From Start to Finish Norman Seeks Bookend Wins
Greg Norman would love to bookend his winning ways on the PGA Tour with win No. 19 this week at the Tournament Players Club at Avenal.
The 47-year-old Australian, who won his first tour title in this event at Congressional 18 years ago, is the halfway leader in Potomac, Md. Norman shot a brilliant 6-under 65 to take a two-shot advantage over a quartet of others.
'I don't feel 47, to tell you the truth,' Norman said. 'I probably feel better than I did when I was 35.'
Bob Estes (69), Craig Barlow (67), Willie Wood (68) and Bob Burns (66) are tied for second at 8-under. Overnight leader Franklin Langham heads a group of six at 7-under following a 1-over 72.
Having Norman at the top of the leaderboard is a dream come true for tournament organizers. With only one of the top 20 ranked players (Chris DiMarco) in this weeks field, Norman is sure to draw favorable attention ' and a paying audience.
Normans last tour victory came at the 1997 NEC World Series of Golf. A lot has changed in those five years. Tiger Woods is challenging Normans record run atop the World Golf Ranking (331-straight weeks), while Norman is focusing on his off-course ventures.
Hes earned more money than a full field of players could spend in a lifetime. He is chairman of Great White Shark Enterprises, which ventures in everything from apparel to wine, makes his own grass ' the Super Bowl has used his Greg Norman Turf, and hes a highly successful course designer ' hes discussing plans for a $20 million venue that may one day host the Kemper Open.
In fact, the Hall of Famer (2001) isnt even a member of the PGA Tour, having relinquished his card by failing to compete in the required 12 tournaments a year ago.
But what he would trade for one more win.
It would be a reinforcement of the belief in myself that I can do it, he said after Thursdays promising 67.
Friday, Norman parred his first seven holes before recording back-to-back birdies on three occassions coming home.
Norman birdied eight and nine, 12 and 13, and 16 and 17. He hit 12 of 14 fairways, 12 of 18 greens in regulation and took just 24 putts. THe highlight of his round came when he stuck a 6-iron at the par-3 17th to two feet.
The 1986 and 93 British Open champion is competing in his seventh event of the season. As a non-member of the tour, he can play in up to 12 tournaments, including seven sponsors exemptions. He will try to qualify Monday for the U.S. Open and there is a debate as to whether or not that will count against his total, should he qualify.
Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said earlier in the week that he is reviewing the tours policy on that issue.
Regardless of what the future holds, Norman is enjoying the present. And he feels his past will help him over the weekend.
I believe if youve been there enough (in contention) in the past ' and 20 years is a long period of time ' and if youve been there and experienced it, you should be able to dig deep down inside yourself and bring out the necessary components that allow you to go back where you should be, he said.
I never played a lot of golf (on a yearly basis) in my whole career. I always took a lot of time off and came back and played well, he said, and then added, pointing to his heart and his head, its in here and its up here, and its how much you really want it.
Full-field scores from the Kemper Insurance 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."