Golf Talk Live - Payne Stewart Transcript Segment 3

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 14, 1998, 4:00 pm
PETER KESSLER

YOU WANT TO TELL US ABOUT THIS THE 12TH HOLE?

PAYNE STEWART

WELL IT WAS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE FEW FAIRWAYS I HIT ALL DAY LONG. UNTIL I GOT UP THERE I DIDN'T REALIZE THAT THEY RECENTLY ADDED A BUNKER TO THE GOLF COURSE, ONE OF THE FEW FAIRWAY BUNKERS THAT EXISTS OUT THERE.

PETER KESSLER

VERY SMALL FAIRWAY BUNKER.

PAYNE STEWART

IT WAS A VERY SMALL FAIRWAY BUNKER AND YOU KNOW , THAT'S THE FIRST TIME I'VE SEEN THIS. REALLY, I'VE NEVER I HAVE NOT WATCHED THE US OPEN HIGH

LIGHTS FROM THIS AND RIGHT HERE I WENT BACK AND GOT A 9 IRON, AND I PLAYED A BAD SHOT. YOU KNOW THIS, THIS WAS A BAD SHOT. I'M TRYING TO HIT IT AT THE LEFT FRONT OF THE GREEN AND CAME UP OUT OF IT. IT'S KIND OF SLOPING AWAY AND I HIT A BAD SHOT AND RIGHT

THEN, RIGHT AFTER I FINISHED RIGHT NOW TOM MINKS, THE USGA PRESIDENT CAME UP TO ME AND SAID THAT'S A BAD TIME AND I SAID WHAT, WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT'S A BAD TIME. HE SAID THAT'S YOUR FIRST BAD TIME. I SAID OH REALLY, AND SO I SAID WELL WHAT HAPPENS IF I GET ANOTHER BAD TIME. HE SAID THAT WILL
BE A 1 SHOT PENALTY BECAUSE YOU GUYS ARE OUT OF POSITION. I WAS FLABBERGASTED, I WAS ABSOLUTELY

FLABBERGASTED. I'M IN THE LAST GROUP OF THE US OPEN, YOU KNOW NOW GRANTED YOU UNDERSTAND THAT THERE'S MEDIA AND ALL THESE PEOPLE THAT YOU HAVE TO CATER TO GET IN BEFORE YOU EVEN PLAY EACH SHOT. YOU GET TO A TEE BOX YOUR READY TO PLAY

HERE COMES ALL THE MEDIA, YOU KNOW ALL THE GUYS WHO WANT TO TAKE PICTURES, ALL THE WALKING MEDIA, SO YOU GOT TO WAIT FOR THEM YOU KNOW NOW. APPARENTLY I DIDN'T REALIZE THAT TOM LEHMAN WAS PRACTICE PUTTING ON EVERY GREEN ON THE FRONT 9 TO MY IGNORANCE I DIDN'T KNOW

THAT WE WERE ALOUD TO PRACTICE PUTT. SO YOU KNOW, THAT'S KIND OF MY IGNORANCE BUT THAT'S ALL RIGHT

YOU KNOW, TO COME UP IN THAT SITUATION. RIGHT AFTER I PLAYED THIS SHOT INTO THE BUNKER UP BY THE GREEN IT WAS A HORRIBLE SHOT AND I'M TRYING TO WIN THE GOLF TOURNAMENT. HE GOES THAT'S YOUR FIRST BAD TIME, AND I, I GOT UP IN THE BUNKER MY CADDIES GOING NOW JUST SLOW DOWN, SLOW DOWN

YOUR ALL RIGHT, JUST SLOW DOWN. YOU KNOW I GET UP THERE AND HIT IT AND MAKE BOGEY AND THEN IT REALLY AFFECTED ME ON THE NEXT HOLE. I DID RUSH MY TEE SHOT ON 13. IF HAD THOUGHT ABOUT IT A LITTLE LONGER, I THINK I'D HIT IT, I'D HIT THE 6 IRON INSTEAD OF THE 5 IRON BUT IN THAT
SITUATION WENT AHEAD AND HIT THE 5, IT WAS A GOOD LOOKING SHOT, I MEAN IT WENT RIGHT OVER THE PEN BUT AS HARD

