The Highs and Lows from the Week in Golf

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 28, 2007, 4:00 pm
Editor's Note: In Front 9 and Back 9, our staff will showcase the highs and lows from the world of golf. We start with the Front 9, which offers up the top moments and stories from this previous week, and then make the turn for the lowlights.
 
Front 9 Hole 1
I AM RORY, HEAR ME ROAR: Up until this point, Rory Sabbitini had recently just talked the talk. But with a playoff win over Jim Furyk and Bernhard Langer at the Colonial, the brash South African has again walked the walk, nabbing his fourth career PGA TOUR victory. Sabbatini had been threatening victory since the Masters. But, ultimately, his mouth created more headlines than his play. Now, his words don't ring so hollow.
 
Hole 2
ELEMENTARY, MR. WATSON: There have been plenty of major surprises in major championships over the years. You can now add Denis Watson to that list. Watson captured the Senior PGA Championship for his first win in 23 years. The 51-year-old ZImbabwean was a rising star on the PGA TOUR in the early '80s until a single swing, in which he hit a hidden tree stump, derailed his career forever -- or at least until Sunday. Watson proved once again that there is no greater second opportunity in professional sports than the Champions Tour.
 
Hole 3
BIG GAME HUNTER: After his victory on Sunday, Dane Anders Hansen has only two career titles to his credit on the European Tour. But, boy, does he know how to pick 'em. Both wins have come in the Euro Tour's version of THE PLAYERS - the BMW PGA Championship. Hansen nipped Justin Rose in a playoff at Wentworth, which added to his other victory in this event in 2002, when he cruised to a five-stroke win over Colin Montgomerie.
 
Hole 4
KIM POSSIBLE: There were 144 players in the field for this past week's LPGA Corning Classic. And with eight players named Kim in attendance, there was a 5.5 percent chance at least one of them would win. One did. Young Kim made a couple of late birdies Sunday to pull away from Paula Creamer and capture her first LPGA Tour title. That makes five different Kims who have won on tour since the start of the '05 season.
 
Hole 5
BIRDIE KIM: No, not the Birdie Kim of U.S. Women's Open fame, but Anthony Kim, the one who set the 2007 PGA TOUR record for consecutive birdies when he rolled in six straight in his opening round at Colonial. After a bogey at the 12th, Kim rode the birdie train all the way to the clubhouse and into a share of the Rd.1 lead. As impressive as that was, it was still two shy of the all-time record of eight in a row held by six different players, the last being Jerry Kelly at the 2003 Las Vegas Invitational.
 
Hole 6
WE'VE SAVED SOME SEATS FOR YOU TWO: It was announced this past week that world No. 2 (That seems odd, doesn't it?) Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie will be back in action this week at the Ginn Tribute Hosted By Annika. Though the LPGA is in good shape with players such as Ochoa, Creamer, Pressel and Gulbis, there's no question the two biggest names in the women's game are Wie and Annika. It also helps that Annika will actually be competing in the inaugural event she is hosting.
 
Hole 7
MR. LAS VEGAS: Tiger Woods wasn't playing this past week in Ft. Worth. Instead, he was partying in Las Vegas. Wood hosted his 10th annual Tiger Jam. Friday, he gave a private clinic and then attended a VIP concert for about 1,500 people with Hootie & The Blowfish on stage. Saturday, it was Bon Jovi who played before nearly 10,000 fans. Silent and live auctions were held, where everything from a putting lesson from Tiger and pro-am spots in Tiger's Target World Challenge and AT&T National (which reportedly fetched $95,000) were on offer to a trip for two to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China ($125,000). Woods hoped to raise $1 million for his Tiger Woods Foundation and local charities.
 
Hole 8
QUITE THE HAT TRICK: Love 'em or hate 'em, another team at Duke as racked up yet another national championship. The Lady Blue Devils cruised to a 15-stroke win over Purdue in the NCAA finals held at LPGA International's Legends Course in Daytona Beach, Fla. And the fact that it was the team's third straight title will undoubtedly rankle all the Duke haters out there. Arkansas' Stacy Lewis rallied to win the individual championship.
 
Hole 9
WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?: Paul Claxton did more than just win for the first time in six years on the Nationwide Tour; he became the first player to cross the million-dollar threshold in career Nationwide earnings. The $108,000 he pocketed at the inaugural Melwood Prince George's County Open pushed his career tour total to $1,101,673. We weren't sure if making over $1 million on the Nationwide Tour was a good thing or not -- so we kept it right around the turn. Then again, a million dollars is a million dollars however or wherever you earn it.
 
