Southern Comfort at Verizon Heritage

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 10, 2006, 4:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)The PGA TOUR seasons first major championship has officially been decided and there are 10 more weeks until the next one.
 
Its time to decompress.
 
The TOUR heads from the ultra-tense grounds of Augusta National Golf Club to the relaxed and friendly confines of Harbour Town Golf Links for the Verizon Heritage.
 
Peter Lonard
This week's winner will get a trophy plaque and the Tartan jacket.
They also go from a 7,445-yard monster to a course measuring nearly 500 fewer yards, and one built for shot-shaping and accuracy ' not power.
 
It rewards you when you play well; it's not tricked up, doesn't have the windmills and loop to loops on the greens. You can go out there and feel like if you play really well you get rewarded, described Fred Funk.
 
I think in that regard, it does relax you a lot, and the relaxation disappears when you get in contention this week. When you get down to Saturday and Sunday and you're at the top of the leaderboard, all of a sudden it's a different story again.
 
A year ago, none of the top-10 players in the world were in attendance. Such is not the case this year. Two of the top 10 are here this week, as are seven of the top 20.
 
The field features Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Darren Clarke, Chris DiMarco, Jose Maria Olazabal, Davis Love III, Geoff Ogilvy and Chad Campbell.
 
Peter Lonard is the defending champion, having survived a brutally ugly final round in Hilton Head, S.C.
 
Lonard led Clarke by a stroke after 54 holes, and the next nearest competitor was five shots removed. Clarke got off to a hot start that Sunday, but wilted to a 76. Lonard, meanwhile, shot 75 and managed a two-stroke triumph over four others.
 
Though Harbour Town stretches to only 6,973 yards (par 71), 7 under was the winning tally a year ago. Before that, it was only 10 under. The challenge lies not in length, but in twist and turns ' and the smallest greens on TOUR.
 
It's a golf course where you have to really position the ball, said Jose Maria Olazabal. You have to really hit it straight off the tee, have to be very sharp with your irons into the greens because the greens are really tiny.
 
There have been 37 Heritage tournaments and only 25 different winners. Six players have twice conquered the shot-makers course. Hale Irwin has won it three times; Love has done so on five occasions.
 
Love hasnt won on TOUR since 2003, the year in which he also captured his fifth Heritage title. Though his winless streak officially stretches 32 months, he has to be considered among the favorites at this particular venue, where he has six other top-10 finishes in addition to his five victories. Here are five others, outside of Love, who have a good chance at wearing the Tartan jacket come Sunday evening.
 
Jose Maria Olazabal
Olazabal made his Heritage debut last year, tying for 13th. He has gotten off to a solid start this year, having already procured a pair of runner-up finishes. The Spaniard began the season by losing a playoff to Tiger Woods in the Buick Invitational. He has since tied for seventh in The Players Championship and tied for second in the BellSouth Classic. He tied for third at Augusta, closing in 6-under 66.
 
Jim Furyk
Furyk has played this event seven times ' and he now seems to be figuring it out. After missing the cut in 1997 and then tying for 79th in 98, Furyk returned from a three-year absence by tying for 15th. He went on to tie for 10th in 2003 and then, after missing the 04 event due to a wrist injury, tie for second last year. He has three top-10s this year, including a pair of third-place finishes at the Mercedes Championships and The Players Championship.
 
Ernie Els
Els game might not seem well-suited for the snaky Harbour Town layout. But, the numbers dont lie: Els has five top-10s in seven career starts, with no missed cuts. He last played this event in 2004, when he tied for third. The big South African is trying to win on TOUR for the first time since 2004. He was in good shape after three rounds last week, but wilted to a 76 in the final round and settled for a tie for 27th.
 
Stewart Cink
As previously mentioned, Cink is one of eight players to have won this tournament on multiple occasions, doing so in 2000 and 2004. He also tied for 10th in both 2001 and 2003. A return to Hilton Head could be just what his game needs, as he has earned only one top-10 since his 06 debut at the Sony Open. That, however, came in a tie for 10th at the Masters.
 
Rod Pampling
After missing the cut in his first two trips around Harbour Town, Pampling has three straight top-20s. He tied for 10th in 2003, tied for 16th in 04, and tied for sixth a year ago. The Australian highlighted the early part of this season by winning the Bay Hill Invitational, his second career TOUR victory (2004 International). He also earned a return invite to the Masters by tying for 16th.
 
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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.