AS THAT GREEN WAS IT WAS A 6 IRON SHOT. AND TOM LEHMAN TOOK FOREVER ON THAT TEE, AND I'M LOOKING OVER AT MINKS GOING YOU KNOW LIKE THIS WHAT'S GOING ON HERE. SO SOON AS WE WALK OFF THE TEE, HE COMES UP AND TELLS TOM LEHMAN. THAT'S YOUR FIRST

BAD TIME. WELL NOW I THINK THAT THE RULES OF GOLF ARE YOU HAVE TO ABIDE BY THEM. BUT I THINK IN CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES THAT THERE HAS TO BE LENIENCY GIVEN ESPECIALLY IN A SITUATION SETS THAT WERE IN. THAT ALL THE GALLERY, ALL THE PEOPLE YOU

KNOW IT HAPPEN TO TIGER AND I AT DISNEY A COUPLE YEARS AGO WHEN TIGER WON THE GOLF TOURNAMENT.

WERE WALKING OFF THE 15TH TEE AND MARK RUSSELL ONE OF THE PGA OFFICIALS COMES UP TO US. YOU GUYS ARE OUT OF POSITION, I'VE GOT TO PUT YOU ON THE CLOCK. I'M GOING ALL THE GALLERY'S FOLLOWING OUR GROUP, WE GOT TO WAIT FOR THEM TO GET OUT OF

THE WAY AND GET SETTLED BEFORE WE CAN PLAY. THERE'S CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES THE RULES OF GOLF HAVE TO BE BENT A LITTLE BIT NOT BROKEN BUT JUST BENT, AND THAT'S MY OPINION. NOW I DON'T KNOW IF ANYBODY ELSE WOULD BELIEVE THAT , BUT THAT'S WHAT I BELIEVE.



PETER KESSLER

WELL SOMETIMES THE USGA DOES THAT.
FOR EXAMPLE JUST A MONTH LATER WHEN SYRIA POCK WAS BEATING JENNY JESERIPORN.

PAYNE STEWART

DID SHE TAKE FOR AN HOUR PLAYING THAT SHOT OUT OF THE WATER, OR WAS IT 15 MINUTES.

PETER KESSLER

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN 8 AND 15 MINUTES, YEAH

PAYNE STEWART

YEAH, WELL THERE YOU GO. DID SHE GET A BAD TIME, I DON'T THINK TOM MINKS WALKED UP TO HER AND SAID.


PETER KESSLER

WELL SHE GOT A HORRIBLE TIME IT'S JUST NOBODY SAID ANYTHING TO HER.

PAYNE STEWART

YEAH, WELL SEE

PETER KESSLER

AND THE SITUATIONS ARE THE SAME, AREN'T THEY REALLY.

PAYNE STEWART
WE FINISHED, AND THE NETWORK TELEVISION HAD 15 MINUTES OF FILL.

YOU KNOW, AND YOU KNOW HOW THAT WORKS, THEY DON'T REALLY PARTICULARLY LIKE TO HAVE 15 MINUTES OF FILL. SO I, NEXT TIME I SEE TOM MINKS, WERE GOING TO HAVE A LITTLE CHAT.

PETER KESSLER

NOW DEEP IN YOUR HEART, NOW THAT A FEW MONTHS HAD GONE BY IS A SAND FILLED DIVOT GROUND UNDER REPAIR?

PAYNE STEWART

DEFINITELY, IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN IN MY MIND. IN MY OPINION IF THERE GOING TO MAKE A CONSCIENCE EFFORT, TO REPAIR AN AREA. WHETHER IT BE A DIVOT IN THE FAIRWAY OR WHETHER IT BE A TEE BOX, OR WHETHER IT BE A PIECE OF SOD. THEY'VE TAKE A CONSCIENCE EFFORT

TO REPAIR THE GOLF COURSE, THAT IS GROUND UNDER REPAIR, IN MY OPINION.

PETER KESSLER

BUT WHERE WOULD YOU, ULTIMATELY THOUGH. WHERE WOULD YOU DRAW THE LINE BETWEEN. A DIVOT HOLE THAT'S FILLED WITH SAND AND THE POINT AT WHICH IT'S FULLY REPAIRED, I MEAN YOU KNOW.

