Clarke to Defend at Dimension Data
At the time, executive chairman of Dimension Data Jeremy Ord proved that he had made yet another very astute business decision - his company had recently signed a sponsorship deal with Clarke. As the world looked on, Clarke gratefully accepted the $1 million winner's cheque - his visor bearing the recognizable Dimension Data logo.
At last year's Dimension Data Pro-Am, Clarke fittingly won his benefactors event at Sun City, edging out Retief Goosen. But if the big-hitting Clarke hopes to again win the event sponsored by the company whose name is emblazoned on his headgear, he will have to produce his best form.
Besides having to beat a quality field, Clarke's last showing in Sun City in December at the 'Million' was hardly encouraging - following a strict protein diet prior to the event had robbed him of energy.
Clarke did set a final 36-hole record in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 1999 (rounds of 64 and 65) at the Gary Player Country Club, and has a liking for the layout, so one might expect him to put up a stout defense of his title.
There is no shortage of serious contenders in the battle to lift the handsome trophy - a bronze fish eagle sculpted by renowned artist Keith Calder, and for the lessor lights, the $27,517 winner's check is a huge incentive to come to grips with both courses at Sun City and upstage the big guns.
Nick Price, returning to one of his favourite and most lucrative haunts, together with Goosen, who has enjoyed a stellar period since finishing as runner-up last year, will be obvious favorites to prevent Clarke from completing back-to-back titles.
Lee Westwood, the Dimension Data champion in 2000, must also be factored in as a threat to his stable-companion (Westwood and Clarke share the same manager, Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler), and the evergreen Mark McNulty is also due to triumph soon - a Sunshine Tour without the Zimbabwean winning is almost unthinkable.
Recently crowned Dunhill Championship winner, Justin Rose, cannot be discounted, nor can Martin Maritz - a most exciting prospect who seems to have all the credentials to set him on the road to golfing stardom.
Irishman Paul McGinley and Englishman Ian Poulter will also feature amongst the top players lining up to deny Clarke a successful defense at Sun City.
By far the biggest Pro-Am event played on the African subcontinent, with two full fields playing over both the Lost City and GPCC courses, the Dimension Data event also boasts a field of amateurs who represent the who's who of South Africa's business world.
When this event was launched six years ago, it was seemingly based on the Pebble Beach concept, but while the Californian pro-am features stars of stage and screen, it is captains of commerce and industry that join the pros in Sun City.
However, the lineup of amateurs will star former Celtic, Liverpool and Scotland soccer legend, Kenny Dalglish, who made 102 international appearances for Scotland. Other amateurs teeing it up with Dalglish are ex-Springboks Nick Mallet, Schalk Burger, and Morne du Plessis.
With only two tournaments remaining before the summer season is wound up after the Dimension Data, the Nashua Masters and the Tour Championship, the all-important Order of Merit race could take a few interesting twists and turns.
On the revitalised Gary Player Country Club (the course is back to its best after problems this time last year) we can expect a thrilling spectacle. Picking a winner is difficult, but we can safely predict that trading on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange will be light during the event, as most of the gentlemen with the large share portfolios will be concentrating on their golf games.
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.