Singh Looks to Break Out of Shell

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 17, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 Shell Houston OpenThis weeks Shell Houston Open will mark Vijay Singhs 10th PGA TOUR event of the 2006 season. This is significant, not because 10 is a celebratory number, but because he has yet to win this year.
Not since 2001, when Singh failed to win a tournament the entire year, has Singh played this many TOUR events to begin a season without a victory.
Vijay Singh
Vijay Singh is trying to become the first four-time winner of this event.
In 2002, Singh made this particular tournament his first seasonal triumph, but that came in his ninth start. Over the last three years, he hasnt gone more than four tournaments deep before hoisting a trophy.
This drought ' at least by Singhs standards ' could have been avoided right off the bat had he not lost in a playoff to Stuart Appleby at the Mercedes Championships.
That event, too, is significant.
By beating Singh in extra holes, Appleby captured his third consecutive Mercedes title. That is something that Singh is now trying to accomplish in Houston.
Only two men have done such a thing over the last quarter-century: Appleby and Tiger Woods. Woods, in fact, has done it three times. From 1999-2001, he won the WGC-NEC Invitational and the Memorial Tournament. And, from 2000-2003, he won four straight times at the Bay Hill Invitational.
Recently, others have tried and failed to three-peat, including Woods. He won the 2001 and 2002 Masters, but tied for 15th in 03. He won the 2002 and 2003 WGC-American Express, but finished ninth in 04. And, he won the 2003 and 2004 WGC-Accenture Match Play, but lost in the second round in 05.
Ernie Els, Mike Weir and David Toms all came close to winning three straight. Els won the Sony Open in 2003-04; Weir the Nissan Open in 2003-04; and Toms the FedEx St. Jude in 2003-04 ' and all finished runner-up in their respective events in 2005.
If he should fail in his three-peat bid, Singh will have another chance later this year at the Buick Open. Vaughn Taylor will also have a chance for three straight in this years Reno-Tahoe Open.
Singh is more than just the two-time defending champion on this event; hes one of only two people to win it three times (Curtis Strange). He earned his first Shell Houston title in 2002, the final year the TPC at The Woodlands played host. His most recent victories came at Redstone Golf Club.
Singh will again try to win at Redstone, but this time on a different course -- the Tournament Course. It's not 7,508 yards like the Member Course, which played host each of the last three years, but it still measures a distant 7,457.
Redstone, regardless of venue, is a bombers paradise. In addition to Singh, Fred Couples won here in 2003. Singh knocked off John Daly last year in a playoff.
Obviously, Singh is the favorite once again this week. Here are five others who have a chance to end his reign.
Darren Clarke
Clarke almost made history two weeks ago at the Masters, when he had a chance to become the first European-born player to win a major championship this century. A closing 77, however, relegated him to a tie for 22nd. The Northern Irishman, who has a pair of WGC victories to his credit, is making his third career start in this event. He finished second at The Woodlands in 2002, and then tied for fourth a year ago.
Jose Maria Olazabal
Olazabal is one of the games all-time greats on and around the greens, but, ironically, its his performance on lengthy venues that makes him among the favorites this week. The 40-year-old Spaniard, who lost his TOUR status after 2004, has resurrected his career thanks to success on some meaty layouts. He has six top-3s over the past two seasons and they have come on courses like Torrey Pines South (7,604 yards); Augusta National (7,445); Redstone (7,508); and TPC at Sugarloaf (7,293). He has a pair of third-place finishes in this event ' one at Redstone (2005) and one at The Woodlands (2002).
Padraig Harrington
Continuing with the European theme, Harrington is due for a great week. His lone top-10 on TOUR this season came in a tie for fifth at the Match Play, where he lost to Davis Love III in the quarterfinals. The Irishman is making his debut in this tournament, but that shouldnt be a problem. He earned his maiden TOUR title last year at The Honda Classic, the first time he had played that event. He then won the Barclays Classic in just his second trip around Westchester C.C. (the year before he tied for second there).
Lucas Glover
Glover hits the ball plenty long to contend at Redstone; he averages 296 yards off the tee. The 2005 Funai Classic champion got off to a great start his season, with four top-10s from the Mercedes to Doral. He missed the cut at The Players and at the Masters, but bounced back with a solid tie for 12th last week in Hilton Head. Glover has twice before played this event, tying for 29th in his 2004 debut and tying for seventh a year ago.
Bo Van Pelt
Like Glover, Van Pelt can routinely pop it 300 yards off the tee. And like Glover, he tied for seventh here last year. But unlike Glover, he is without a TOUR victory. Van Pelt has a pair of top-10s this year, with one coming at The Players Championship. Hell try and become the first player since Robert Allenby in 2000 to make this his first TOUR victory.
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    LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

    The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

    The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

    The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

    The LAAC was founded by The Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

    The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in The Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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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.

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    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.