Palmers Party Long on Big Names

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 13, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 Arnold Palmer InvitationalThe PGA TOUR remains in Florida for the third of four straight events in the Sunshine State for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
 
Formerly known as the Bay Hill Invitational, this event was renamed after TOUR legend Arnold Palmer. Palmer owns the fourth most PGA TOUR wins with 62, including seven major championship crowns.
 
Palmer played in this event for 35 straight years from 1970-2004. He won the title just once, 1971, and last made the cut in 1993 at the age of 64.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods would like nothing more than getting back into the winner's circle at Bay Hill. (WireImage)
Rod Pampling walked away with the title last year, thanks in large part to Greg Owen's gaffe. The two were playing together and at the 17th, Pampling stumbled to a bogey, seemingly to fall two behind.
 
However, Owen pushed his par putt. Then without lining up his bogey try, that putt lipped out. Owen tapped in for double-bogey as he and Pampling headed to the last tied for the lead.
 
Pampling two-putted for par at the last to earn the win as Owen could not save par from a greenside bunker. Pampling, who hails from Australia, became the second international player to win this crown. Ernie Els was the first in 1998.
 
A strong field is on hand this week with seven of the top 10 and 15 of the top 20 players from the latest world rankings teeing it up at Bay Hill. Jim Furyk, the second-ranked player in the world, is the highest ranked player not playing this week. He is taking the week off with a sore wrist.
 
The GOLF CHANNEL has coverage of the first two rounds, while NBC will cover the final two rounds.
 
Next week the TOUR plays the last of four straight events in Florida with the World Golf Championships - CA Championship, which will be played at Doral.
 
This replaced the Ford Championship at Doral and fell under the World Golf Championships umbrella. Tiger Woods fended off Camilo Villegas and David Toms to win the Ford Championship by one stroke in 2006.
 
But, as for this week, big names rule at the Arnie Invitational. Here are five not-so-surprising names to watch for:
 
Tiger Woods
Hey, the streak isn't dead yet. Well, at least the one that states he has won seven straight PGA TOUR stroke-play events. At one time Mr. Woods owned this event, racking up four straight wins from 2000-03. But the last three years Tiger has been anything but, well, Tiger. He's gone T-46, T-23, T-20 and has only broken 70 once in that span. It's a good bet, however, that he'll get his mojo back this week at his hometown event.
 
Phil Mickelson
Despite not playing at Bay Hill for the past four years, Lefty has built quite a resume in Arnies event, winning once and having three other top-5 showings. But in true Mickelson form, he has also missed the cut in three other starts. And so it goes for Phil, like always. Which Phil will show up ' miss-the-cut Phil or battling-for-the-lead Phil? Hes gone 1-2 in his last two starts, but with Augusta just around the corner, his mind might be elsewhere.
 
Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia is hoping to be in the hunt come Sunday. (WireImage)
Sergio Garcia
Much has been made about the 26-year-old Spaniards inability to score well in final rounds of events and here at this event is no different. In his seven starts at Bay Hill, Garcia has four top-10 finishes, including a T-10 last year. But, as stated above, his fourth-round scoring average is a glaring problem. He was tied for sixth heading into Sunday in 06 but posted a 1-over 73 and never threatened. He trailed Tiger by one in 2001 and closing 74 dropped him to fourth.
 
Geoff Ogilvy
It will be interesting to see how the new and improved Ogilvy will play at Arnies event this year. He has teed it up five times previously at Bay Hill with his best showing a T-26 that came last season. He has since won the U.S. Open and has now climbed to seventh in the world. Ogilvy played well at the Sony Open in Hawaii at the start of the season and made it to his second straight WGC-Match Play final before falling to Henrik Stenson.
 
Vijay Singh
Mostly, Vijay is about winning. But in his 14 starts at Bay Hill he has yet to visit the winners circle. He has come close, though, several times ' three to be exact ' with runner-up finishes. The most recent was two years ago when he fell to champion Kenny Perry by two strokes. Singh is having a curious year thus far in 2007; he opened with a victory in Maui, but has since dropped to ninth in the world rankings.
 
But beware big dogs, as the past three weeks the PGA TOUR has seen winners come from outside the top-50 in the world rankings. Here's four others, inside and outside the top 50, to keep an eye on:
 
Charles Howell III
Howell looks to be simply coming into his own - finally. Standing atop the FedEx Cup point standings, Chucky 3-Sticks closed with a 65 on a tough course at Innisbrook Resort to finish sixth last week. Add a win and two other runner-ups in '07, and the Augusta native is licking his chops on his way to the Masters.
 
Lucas Glover
The star-in-the-making Glover held the 36-hole lead last year in Orlando before an awful weekend left in a tie for 17th. His back-to-back 67s in the first two rounds shows promise. Better yet? He finished fourth last week in Tampa, just two back of Calcavecchia.
 
Zach Johnson
Johnson had a decent result at the PODS Championship with a 14th-place finish and could parlay that new found confidence coming back to Arnie's place. In three starts, Johnson has two top-10s - a T-6 and a T-8 in '04 and '05, respectively.
 
Greg Owen
We all know what happened to Owen last year on the 17th green - two-shot lead vanished following a sickening three-putt double bogey. How will he try to cope with those demons upon his return to Bay Hill? So far this season, in six starts he has five missed cuts. But the ray of hope? A T-4 at Pebble Beach.
 
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    Information from The Sports Network was used in this article.
  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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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.