Into the gloaming

By Whit WatsonAugust 13, 2010, 6:50 am

The first day of the 92nd PGA Championship was reminiscent of the final round of the 2000 Bridgestone, Tiger's so-called 'Shot In The Dark.'

Thanks to a lengthy fog delay on Thursday morning at Whistling Straits, many of our heroes battled the waning sunlight across Lake Michigan, racing against time to complete their opening rounds at the final major of '10. In the moments before the horn mercifully sounded at around 9 p.m. ET, the late starters in Wisconsin were flat-out hitting and hoping.

Shortly before the '00 Masters, then-10-year-old Qass Singh penned a note for his father, Vijay: 'Papa, trust your swing.' Vijay would go on to win that week, capturing his second major.

Sage advice, then and now. However, on Thursday, 'trust your swing' took on new meaning for those who played in the dark. Hit it and hope. As a life-long recreational player, I was completely entertained by the final hour of the first round at the PGA. Who among us hasn't putted out on 18, with dinner and bragging rights on the line, long after the sun has dropped below the horizon? Forgive the cliche, but it was terrific theater.

Fitting then, that the first-round clubhouse lead was shared by Bubba Watson. With all due respect to Francesco Molinari – the only other player in the house at 4 under – Bubba is terrific golf theater. His press conferences are happenings; his swing is something that not even Peter Jacobsen would attempt to imitate. Simply put, Bubba is a player. He plays golf, not 'golf swing,' as our friend Peter Kostis is fond of saying.

I have long held the belief that the world is divided into two camps: artists and mechanics. Artists are all about the result, with little regard for process. Mechanics revel in the details. Golf has given us a long list of successful 'mechanics,' including Hogan, Nicklaus, Player, and Tiger. However, the list of 'artists' in the game is far longer: Hagen. Snead. Trevino. Palmer. Ballesteros. Couples. Mickelson. And today, Bubba.

He may lack the resume of the previous list, but he has equivalent talent, and otherworldly imagination – the sign of a true 'artist.' In short, he's just damn fun to watch. And it was fun to watch him on Thursday.

My dad – another Watson – has been my preferred golf partner ever since he put a cut-down set of Nicklaus Golden Bear irons in my hands when I was seven or eight years old. He's a 'mechanic,' a player driven by process and detail, but has enough 'artist' in him to appreciate the beauty of the game.

For as long as I can remember, he has held fast to the belief that the twilight is the best time to play the game. There's nothing he enjoys more than racing against the dying sunlight, putting out on 18 in the gloaming, and retiring for dinner and trash talk. That's where memories are born.

We're only one day into the '10 PGA Championship, but there was something entirely pleasing about seeing an artist, Bubba Watson, atop the leaderboard at a course like Whistling Straits, itself a study in artistry. We can only hope that the next three days will be as entertaining, day or night.

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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.