US Ryder Cup team visits White House
Seven of the 12-member U.S. Team were joined by Azinger and assistant captain Raymond Floyd in meeting Bush, who was joined in the Oval Office by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
'This was the icing on the cake for me and the players,' said Azinger, who said that he was making his fourth White House trip, but first as a Captain. 'I was really proud of what the players were able to accomplish on a stage of this size, one of the biggest stages in the world when you consider there were some 600 million viewers. It was a great honor to have the president invite us, and to show how much he cared for and followed our team.'
Azinger said that Bush, in first speaking about the Oval Office, told a story about how he had chosen the pattern of carpet for one reason.
'The president said that he wanted the new carpeting to 'scream optimism,' ' said Azinger. 'That story stuck with me and it is something that I will remember for a long time. I said to the president how much I appreciated the joy that he and his staff had for us. He spoke to us from the heart, which was very touching, and I remember telling him how much I appreciate all his efforts to keep our country safe.'
The U.S. Team was accompanied by PGA of America President Jim Remy, Vice President Allen Wronowski, Honorary President Brian Whitcomb and Chief Executive Officer Joe Steranka.
The U.S. Team was represented by Chad Campbell, Stewart Cink, Ben Curtis, Jim Furyk, J.B. Holmes, Hunter Mahan and Boo Weekley.
'I don't know what words you can use other than how inspirational it was to be with the president. I wish that everyone had the same opportunity to get a chance to meet him in a setting like this,' said Remy. 'It was a fantastic day. The president spoke about how he came into office with the same set of values that he will take with him. The whole experience was like a dream and you want to pinch yourself.'
The U.S. Team presented Bush with a personalized Ryder Cup golf bag, the same Sunday red golf shirt and sweater vest worn by the team and a Ryder Cup money clip.
Weekley, who wore a big smile as he entered the White House, had one word for the visit.
'Wow!' he said. 'I can't believe that I was able to walk through this son-of-a-gun,' said Weekley, who despite his 'rookie' status entering the Ryder Cup became a quick team and fan favorite.
'There's so much stuff here, so many pictures and so much history. I was honored to meet the president. He's like one of us. The only thing that would top off this year any better for me would be to go out and get me a big deer. I'm headed to Missouri and Illinois to do some hunting.'
Cink delivered a most unusual, yet meaningful gift - a jar of homemade pickles. The pickles are the gift for participants in a charity golf tournament that Cink and PGA Professional Chad Parker of East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta have co-hosted for several years to benefit The Healing Place, a grief counseling center for children who have lost parents.
'I was too nervous to know what to say to the president about the gift of pickles,' said Cink, 'So I let him come by and then gave him the story. I let him know how much I appreciated his service to the country.'
'Our Captain and the players created this opportunity for us. We heard the president say how he had entered his office with certain beliefs and convictions,' said Honorary PGA President Brian Whitcomb, who had presented the Ryder Cup last Sept. 21 to Azinger, following the victory over Europe at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. 'This was the most inspirational day that I can remember.'
Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.
The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.
"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."
Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.
It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.
Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.
Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.
He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.
Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.
The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.
''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''
Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.
''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.
Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.
“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”
Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.
Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.