Anchoring issue to headline Tour players' meeting

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2013, 10:28 pm

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Geoff Ogilvy described the typical 90-minute PGA Tour players’ meeting as “boring,” a “cure for insomnia” and, at its best, a “pretty good Ambien substitute.”

Rest assured, this week’s mandatory meeting in San Diego has the potential to be the liveliest yet.

On the agenda Tuesday at Torrey Pines is the governing bodies’ proposed rule to outlaw the anchored stroke. U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis is expected to explain to players the organization’s position on anchoring.

When announcing the proposed rule in late November, Davis and R&A chief executive Peter Dawson cited a “tremendous spike” in usage and a “growing advocacy” among teaching pros and tour players. More important, though, they stressed that the ban was not simply a reaction to the fact that three of the past five major champions (Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els) have used a belly putter.

“This is fundamentally about what we think is the right thing for the game,” Davis said at the time.

More news on anchoring the putter

Rule 14-1b will be finalized in the spring, following a 90-day comment period that would allow industry insiders to address any lingering concerns. That window expires at the end of the West Coast swing in late February. If the proposed rule is passed, as expected, the ban would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, when the next edition of the Rules of Golf is published.

The Tour, however, doesn’t have to wait that long.

Generally, the Tour has adopted the same set of rules as the sport’s governing bodies, but commissioner Tim Finchem and Co. could decide to institute the ban sooner – perhaps as early as this October, before the start of the 2013-14 wraparound season – to spare the players using anchored putters from scrutiny or potential distractions. The Policy Board is expected to vote on the issue later this season.

“I really don’t think the Tour will ever do that,” Stewart Cink said. “It wouldn’t look good for us to say, ‘You made a rule, and we’re not going to go by it.’

“It’s not unprecedented, and policy doesn’t stop us from making our own rule, but I really don’t think we will.”

Cink, it should be noted, won three titles with a conventional putter and the other three with a belly putter. “I don’t have a horse in this race,” he says.

“But when I was putting with a long putter” – for six-plus years, from the latter half of 2002 through early 2009 – “one of the reasons I switched back was that I had a hint in the back of my mind that the long putter had become a slight crutch, and I felt like I was depending on it because it was just a little bit easier to use,” he said.

“I’m not saying it’s easier to use; you still have to putt great to be effective with it. But it’s one of the reasons I switched back.”

In his fifth event after returning to the conventional putter, Cink held off Tom Watson to win the 2009 British Open at Turnberry, his first major championship and last title won.

“I had just developed a little hint of if I’m going to win a tournament with a long putter, I will have wished I was using the short putter,” Cink said.

At the World Challenge in December, Bradley, one of the best young players in the game, was heckled by a spectator because he was wielding a belly putter. Bradley shrugged off the incident, saying he hoped to use the detractors as motivation, but later told reporters there, “I feel like the USGA has really put an  ‘X’ on our back.”

That has led some to wonder if the Tour should institute its own rule and enact the ban beginning in October.

“I think they should really follow the USGA’s lead,” said Geoff Ogilvy, a member of the 16-member Player Advisory Council. “I don’t think the Tour can do any wrong if you follow what the USGA does. I think if they start going away from the USGA is when you’re going to get in a tough spot.”

Ogilvy said the last time a players’ meeting had this much anticipation was in 2008, when drug testing was introduced to the sport.

“But when they communicated with the players and said why they’re doing this right now, it was the right thing to do,” he said. “Without that communication, we were revved up about it.”

This meeting, he said, could take on a similarly educational tone.

“Perhaps (Davis’) spiel will neutralize the feelings that are in the room,” Ogilvy said. “To hear it from the USGA’s mouth and where they are coming from and why they propose the rule the way it is, perhaps that will change everyone’s perspective.”

And if not, one thing remains certain: No players will doze off this year.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

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."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

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.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

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. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“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.