And Then There Was One - For Some

By Golf Channel NewsroomOctober 27, 2003, 5:00 pm
There are a lot of subplots as the 2003 PGA Tour full-field schedule concludes at the Chrysler Championship - as there shoud be:
 
Vijay Singh looks to wrap up his maiden money title; Davis Love III tries to keep alive his hopes for Player of the Year; Phil Mickelson tries to avoid his second winless season in 11 years, and qualify for the Tour Championship; Mike Weir, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel hope to add to their major-winning campaigns; and Ernie Els bid to win the first two and the final two events on the 03 tour calendar continues this week.
 
Oh yeah, theres also the not-so-miniscule matter of those playing for their livelihoods.
 
After 42 weeks of practicing, playing, traveling, grinding and recovering, it all comes down to72 holes of golf at the Westin Innisbrook Golf resort in Palm Harbor, Fla.
 
The top 125 on the money list at weeks end will keep or gain their tour cards for the 2004 season. Those from 125 to 150 will receive a special exempt status on tour that will get them in roughly 20 events for next season. And those outside the top 150, without aid of an already procured status, such as Past Champion, will be thinking Q-School or Nationwide Tour.
 
This weeks field is littered with players desperately trying to retain or attain their tour cards at the 11th hour.
 
Per-Ulrik Johansson is the man on the bubble at No. 125. He stands at $484,577. Dicky Pride is No. 126, just $654 behind.
 
Mark OMeara is also in the field. He is at No. 142 in earnings, $96,228 back of Johansson. OMearas five-year tour exemption from winning the 1998 British Open expires after this week. If he doesnt crack the top 125, he will have to use his one-time exemption for being in the top 50 in career earnings to keep full-exempt status for 2004.
 
The 46-year-old has never finished outside the top 125 in his 23-year tour career.
 
Singh is fresh off his fourth victory of the season, at the Funai Classic at Walt Disney World. He now leads Tiger Woods on the money list by just over $250,000.
 
First place this week is $864,000. There is no cut at the Tour Championship, where the winner will receive $1 million, meaning last place in the 30-man field is guaranteed money.
 
If I win next week then he can win the Tour Championship and he aint gonna beat me, Singh said with a laugh after surpassing Woods in seasonal earnings on Sunday.
 
Woods isnt playing outside of Tampa, and said he had no desire to add it to his schedule, even though he could be locked out of the money race when he tees it up for the season finale in Houston, Texas.
 
The most important thing for me is being ready for the Tour Championship, Woods said. If he (Singh) has it wrapped up then, so be it. I think anyone would rather have Player of the Year than the money title.
 
Love, on the other hand, needs each of the next two weeks in order to win the money title and/or Player of the Year. He has won four times, including The Players Championship, and feels he needs a couple more victories to secure either award.
 
I still have to do what I said a month ago, and thats win two tournaments. And theres two left, said Love, who is third on the money list, trailing Singh by over $1.34 million.
 
K.J. Choi won last years event, known as the Tampa Bay Classic, at the Copperhead Course (par 71, 7,295 yards), which will again play host this year.
 
Choi opened in 63 and fired three straight 68s to ease to a seven-stroke victory over Glen Day.
 
The South Korean is currently 29th on the money list and needs a solid title defense to secure his spot in the Tour Championship.
 
All of the players ranked 19-51 on the money list are scheduled to compete this week. Rocco Mediate is the man at No. 30. Hes trying to hold off the likes of Micheel (31), Fred Couples (32), Mickelson (37) and Curtis (45).
 
Mickelson has qualified for the Tour Championship each of the last 10 years. He trails Mediate by $209,518.
 
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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.