Love Hopeful for a Great Season

By Golf Channel NewsroomJanuary 24, 2005, 5:00 pm
2005 Bob Hope Chrysler ClassicPhil Mickelson made his 2004 PGA Tour debut at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and promptly won.
Davis Love III would very much like to rewrite that scenario this year. But even more so, he would dearly love to re-enact the events of two seasons ago.
I started 2003 at the Hope and had a great year, he said. Maybe again.
Entering his 20th season on tour, Love finds himself in a familiar position. He is coming off a winless campaign; hes struggling to stay inside the top 10 in the world rankings; and hes fighting to keep his body in working order.
Sounds a lot like two years ago.
Winless in 2002 ' his body ailing and ranked ninth in the world, Love went on to win four times in 03, including the Players Championship.
That led to a lot of promise for 04 ' and eventually to a lot of disappointment.
Love earned a pair of runner-up finishes, eight top-10s and over $3 million ' but no wins. He ended the year mentally and physically drained, having literally played himself out.
I came out and had a couple chances to win and didn't do it ' I started trying too hard, pushing too hard, trying to get back to that (2003) level. It's hard to have back-to-back really good years like Tiger and Vijay have been doing, Love said at last month's Target World Challenge.
At the end of the year I was frustrated. I hadn't won. I kept pushing myself to play after the Ryder Cup, which I put a lot into getting ready to play in the Ryder Cup, and I was basically hurting after that and I should have taken a month off. But trying to win, trying to chase positions on the money list and getting kind of frustrated that I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing, I pushed myself a little bit too far.
Ineligible for the Mercedes Championships, Love decided to extend his vacation time through to this weeks event. It gave him time to rest his ailing neck, time to work on his swing, and time to actually miss competing.
I think Ill be ready to play, he said. I dont do well with sitting around and doing nothing.
This will be Loves 11th trip to the Hope, where he has a pair of top-10 finishes and has never missed the cut, but its only his third appearance in the last 11 years.
Mickelson used to regularly skip this event as well ' until he won in 2002. He triumphed again last year, defeating Skip Kendall in a playoff. He rode the momentum of that victory to his first major triumph at the Masters. Augusta, however, was the site of his last official win.
He made his debut this season at last weeks Buick Invitational, where he tied for 56th.
Unlike at the Buick, Mickelson will not be surrounded by Woods, Singh and Ernie Els.
But he will be accompanied by a host of fellow Hope champions. Eighteen of the last 19 winners are in the field. The list includes 50somethings Jay Haas (1988 winner), Peter Jacobsen (1990) and Tom Kite (1993); Fred Couples (1998); David Duval, who shot 59 in winning in 1999; and Mike Weir (2003).
Scott Hoch, the 1994 winner, is the lone absentee from that group.
Per usual, play will start Wednesday in the 90-hole pro-am. The field of 128 will compete on the host Palmer course at PGA West, Bermuda Dunes, La Quinta and Tamarisk over the first four days, with those making the 72-hole cut playing on the Palmer course Sunday.
Tamarisk Country Club is replacing Indian Wells Country Club, one of the original tournament layouts, in the rotation this year. That leaves Bermuda Dunes as the only original course still being played. But even that may change next year.
Two new courses are expected to be introduced into the rotation in 2006. The Arnold Palmer-designed Classic Course at NorthStar is to be opened in November and is expected to serve as the host course next year.
SilverRock, also designed by Palmer and owned by the city of La Quinta, is scheduled to join the mix in '06.
Tournament officials aren't completely certain which four courses will fill out the rotation next year.
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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.