Wie channels Jack with new putting stance

By Randall MellApril 1, 2016, 12:10 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Michelle Wie was doing her best to channel Jack Nicklaus in Thursday’s start to the ANA Inspiration.

While Wie is still using her tabletop stance over longer putts this week, she has adopted her version of the Nicklaus crouch for shorter putts.

What inspired the change?

“Just kind of see pictures of Jack putting and stuff, and just try to emulate it,” Wie said. “Trying to kind of copy it a little bit, feeling more centered, feeling more balanced. Putting is all about that feel thing.”

Wie used the new stance to post a 2-under-par 70, a solid opening round in what’s been a sluggish start to her 2016 season. Wie plays out of the Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla., so she sees a lot of photos of Nicklaus around the place.

“You need a little bit of a spark, just a comfortable feeling, and that kind of worked for me today,” Wie said.

In her “Jack stance,” Wie bends her knees more than she does in her table-top stance, and though she doesn’t hunch as much as Nicklaus did, she does hunch over the ball. The big difference is that Wie makes the stroke with a left-hand-low grip.

ANA Inspiration: Articles, photos and videos

David Leadbetter, Wie’s swing coach, planted the seed to the change when they were practicing Tuesday at Mission Hills.

“I wanted her to get more open,” Leadbetter said.

Leadbetter was trying to get Wie in position to see the line better.

“She took it a step further,” Leadbetter said.

Wie is looking to jumpstart her year, and this is a good place to do it. While Wie has never won at Mission Hills, she has made a number of stirring runs into Sunday contention in this major. She has five top-10 finishes in this major.

After last year’s woes, with the hip, knee and foot injuries, Wie was eager to regain the form that helped her win the U.S. Women’s Open and Lotte Championship in 2014. In six starts this season, she has missed two cuts with no finish better than her tie for 25th at the Coates Golf Championship. She didn’t have a top-10 finish all of last year.

“The body's really starting to feel good,” Wie said. “It takes awhile to come back from an injury, and I think finally I'm just getting stronger and getting my strength back and flexibility and everything. It's something I have to look out for, but, I’m feeling good.”

Wie hit 14 greens in regulation despite hitting just seven fairways. She took 30 putts in a round of four birdies and two bogeys.

“Just want to take it a shot at a time, tournament at a time, just not think too far ahead, not dwell in the past too much,” Wie said of trying to turn around last year’s misfortune. “But I'm happy with the way I played today, and hopefully I can build upon that the next three days.”

At year’s start, Leadbetter had a heart to heart with Wie, telling her it was time to quit the constant tinkering with her swing.

“Michelle is the consummate tinkerer with her golf swing,” Leadbetter told GolfChannel.com at year’s start. “I’ve never seen anybody in all my teaching career who is able to change her swing so drastically from almost week to week.”

Leadbetter told Wie it was time to commit and stick to a swing to harness all her potential. They went to work going back to the longer, more fluid and more natural swing of Wie’s youth. Basically, Leadbetter was concerned Wie’s swing had become too short, and it was affecting her rhythm and putting too much pressure on her hip and knee joints.

Two months into the season, how is Wie doing with the more natural approach?

“She’s doing well with it,” Leadbetter said. “I knew she wouldn’t stick to it 100 percent.”

Leadbetter said their work this week is on making sure Wie gets to parallel with her backswing, instead of reverting to that short, compact swing she was making last year.

“It’s like anything else,” Leadbetter said. “It’s the trust factor. She’s trusting it more. It’s also about taking the swing from the range to the course.”

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.''

Getty Images

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. 

Getty Images

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.