Estes Steady as Bob Burns at Kemper
As it played out, Bob Estes shot a one-birdie, 17-par 70 at the TPC at Avenal to win his third PGA Tour title in the past 12 months.
Estes finished at 11-under-par 273 to collect the $648,000 first-place prize. Rich Beem, the 1999 Kemper champion, was runner-up, one back after a 69. Burns (72) tied Steve Elkington (69) for third place at 9-under.
'I knew I was going to need to make a few birdies and as it turned out one was all it took,' said Estes, who was the only player in the field not to card a bogey Sunday. 'It didn't have to be that way.'
The leaderboard was knotted with potential winners, until Burns tried to straighten the string in dramatic fashion. Tied with Estes and Beem at 10-under, Burns played a 9-iron from 156 yards at the par-3 11th. His ball landed well right of the flag, kicked hard left and rolled some 30 feet into the bottom of the cup for an ace.
Now leading the field by two, Burns followed his career best shot with a pushed tee ball into the right rough at the par-4 12th. He made bogey, while Elkington, who was playing five groups in front of overnight leaders, birdied the 14th and 15th holes to pull even with Burns at 11-under.
Likewise, Beem birdied 14 and 15 to reach minus-11.
Elkington, who, incidentally, has a caddie named Bob Burns, dropped his position after missing the green at the par-3 17th and making bogey. He was quickly replaced, however, when Estes rolled home a 15-footer for birdie at 14.
Beem also missed the green left at 17 and failed to get up and down, leaving Burns and Estes as the top twosome.
Playing in the final group, Estes and Burns both missed the green at the par-4 15th. Burns was fortunate when his tee shot kicked off the right-hand cart path and caromed into the first cut of rough, but pulled his approach onto a mound left of the putting surface.
With little green to work with, Burns flopped his third to four feet, while Estes splashed out from the sand 12 feet past the hole. Estes converted his lengthy save, and Burns followed suit.
At 16, Burns hit a wonderful approach shot that appeared headed within 15 feet of the hole. Instead, it made a detour off the back of the green, down the slope and into a drain ' along with his chance of winning.
After a free drop, Burns chose a putter for his third stroke, but the balls momentum died while rolling up the hill and stopped at the crest, never reaching the green. It took three more swipes of the flatstick to find the cup.
'Certainly I'm disappointed not to have won,' said Burns. 'I feel like I physically played the shots at 16, which ultimately cost me a chance at the tournament, exactly how I wanted to.'
Estes now led Beem, who was in the clubhouse, by one, at 11-under, and Burns by two.
He still had the treacherous 17th to play ' the hole that subtracted a stroke from both Beem and Elkington. Unfazed, the 36-year-old Texan laced a 7-iron inside 10 feet. He missed the birdie putt, but maintained his one-shot lead heading to the 72nd hole.
After splitting the fairway off the tee at 18, Estes hit his second shot dead center into the green, from where he successfully two-putted for par and victory.
'My experience helped out a lot today,' said Estes. 'Knowing when to play at flags, when to maybe hit a 2-iron off the tee instead of a 3-wood or a 3-wood instead of driver, it was a really smart round of golf for the most part.'
Estes won twice last season on tour at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and the Invensys Classic at Las Vegas.
Final results from the Kemper Open
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.
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 four 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.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."