Slow-play penalty costs Texas A&M shot at title

By Ryan LavnerMay 31, 2013, 2:04 am

MILTON, Ga. – The NCAA picked a heck of a time to finally take a stand on slow play.

Texas A&M sophomore Ty Dunlap was slapped with a one-stroke penalty Thursday in the third and final round of stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA men's Championship.

That added stroke – assessed after more than a half-hour deliberation in the clubhouse at Capital City Club – dropped the Aggies from sixth place into a four-way tie for eighth at 2-over 842. The top eight teams after Thursday advanced to the match-play portion of the championship, which begins Friday.

Less than an hour later, Texas A&M was the lone team eliminated in a 4-for-3 team playoff with New Mexico, UNLV and Arizona State.

“I feel like they earned a spot in match play,” Aggies coach J.T. Higgins said afterward, “and they got it taken away from them.”

For the first three rounds, the NCAA set up four pace-of-play checkpoints on the Crabapple Course – Nos. 4, 9, 13 and 18. Players had 14 minutes to complete each hole, and 40 seconds to hit a shot when it is their turn to play.

Starting on the back nine, Dunlap and his fellow playing competitors – Arizona State’s Jon Rahm and Central Florida’s Greg Eason – missed their checkpoint on No. 18. They scrambled back into position by the third hole.

They fell behind again, however, after playing the drivable, 320-yard fifth and never recovered. They missed their checkpoint on their last hole, the par-4 ninth, by six minutes.

The NCAA rules committee then had to determine whether all three players would receive a one-stroke penalty or only the players with bad personal times.

Arizona State’s Rahm was absolved of any wrongdoing, keeping the Sun Devils in the playoff (and they ultimately advanced as the No. 8 seed).

Dunlap and Eason, however, were deemed to have not made a sufficient effort to catch up and were docked a stroke. Both players tied for eighth in the individual race, at 5-under 205.

“I think that’s hogwash,” Higgins said. “Yeah, they had some bad times; I’m not arguing with that at all. But I think they made a lot of effort to get back into position.”

Forgotten now will be the late-round heroics from Dunlap, who made bogey on No. 7, holed a 50-footer for birdie on 8, and sank a 40-foot par putt on the final green. Had he missed that putt, the Aggies would have missed the playoff by a shot.

Instead, they still had an opportunity to make match play. The four-team playoff was a shotgun start, with one team member per hole, stretched out over five holes. The three teams with the low four scores advanced, and Texas A&M was the lone team eliminated at 1 over.

In the parking lot after the round, Dunlap said: “We could have made time par, yes, and we didn’t, and that’s all that matters. It just kind of hurts right now. We’re just going to deal with it and come back better next year and make sure we don’t have to rely on being inside the bubble by one or two. It was fully in our control today to shoot a good round and be the No. 2 or 3 seed, and we didn’t do it. Because we didn’t, we’re not going to be in match play.”

It was a crushing disappointment for the Aggies, who have now come within four shots of making match play each of the past four years. Afterward, Cameron Peck, one of the team’s seniors, wrote on Twitter: “Glad I never have to deal with the @NCAA again. Worst organization in sports. Hope you got what you wanted.”

“I don’t think a team has come away more empty-handed than we have,” Higgins said. “It takes a little time after the fact, before it really sets in, the disappointment.”

On Wednesday, UCLA’s Jonathan Garrick was docked a stroke for slow play. It was the first slow-play penalty at NCAAs since 2011.

Asked if he felt like the NCAA was trying to make a statement this week, Higgins replied: “I think so. We need to play faster, there’s no doubt about it. But to not have it enforced all year, and then at your national championship all of a sudden it becomes a major issue? I don’t know what to say.”

Said Dunlap: “Whether they were trying to make a point or not, I don’t think they are. They’re trying to be fair, and the ruling is that the second checkpoint missed, you get penalized. They made a decision and that’s the way it went, and that’s the way we have to live with it.”

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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.