Some players think TPC San Antonio is good Masters prep

By Ryan LavnerApril 2, 2013, 10:41 pm

SAN ANTONIO – Augusta National, it is not, but this week’s stop at TPC San Antonio apparently provides a stiff enough challenge that it has attracted the likes of Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar, Charl Schwartzel and Ian Poulter.

And not just because they want competitive practice before the year’s first major.

“I like this golf course, being pre-Augusta or not,” Kuchar said Tuesday. “It’s nice to not play a course that’s 7,800 yards and wide open. This course offers some good variety.”

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Much has been made of this year’s schedule in which the Shell Houston Open was bumped out of its usual pre-Masters slot. Tournament officials have found a niche in setting up the course in Humble, Texas to mimic the conditions players will face at Augusta. If that’s the case, look out for winner D.A. Points – with seven missed cuts in 10 starts – next week.

What to expect from this week’s venue?

True, it is not Augusta-lite. (There is much more sand in the greenside bunkers, for instance.) But consider this: The rough is shorter this year because the tournament is being played earlier; they have heavily overseeded to provide similar grass conditions; and as undulating as the greens on the AT&T Oaks Course are, the approach shots are similar to Augusta in that they must be precise and find the proper level. 

“I think this would be a great test before Augusta because of the greens and how quick they can get,” said defending champion Ben Curtis.

Apparently, Phil Mickelson disagreed, as Lefty played in Houston but bypassed this week’s tournament because the venue, he said, was not ideal for Masters preparation. (This week’s field has 16 players who are already exempt into the Masters.)

For one thing, it likely will be windier here than in Georgia. But Padraig Harrington dismissed the notion that a windy week can wreck a player’s swing heading into Augusta.

“Nobody wants to be blown off the golf course,” he said. “But at this stage, professional golfers should have enough experience to be able to handle wind and not let it affect detrimentally their posture or ball position or swing. So hopefully I’m big enough and old enough to manage that bit.”

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.