsdale changes don't

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 9, 2016, 2:15 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Hideki Matsuyama (+8%): His pace of play is dreadful, and his putting holds him back from consistently challenging golf’s top tier, but Matsuyama’s ball-striking is so pure that he will vacuum up plenty of titles over the next few years.

Danny Willett (+6%): The Englishman lives in contention these days, and now he is learning how to slam the door. The Olympics and Ryder Cup are squarely in his sights.

Pebble (+5%): One of the most picturesque courses in the world boasts its strongest field in more than a decade. That’s a win-win for everyone.   

Ha Na Jang (+4%): Meet another South Korean with big potential. Not only does she have a bubbly personality, but Jang also showed plenty of grit while enduring a miserable final round in Ocala for her first LPGA title.  

Brooke Henderson (+3%): What a revelation last week: The Canadian starlet can keep up with Lexi Thompson off the tee, despite her 5-foot-4-inch frame. We’re more convinced than ever that she’s the eventual challenger to Lydia Ko’s throne.

Beau Hossler (+2%): With two wins this season at Texas and now a resounding, six-shot victory at the Jones Cup – where he was the only player under par at the brutal Ocean Forest Golf Club – Hossler is one of the most pro-ready prospects in the game.  


FALLING

Ko (-1%): It was an inauspicious start to the new year, as she played a five-hole stretch around the turn in 5 over par and gift-wrapped the title to Jang. A rare slipup for the world No. 1.

Ian Poulter’s putting (-2%): During his second PGA Tour round of the year, he had already resorted to putting one-handed. That’s an ominous sign.

Rickie’s strategy (-4%): Look, you can’t knock his pressure-proof game – down the stretch, he pulled off all of the shots, again. But he made a major strategic error on 17, a hole that clearly has his number (nine career water balls!). With a two-shot lead, he must avoid the hazard – and a possible bogey – at all costs.

TPC Scottsdale (-5%): The last four holes are tremendous theater, but the recent changes to the course – including the tightening of some landing areas – have drained much of the fun out of the Tour’s annual birdie-fest. Shame.

Bubba (-7%): Watson erred by insulting the tournament and its fans – “I’m here because of my sponsors” – instead of focusing on his criticisms with the redesign. There was no way he would emerge from this unscathed, not after his previous acts of petulance.

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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.  

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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.” 

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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 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.