Back 9 Hole 10
HERE WIE GO AGAIN: Another item that deserves a spot around the turn is Michelle Wie agreeing to a sponsors exemption to play in the PGA TOURs John Deere Classic in August. It was just a few weeks ago that her instructor, David Leadbetter, said that Wie would be forgoing mens events to focus on playing ' and trying to beat ' players of her own gender. So much for that. Wie will be competing in the event for the third straight year. She withdrew last year in the middle of the second round due to heat exhaustion. Wies last five rounds on the PGA TOUR have been 76-78-81-77-77.
 
Hole 11
THE CREAM IS RISING ... and then fading away. At one point on Sunday, Jim Furyk, Paula Creamer, Justin Rose and Nick Price were either in the lead, tied for the lead or within ear shot of the lead in their respective tournaments. But in the end, all four came out with the short end of the stick - Rose and Furyk losing in playoffs and Creamer and Price fading to three shots back of the winner.
 
Hole 12
THE BIG CAT'S SMALL FINISH: Of all the players who lost this past week, perhaps none had to feel more defeated than Eduardo Romero. The Argentine had a four-stroke lead on Saturday at the Senior PGA Championship before bogeying his final two holes to cut his advantage to two. Then, still leading Watson by a couple through 12 holes on Sunday, Romero bogeyed 13 and double bogeyed 14. That helped put Romero from 2 up to 2 down, where he ultimately finished.
 
Hole 13
WHAT'S A MILLION EUROS ANYWAY?: The European Tour announced recently that anyone who could capture the Irish Open and the BMW Championship in back-to-back weeks would also win a huge bonus of 1 million euros. Well, Padraig Harrington took a step in the right direction when he became the first Irishman to win the host country's championship in some 25 years. Then came the tour's flagship championship at Wentworth, ironically a place Harrington has bypassed in the past because he didn't like the course set-up. Heading into the weekend, Padraig was just two strokes out of the lead with a million thoughts dancing around his head. But course karma derailed him in the third round when he posted a 3-over 75 that pretty much simultaniously ended his run at a second consecutive title and the pot of gold that awaited.
 
Hole 14
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: Kelly Jo Dowd, a cancer-stricken mother whose dream of seeing her teenaged daughter, Dakoda, play in an LPGA event was realized last spring, died Thursday. She was 42. Kelly Jo spent her final years battling breast, bone and liver cancer, which spread to her brain in the final months of her life. She also spent her final years supporting her daughter's dreams, and being an inspiration to all those suffering through this terrible disease.
 
Hole 15
IT'S NOT YOU, MR. HOGAN: With a new date on the PGA TOUR schedule that doesn't see it coupled in back-to-back weeks with the Byron Nelson Championship, the Crown Plaza Championship suffered a from a lack of big name players. Not helping matters was the fact that the European Tour was staging it's version of THE PLAYERS, with eight of the top-15 players in the world in attendance.
 
Hole 16
IF ONLY FOR A MOMENT: Ms. 59. The Queen of Golf. Perhaps the all-time greatest player in the women's game. Oops, sorry about that. It was the other Sorenstam. As in Charotta. And it was Charlotta - and we repeat, not Annika - who owned the first-round lead at the Corning Classic, an event her sister won in 2004. Three days later the other Sorenstam finished 19 shots back of the winner and in a tie for 60th place.
 
Hole 17
JUST HOW LOW DO I HAVE TO GO?: A week after her maiden victory on the Ladies European Tour, Bettina Hauert again found herself in a position to win heading into the final round of the BMW Ladies Italian Open in Rome. So what did she do? The German simply went out and fired a sensational, course-record 10-under 62 ... to lose by a stroke. Her round, which included four birdies and two eagles on the back side, fell one shot shy of winner Trish Johnson, whose 6-under 66 got the job done.
 
Hole 18
DAMN KIDS!!!: It is very rare when a player does not return to an event to defend his or her title. But that was the case last weekend when Hee Won Han failed to show up at the LPGA Corning Classic. As much as she would have liked to have been on hand to have a go for the repeat win, her excuse was, well, very excusable - she is pregnant with her first child. At least Han now has something she can hold over her child's head everytime he or she gets Mom mad.
 
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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.