PAYNE STEWART

WELL IN, IN A TOURNAMENT SUCH AS THE US OPEN, OR THE MASTERS , OR THE BRITISH OPEN, OR AT ANY OF THE MAJORS. YOU HAVE A WALKING OFFICIAL WITH YOU. IN THAT, IN MY OPINION SINCE YOU

HAVE A WALKING OFFICIAL WITH YOU. YOU SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO ASK HIM. DO YOU THINK THIS DEEMED GROUND UNDER REPAIR. BEING THAT THEY'VE CHOSEN TO SELECT TO FILL THESE DIVOTS IN. IT HAD BEEN MUCH BETTER IF THAT DIVOT HAD NOT BEEN SANDED BECAUSE THE GROUND GOT SO HARD OUT THERE. BUT I DIDN'T KNOW THE DEPTH OF THE

SAND AND YOUR NOT ALLOWED TO STICK YOUR FINGER IN THERE AND SAY WELL, THAT'S AN INCH DEEP. YOU KNOW I'M GOING TO HAVE TO PLAY A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY THEN IT'S A QUARTER INCH. SO YOU KNOW YEAH, AND I'VE STOOD UP AT OUR MEETING AT HE TOUR AND TOLD

TIM FINCH WHY DON'T WE SHOW SOME INITIATIVE. TAKE AN INITIATIVE AND MAKE THE RULES AND SAY THAT'S GROUND UNDER REPAIR , OH WELL WE CAN'T DO THAT YOU KNOW SO. THAT'S WHERE I STAND ON IT FOLKS, YOU KNOW.

PETER KESSLER

THERE'S NO BEATING AROUND THE BUSH WITH YOU.

PAYNE STEWART

NO

PETER KESSLER

LETS SEE WHAT KEN IN IOWA WANTS TO ASK, HELLO KEN.

CALLER-KEN IN IOWA

HEY, GOOD EVENING GENTLEMAN

PETER KESSLER

NICE TO BE WITH YOU

PAYNE STEWART

GOOD EVENING

CALLER-KEN IN IOWA

THANKS FOR TAKING MY CALL. GREAT LEAD IN HERE TO MY QUESTION. I'VE WATCHED A LOT OF EVENTS OVER THE YEARS AND I'M CONCERNED ABOUT THIS GROWING THING WHERE VIEWERS BECOME OFFICIALS. MICRO ANALYZING THE GAME, AND PAYNE ELUDED TO IT YOU HAVE A

WALKING OFFICIAL, AT LEAST IN USGA EVENTS AND WHAT'S THEIR CALL WORTH AND HOW LONG IT WOULD SEEM RULES OF EQUITY AND STATUE OF LIMITATIONS WOULD AT SOME POINT AND TIME YOU DRAW THE LINE AND SAY HEY 2 YEARS
FROM NOW WERE NOT GOING TO CRITICIZE

MARK O'MEARA FOR MAYBE, MISMARKING HIS BALL I DON'T KNOW WHETHER HE DID OR DIDN'T. HOW ABOUT LEE JANZEN BEING DISQUALIFIED HERE RECENTLY. WHERE DOES THE OFFICIAL, WE HAVE USGA OFFICIALS AND WE HAVE A COUPLE MILLION VIEWERS OUT HERE CALLING THE SHOTS SO, YOUR COMMENTS MEN.

PAYNE STEWART

KEN I DEFINITELY AGREE WITH YOU THAT'S A GREAT, GREAT POINT YOU

BROUGHT UP I MEAN IF IN FACT MOST OF OUR TOURNAMENTS RIGHT NOW ON TOUR NOT AIRED ON THURSDAY AND FRIDAY SO THE WORLD SERIES IS A SPECIAL TOURNAMENT AND IT'S AIRED ON THURSDAY AND FRIDAY. IF THAT HAD NOT BEEN AIRED JUST AS THE PAUL

AZINGER DOWN IN THE ROCKS AT DORAL HAD NOT BEEN AIRED ON THURSDAY, FRIDAY. THE PERSON AT HOME THAT CALLED IN AND SAID LEE JANZEN STOOD OVER THAT TOO LONG. OR PAUL AZINGER GROUNDED HIS CLUB IN THE HAZARD OR WHATEVER. THOSE WOULD NEVER

EXISTED, BEEN NEVER BROUGHT TO THE ATTENTION OF THE OFFICIAL'S AND THE PENALTY WOULD OF GONE UNSEEN AND THEY WOULDN'T OF BEEN DISQUALIFIED.

