Wide Open Texas Open

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 18, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 Valero Texas OpenFor the first time since 2003, Fred Funk will be returning to San Antonio, Texas for the Valero Texas Open.
Funk hasnt skipped town because of any discrepancies with this event. Rather, over the last two years, hes been busy on this particular week, representing his country in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
This year, however, Funk is free to play wherever he chooses ' and he has chosen to play here.
Justin Leonard
Justin Leonard is a two-time winner of the Valero Texas Open.
Not that the 50-year-old really had any other choice. There is no Champions Tour event this week, and he was never really in the race to make this years U.S. Ryder Cup team.
The Ryder Cup, of course, is being contested this week in Kildare, Ireland. And, for the fourth straight time, the Texas Open will be played opposite it; though, this may be the last time it has to share the spotlight.
Next years event will be held Oct. 4-7, which is the week after the Presidents Cup. And if it holds its position on the TOUR calendar, then it shouldnt run up against the Ryder Cup in 08.
In all, this is the 76th edition of this event, which began in 1922. Past winners include the likes of Walter Hagen, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer.
Robert Gamez won last years event, opening in 62 and closing in 64 on his way to a three-stroke victory ' his first on TOUR since his rookie season in 1990.
Defending champions havent had much success in this tournament over the years. Bill Mehlhorn won back-to-back in 1928-29. Palmer won three straight, from 1960-62. And only one person since then has been able to repeat. And that person leads the list of our five favorites.
Justin Leonard
It was seven years ago that Leonard was a Ryder Cup hero, draining a 45-foot birdie putt against Jose Maria Olazabal to all but clinch the Americans comeback victory at Brookline. That was the last win in the competition for the U.S., and the last time Leonard was a team member. But its not like hes been sitting at home watching his former teammates on TV around this time of year. Instead, hes been collecting some sizeable paychecks in his home state. Leonard won this event in 2000 and 2001, and has two other runner-up finishes in his career. He has yet to win this year, and hasnt had a top-10 since February, but this should prove the perfect venue for him to turn things around.
Bart Bryant
Bryant, who won this event two years ago, is coming off his best finish of the season with a runner-up showing to Jim Furyk at the Canadian Open. The 44-year-old Texas native is quite comfortable at this venue, as seen not only by his victory in 2004 but also the course record he holds - a 10-under 60 he shot during the third round the year he won. Texans have fared well recently at this event, winning four of the last six years.
Dean Wilson
Thanks to his victory at The International, Wilson is no longer known simply as The Guy Who Played with Annika at Colonial. And, because of that, he will not have to worry about securing his TOUR card as the season winds down. Last year, he used a seventh-place finish at this event to help regain the card he lost the year before. Wilson had finished 133rd on the 04 money list, despite tying for third at LaCantera. With two top-10s in as many starts in this event ' and not having visions of Q-school on the horizon ' he should have plenty of confidence, and should be plenty relaxed, to make a run at the title.
Bob Estes
The Texas Open has been kind over recent years to veteran players. As previously mentioned, Gamez won for the first time in 15 years at this event a year ago. That was a similar story for 2003 winner Tommy Armour III, who also hadn't won since '90. And, in between those two, Bart Bryant captured his first TOUR title at this event in 04. Now, Estes would like to earn his first victory in over four seasons. He nearly ended that winless drought four weeks ago in Reno, but fell one shot short. Estes made this event his maiden TOUR victory in 94, and has four other top-10 finishes here.
Shaun Micheel
Micheel only has one top-10 in this event in six career starts, but he has been playing quite well of late. Still seeking a validation victory to his 2003 PGA Championship, Micheel finished runner-up in this years PGA and tied for seventh a few weeks ago in the Deutsche Bank Championship. Last week in England, he knocked off world No. 1 Tiger Woods in the first round of the World Match Play Championship. Despite getting roughed up in the finals against Paul Casey, he should still bring back plenty of confidence.
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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.