Bettencourt, Tomasulo share Valero lead

By Will GrayApril 4, 2013, 11:10 pm

Amid chilly conditions deep in the heart of Texas, two relatively unknown players were able to separate themselves from a field that largely struggled Thursday at TPC San Antonio. Here's the skinny heading into the second round of the Valero Texas Open, where Matt Bettencourt and Peter Tomasulo sit atop the leaderboard:

The leaderboard: Matt Bettencourt (-5), Peter Tomasulo (-5), Padraig Harrington (-4), Billy Horschel (-4), Bryce Molder (-4), Harris English (-4).

What it means: Many expected the AT&T Oaks Course to play more easily with an earlier date this year, but the first round still saw plenty of high scores Thursday. Harrington and Horschel set the pace among the morning wave, but they were eclipsed by late surges from Bettencourt and Tomasulo.

Round of the day: One of the last players to finish his round Thursday, Tomasulo birdied each of his final two holes to grab a share of the lead. Despite hitting only 13 of 18 greens in regulation, Tomasulo made it around TPC San Antonio without a single bogey, still in search of his first career top-10 finish on the PGA Tour.

Best of the rest: Beginning with birdies on three of his first five holes, Bettencourt got off to a hot start in the afternoon wave Thursday. He rose up the leaderboard with consecutive birdies on 12 and 13, then grabbed sole possession of the lead with a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 17. After a par on the home hole, Bettencourt completed the co-low round of the day that included just one bogey.

Biggest disappointment: Playing alongside Rory McIlroy (72) and Jordan Spieth (71), Matt Kuchar dealt with some unexpected struggles in the opening round. Mustering just one birdie, Kuchar stumbled to a 2-over 74 Thursday and will begin the second round seven shots off the pace, now in danger of missing the 36-hole cut.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Having been mired in obscurity on both the PGA and tours recently, can Bettencourt and Tomasulo build upon Thursday's momentum? The leaderboard remains crowded after one round, with high-caliber players like Jim Furyk and Ian Poulter looming just a couple strokes off the pace.

Shot of the day: Though he struggled the rest of his round, Shawn Stefani had quite the adventure at the par-5 18th. After driving in the fairway, he appeared to catch a terrible break when his second shot struck a sprinkler head in the middle of the fairway and catapaulted into an adjacent water hazard. The ball stayed up in the hazard, though, allowing Stefani to gouge it out from a muddy lie while standing on nearby rocks. The shot from just under 60 yards landed 10 feet from the hole, and Stefani went on to save par to close out an opening 78.

Quote of the day: 'It really didn't hit me that I was still good at this game until I absolutely just hit it like a 14 handicap.' – Gore, making just his second PGA Tour start of the year.

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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.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.