Efficiency and Controversy

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 15, 2009, 4:00 am
Greg Norman and Fred Couples

BEING PICKED ON: Presidents Cup captains Greg Norman and Fred Couples announced their wildcard selections last week. U.S. captain Couples picked Hunter Mahan and Lucas Glover, while International captain Norman went with Ryo Ishikawa of Japan and fellow Aussie Adam Scott.
Backspin Couples had long said that Mahan and Glover were his men, which means only Steve Stricker was happier to see Scott Verplank fail to win the Deutsche Bank Championship. Norman, however, never tipped his hand. Many saw Ishikawa as an option, if only because no one else really stood out and he does have five wins this year on the Japanese Tour - plus broad international appeal. Scott, though, was a major surprise since he's had such a horrible season. Norman's picks further showcased the Presidents Cup as entertainment over serious competition.
Rory Sabbatini

MOUTH RUNS EFFICIENTLY: Rory Sabbatini took exception to Greg Norman's Presidents Cup captain's selections, or at least over the fact that he failed to receive a courtesy call to say he would not be chosen. Sabbatini voiced his displeasure to the media after shooting 5-under 66 to take the first-round lead in the BMW Championship. He then shot 70-72-74 to tie for 18th.
Backspin Sabbatini is a very talented player, unfortunately he tends to go blah, blah, blah, then we go pffft, and he goes thppp. He had reason to be upset that he wasn't selected or didn't get a phone call or whatever, but, as is usually the case, he failed to handle the situation appropriately. Good thing he doesn't care what anyone else thinks.
Tiger Woods

MY HOUSE(S): Tiger Woods won the BMW Championship by eight strokes. Woods was aided greatly by a course-record 9-under 62 Saturday, which gave him a seven-shot advantage entering the final round. The victory was Woods' sixth of the season and first of the '09 playoffs. He regained the No. 1 spot on the FedEx Cup points standings with one event, the Tour Championship, remaining.
Backspin Woods has re-established his dominance on his favorite tracks. He won at Bay Hill [victory No. 6 on that course], Muirfield Village [No. 4], Firestone [No. 7] and now Cog Hill [No. 5]. Surprisingly, it's the first time in his career that he's won on all four courses in the same year. The only other regular PGA Tour venue he likes as much or more than these is Torrey Pines, and he was sidelined for this year's Buick Invitational. Nick Watney thanks him for that.

Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods

30 ROCK: The BMW pared the FedEx Cup playoffs down to the final 30 participants. These 30 will have their points restructured, meaning anyone who is currently inside the top five still has a chance to win the $10 million bonus with a victory at the Tour Championship.
Backspin The top five are, in order: Tiger Woods, Stever Stricker, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and Heath Slocum. Among those failing to qualify fo the Tour Championship include: Ian Poulter (No. 31), Rory Sabbatini (34), Anthony Kim (35), Sergio Garcia (38), defending champion Camilo Villegas (42), and Davis Love III (51).
Arnold Palmer

80 ROCK: Arnold Palmer celebrated his 80th birthday Thursday Sept. 10, the same day the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children marked its 20th anniversary. Palmer spent the week leading up to his birthday being honored at the hospital, attending a few celebratory dinners and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at a Pittsburgh Pirates game.
Backspin You have to travel far and wide to find anyone who has anything negative to say about Palmer [assuming you don't talk to Ken Venturi]. Eighty years. That's 29,220 days, including leap years. And we wish him many, many more.

Jiyai Shin and Angela Stanford

JI, I'M GOOD: Ji Yai Shin won the P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship in a playoff over Angela Stanford and Sun Young Yoo. The win was Shin's third of the season. She took over the No. 1 spot on the money list, the No. 1 spot on the Player of the Year ranking and the No. 1 spot on the Rookie of the Year ranking.
Backspin Congratulations to Shin, but it was a bummer to see Stanford lose. She got off to a great start this season but then struggled upon learning that her mother, Nan, had breast cancer. Since the Solheim Cup, however, she has gone T-8, T-2, T-2. Her mom was on hand this week and was able to witness Angela eagle the par-5 18th to join the three-way playoff. Shin proved to be too much, though, as she was the only player to birdie the second extra hole.

Lorena Ochoa

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR US LATELY?: Lorena Ochoa was met with some critical questions during a trip last week to her native Mexico while promoting a charity event. Local media queried Ochoa on her lack of wins this season (two) and the dramatic decrease in her lead atop of the world golf rankings. Ochoa was defensive in her remarks, saying 'I’m not going to answer any questions about my results.'

Backspin Americans can't imagine the scrutiny that successful foreign players endure. They're not just sports figures, they're national icons. The hopes of a country are saddled on their shoulders. As Ochoa or someone like Ai Miyazato can tell you, this is not hyperbole. Their success is their homeland's success. It is understandable to wonder why Ochoa is not producing the results she has in the last few years. It is not, however, acceptable to be disappointed in her for one less-than-stellar season.

Sandra Gal

BODY OF WORK: Sandra Gal made some news both on and off the course this past week. First, it was announced that she, Christina Kim and Anna Grzebien were going to appear semi-nude in the Oct. 19 'Bodies' edition of 'ESPN The Magazine.' Gal then opened in 7-under 64 to lead after the first round of the P&G event.
Backspin Gal closed in 76-70 to tie for 15th. Kim finished T-54, while Grzebien was T-65. People will debate whether or not this kind of exposure [pun intended] is good for the tour. It is. The LPGA needs publicity surrounding its players, not involving its commissioner, its sponsors or its schedule. It doesn't have the luxury of marketing players based solely on their performances; it needs other avenues. And sexuality promotes well. It should be noted, however, that the decision to pose for the magazine was made by the individuals, not the tour. And it's up to the players, more so than the tour, to prove there is substance behind the style.
U.S. Walker Cup team

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: The Americans defeated Great Britain and Ireland, 16 1/2 - 9 1/2, in the 42nd Walker Cup at Merion Golf Club. ... Josh Teater won for the first time on the Nationwide Tour at the Utah Championship. ... James Kingston defeated Anders Hansen in a playoff to win the European Tour's Mercedes-Benz Championship.
Backspin That's three wins in a row for the Yanks, who have a 34-7-1 record in the event. It might be time to invite continental Europe into the fray. ... Teater earned $99K and moved from 21st to eighth on the money list. ... Kingston's opening round of 5-under 67 included an eagle and a triple bogey.
Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

Getty Images

Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

Getty Images

McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

Getty Images

Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''