IN THAT INSTANCE IT'S THE LACK OF OUR KNOWLEDGE AS PROFESSIONALS OF REALLY NOT KNOWING THE RULES BACKWARDS AND FORWARDS AND I, KEN I'M AS GUILTY AS THE NEXT PERSON, AND NOT KNOWING THE RULES BACK AND FORWARD. AND IF THEY GAVE US A RULES

TEST OUT ON TOUR I'D LIKE TO SEE HOW MANY PEOPLE WOULD REALLY PASS IT.

PETER KESSLER

GARY PLAYER WAS IN A BUNKER A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO AND NOBODY KNOWS THE RULES LIKE HE DOES, I THINK AND HE UNCOVERS SOME SAND TO FIND A GOLF BALL SEES A GOLF BALL, HITS THE SHOT OF COURSE HE'S PENALIZED BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO COVER UP THE GOLF BALL WITH SAND AGAIN.

PAYNE STEWART

SEE I WOULDN'T, WE'VE DONE THAT BEFORE. I'VE BEEN GUILTY OF IT WASN'T MY BALL, IT WAS ANOTHER PLAYER IN OUT GROUPS BALL AND WERE SEARCHING IN THE BUNKER TRYING TO FIND IT. YOU KNOW SO, WE FINALLY UNCOVER IT , WELL WE FOUND IT OKAY YOU SEE A DIMPLE,

OKAY THERE'S THE GOLF BALL, YOU KNOW I DIDN'T KNOW YOU HAD TO COVER IT BACK UP. SEE LIKE I'M SAYING IF YOU GAVE US A RULES TEST WE'D FLUNK. YOU KNOW AND IT WOULD BE UNBELIEVABLE WE WOULDN'T PASS.


PETER KESSLER

WE'LL TAKE A SHORT BREAK

PAYNE STEWART

MAYBE I WOULDN'T

PETER KESSLER

THIS IS THE LAST TIME I'M GOING TO GIVE YOU A HARD TIME, BECAUSE WERE GOING TO TAKE A LOOK AT THAT GLORIOUS MOMENT AT THE FRIDAY PEN, AT OLYMPIC CLUB AND YOUR FIRST PUTT AND YOUR FIRST, SECOND AND THIRD REACTION. YOU CAN TELL US ALL ABOUT IT AS WE TAKE A LITTLE LOOK.



PAYNE STEWART

OBVIOUSLY I DIDN'T PLAY ENOUGH BREAK. SEE NOW I THOUGHT THAT WAS GOING TO STOP ABOUT 4 FOOT BELOW THE HOLE.

PETER KESSLER

WE NOTICED, HAVE YOU SEEN THIS AGAIN

PAYNE STEWART

NO

PETER KESSLER

ARE YOU GOING TO BE SPEAKING TO ME AFTER TODAY.

PAYNE STEWART

WELL I DON'T KNOW THAT I'LL EVER COME BACK TO GOLF TALK LIVE. YOUR TREATING ME WITH SUCH DISRESPECT, I GUESS THAT GREEN WAS FAST, HUH? YOU KNOW WHAT, IT WAS FUNNY THAT I WENT UP AFTER THIS HAPPEN, AFTER I PUTTED OUT AFTER I ENDED 3 PUTTING FROM 12 FEET. I UM, I WENT UP AND PUTTED OUT AND WALKED UP TO MY OFFICIAL,

WALKING OFFICIAL GOING THROUGH, UP SIGN MY CARD AND I SAID DON'T YOU THINK THAT WAS A LITTLE RIDICULOUS.

PETER KESSLER

WE HEARD YA, WE'LL PICK IT UP WHEN WE COME BACK, DON'T GO AWAY.


(BREAK)
NEXT SEGMENT
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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

Getty Images

Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

Getty Images

McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”