Big Week in the Big Easy - COPIED

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 26, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 Zurich ClassicTournament officials believed that this day would come. They knew ' at least they were pretty sure ' that there would be a 2006 Zurich Classic. They just didnt know if it would be called the Zurich Classic of New Orleans or of Elsewhere.
 
With all that Hurricane Katrina took away from the Gulf Coast region, it left just as much ' chaos, destruction, doubt.
 
Phil Mickelson
With players like Phil Mickelson on hand, crowds are again expected around 30,000 over the weekend.
We had a group of us go to Ponte Vedra (home to PGA TOUR headquarters in Florida) 10 days after the storm, said Mike Rodrigue, Chairman of the Board and Founder of the Fore!Kids Foundation, the tournaments primary beneficiary. We just didnt know what course was going to be available. There was talk of moving it for 2006 to the east coast. But we had a full commitment from Zurich to play the tournament in town.
 
They also got the OK from English Turn Golf & Country Club.
 
The TPC of Louisiana, the host site for all of one year, experienced significant flooding and tree damage. It didnt take much of an assessment to determine that it would not be up to par come tournament time.
 
English Turn, on the other hand, escaped ruin. And, given the fact that it had played host from 1989-2004, it was a natural selection.
 
With the TOUR holding a tournament here for so many years, there was pretty much a plan in place, said Matt Yount, English Turn course superintendent.
 
We lost about 300 trees, he added, but were able to stand some back up. We replaced others with groups of younger, smaller trees. Hopefully, the course will play similarly to the way they are used to playing it.
 
The return to English Turn will be welcomed by many of the top-ranked players in the field.
 
Last years event at the TPC course ' which was to be the permanent site pre-Katrina ' was won by Tim Petrovic in a playoff over James Driscoll. Conversely, past winners at English Turn include the likes of Vijay Singh, David Toms, and Davis Love III.
 
Singh, who won the last time the tournament was contested here in 2004, is not in this weeks field; neither is Love. But Toms is here, as are Masters champion Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen, who is making his first appearance in support of the area.
 
This event annually brings in over $25 million for the economy and around $1 million for charity.
 
The purse is $6 million, with the winner taking $1.08 million. Here is the list of favorites to take home top prize:
 
Phil Mickelson
Mickelson already has his sights set on Winged Foot, site of the U.S. Open. But this will hardly be a tune-up with the seasons second major championship almost two months away. Lefty will be making his first start since donning his second green jacket in three years. In addition to the overload of confidence he is feeling at the moment, he has some very positive memories of this layout. He skipped the tournament last year, but in five starts at English Turn, he has three top-10s, including runner-up finishes in both 2001 and 2004.
 
David Toms
Toms has a sketchy past in this tournament, with five missed cuts and a withdrawal, compared to just two top-10s, in 13 career starts. But one of those top-10s was a victory in 2001 ' one that came to much fanfare. The Louisiana native and LSU star, who through his own charitable foundation has given much back to the community in this time of need, would love to give the locals something to celebrate again. He got off to a great start this year, winning the Sony Open and earning four top-10s in his first six events. He has since missed three of four cuts. This could be the perfect setting to get his game back on track.
 
Steve Flesch
Flesch, like Toms, is hoping that a return to a winning site will turnaround his fortunes. The left-hander has only one top-10 in 12 events this season, and missed his fifth cut of the year last week in Houston. But he won this tournament in 2003 and finished runner-up here in both 1998 and 99. He also tied for sixth in 2000.
 
Retief Goosen
Five of the last seven winners at English Turn have been international players. That should bode well for Goosen. The South African, who is making his tournament debut, has yet to win this season, but seems to be on the cusp of doing so. In his last three starts, he has finished runner-up at The Players Championship; tied for fourth at the BellSouth Classic; and tied for third at the Masters Tournament. He has at least one win on TOUR each of the last five years.
 
David Duval
Is Duval really among the favorites? No, but it will be quite interesting to see how he bounces back from what may have been his Masters finale. Will we see the Duval who shot 43 on the front side of his second round at Augusta or the Duval who shot 32 on the back nine of that 75? Or will we again see both sides of this Jekyll and Hyde. Duvals best finish at this event came in a third-place showing in 1995.
 
Related Links:
  • Golf Chronicles: After Katrina
  • Professional Golf Returns to New Orleans
  • Full Coverage ' Zurich Classic of New Orleans
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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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    McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

    Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

    Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

    The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

    McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.