None of the Presidents Men

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 19, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 Valero Texas OpenFor proof that the PGA Tour isnt just about Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and the rest of the Big Whatever, just look towards the Valero Texas Open.
 
While the tour showcases one of its two premiere events this week in the Presidents Cup (the other being The Players Championship), it will also contest a full-field tournament in San Antonio, Texas.
 
Chad Campbell
Chad Campbell is trying to win on the PGA Tour for the third straight year.
Some say this is the tour competing with itself; others say its the tour providing the bulk of its membership an appropriate opportunity to play.
 
Either way, the Texas Open once again falls on the same week as a significant international team competition. Its the fourth time in the last seven years that this event has been played simultaneously with either the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup ' and the third time in the last four years.
 
Last year, Chad Campbell and Chris Riley represented the United States in the Ryder Cup. Now theyre each playing as individuals, while many of their former teammates take on the Internationals in Lake Manassas, Va.
 
Its been a long and frustrating season for both men.
 
Campbell nearly claimed an unofficial title at the rain-reduced Nissan Open, when he lost to Adam Scott in a sudden-death playoff after the tournament was called after 36 holes.
 
But thats as close as hes come to earning a title.
 
Campbell has only four top-10s on the year ' and only one since March. His world ranking has dropped 20 places from this time a year ago. Those are disappointing numbers for a man considered one of the top young American talents.
 
But not as disappointing as the numbers put up by Riley.
 
Rileys future looked as positive as his attitude when he earned his way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team based on his performance at the 2004 PGA Championship.
 
Those smiles, however, havent been as plentiful in 05. Things seemed to take a turn for the worse when Riley asked out of the afternoon foursomes on Day 2 of the Ryder Cup, citing fatigue.
 
Critics fired plenty of bullets and, judging by his results this season, some seem to have found their mark.
 
Riley has only one top-25 finish, resides well outside the top 150 in earnings, and has fallen outside the top 125 in the world rankings.
 
One of these two players will turnaround their season this week. Unfortunately for Riley, it wont be him.
 
Five for the Title:
 
Chad Campbell
This is as good a place as any for the native Texan to earn his first win of the season. The Resort Course at LaCantera is a par-70, measuring 6,881 yards. Length is not a huge factor, but accuracy is ' and Campbell is accurate with his irons. A year ago, six players who finished inside the top 10 in greens hit in regulation also finished in the top 10 in the tournament, including winner Bart Bryant, who led the field in G.I.R. Campbell ranks inside the top 20 on tour in G.I.R.
 
Ben Crane
Ben Crane has back-to-back top-10 finishes in his last two starts.
Ben Crane
When theres no overwhelming favorite in an event, then its best to ride the hot hand. After a minor letdown following his second career tour victory at the U.S. Bank Championship in July, Crane has returned to form over the last two weeks. He tied for second at the Bell Canadian Open and then finished third in last weeks 84 Lumber Classic. Crane has played this event three times before, with his best finish coming in a tie for 17th in 2003.
 
Bart Bryant
Bryant played his first full season on tour in 1991. Thirteen years later he earned his first tour win. Bryant, who was born in Gatesville, Texas, took command of the tournament with a course record 10-under 60 in the third round. That gave him a three-stroke lead, which proved to be his margin of victory following a final-round 67. Proving that victory wasnt a fluke, Bryant added to his trophy collection this year with an impressive win at the Memorial Tournament. He will be trying to become the first repeat winner in this event since Arnold Palmer won three-in-a-row from 1960-62.
 
J.J. Henry
Henry hasnt fared as well as Crane over the last few weeks, but he does have a solid track record in this event. The Texas Christian alum was runner-up in 2001 and then tied for fifth last year. He placed well a year ago because he was second in the field in G.I.R. In his fifth full season on tour, Henry is still in search of his first career victory.
 
Corey Pavin
Each of the last three Texas Open champions has been in his 40s. Thats good news for Pavin. More good news: power, as stated before, is not an issue this week. None of the players in the field who ranked in the top 10 in driving distance a year ago finished in the top 10 in the tournament. Pavin, who ranks outside the top 200 in driving distance, finished eighth in his most recent start at the Buick Championship. He won this event in 1988 and has five top-10s in 16 career starts.
 
Playing Out the Front Nine
 
Four more to keep an eye on
 
*Tim Herron, who won this event in 1997. Herron earned his first top-10 since March in last weeks 84 Lumber Classic, finishing fourth.
 
*Ryan Moore, who is trying to earn his card for 2006. Moore, thanks to his tie for second in Canada, has already earned unlimited sponsors exemptions for the remainder of the year. He now needs just over $110,000 more to secure full exempt status for next season.
 
*Bob Estes, who won this event in 1994. The former Texas Longhorn has five career top-10s here and tied for 17th a year ago.
 
*Ted Purdy, who tied for fifth last year. Purdy picked up his maiden tour title at this years Byron Nelson Championship. Hes looking for his first top-10 since then.
 
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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.