Notes Faxon Desperate Enough to Cross Ocean

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2006, 4:00 pm
135th Open Championship HOYLAKE, England -- Brad Faxon loves the British Open too much to stay away, even with little chance of playing.
Faxon was the sixth alternate, reason enough for him to travel across the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday night to be around Royal Liverpool in case a half-dozen guys decide to pull out.
If I didnt come over and my number got called, Id kill myself, Faxon said Monday evening while ordering pints at a pub. I wouldnt kill myself, but Id be pretty upset.
Then he paused to assess the situation before saying with only a tinge of desperation, Somebody has got to withdraw.
A year ago, Faxon endeared himself to the British gallery by coming over to Scotland to take his chances in a local qualifier the weekend before the British Open. He narrowly earned one of three spots from a 96-man field.
He didnt get that chance this year because the Royal & Ancient moved up local qualifying by one week, making it impractical.
Faxon also didnt get a chance in the U.S. qualifier because it was canceled by heavy rain that flooded Congressional. The R&A awarded the spots off the world ranking, and Faxon was too far down the list.
Now, his only chance is for six players to withdraw, which is unlikely.
The trip hasnt been a total waste of time. Faxon is allowed to practice at Royal Liverpool, and I even got a car park pass. He plans to play Tuesday with Brett Quigley, Mark Calcavecchia and Jerry Kelly.
I get chills just coming here, Faxon said. I feel rejuvenated.
And if he has to turn around and go home on Thursday?
You know, we just walked a mile for dinner, walked another mile to a pub, I havent slept, and were just having a blast, he said.
Oh, and theres one other upside. Im hitting my 3-iron 260 yards, he said. I never do that.
Warren Bladon has all the traits of a long-shot qualifier at the British Open.
He makes about $10 an hour framing pictures in Coventry, and the only golf he plays is Wednesday and Saturday, a regular game he keeps with his friends at Forest of Arden. He moonlights as a plumbers assistant. Money is so scarce that his girlfriend paid the $200 entry fee for the British Open, asking only that he practice a little harder.
Bladon, 40, did well enough to make it through regional qualifying, then earned one of three spots in a local qualifier last week.
I was a little surprised, Bladon said.
But there is more to him that a blue-collar worker who can play.
Bladon has played in the Masters, even getting in nine holes of a practice round with Jack Nicklaus, then played in the Memorial. He once competed against Tiger Woods for the silver medal that goes to the low amateur at the British Open, losing out in 1996 when Woods shot 66 in the second round to make the cut at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
Bladon is known to most European players as having won the British Amateur at Turnberry in 1996, but his professional career didnt pan out.
I traveled the world playing golf, and I found it difficult to get a sponsor, Bladon said Monday. To get a full sponsorship in your 30s is difficult when theres all these young players coming up behind you.
Bladon ran a pub for a while, had a marriage end in divorce, and now is quite happy framing pictures and playing golf. He also took part in last years Big Break IV series on The Golf Channel.
This is quite a change.
I just want to do as well as I can, he said. I want to come off the course knowing that I havent been overcome by it, control myself and hit the right shots at the right time. And if I do that, then Ill be happy.
Bladon already is a little ahead of the game. He earned about $1,600 from final qualifying, and is guaranteed $3,800 for competing in the British Open. That should at least help him pay back his girlfriend for the entry fee.
Seve Ballesteros, whose career was derailed by back injuries, plans to play the British Open for the first time in five years.
Then again, its only Monday.
Ballesteros has talked about returning to competition over the past few years, but then withdraws as the tournament gets closer. He played the Madrid Open late last year and missed the cut by 14 shots, and played last month in the French Open, finishing two rounds at 20 over par.
Seves here? Nick Faldo said Monday.
Faldo said he doesnt blame Ballesteros for only wanting to play in the Masters and British Open, the two majors he won that comes with exemptions that last a lifetime at Augusta National and until he is 65 at the British Open.
Thats what I would do'pop up for the odd Masters and British Open, Faldo said. I dont think hes trying to rebuild his career.
Coming off his first PGA TOUR victory, Trevor Immelman wasnt sure he would be at the British Open.
Immelmans wife, Carminita, is expecting their first child at home in Orlando, Fla. After holding off Tiger Woods to win the Western Open two weeks ago near Chicago, the South African went home and got a good report from the doctor.
Were expecting the end of next week, Immelman said. We went to the doctor right before I came over here and he didnt see any chance that she was going to have the kid this week. Weve got a few people with their cell phones on, and theyll let me know if something happens and Ill try to get back.
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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.