What We Learned: Tampa Bay Championship

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2013, 10:49 pm

Each week, GolfChannel.com offers thoughts on 'what we learned' from the world of golf. This week, our writers weigh in on an 'Everyman' winning on the PGA Tour, an American ascending to the No. 1 world women's ranking, and an underrated gem of a Florida course.

As journalists, we root for the story – and there aren’t many better stories on the PGA Tour than that of Kevin Streelman. Think about it: Just 10 years ago, he was earning extra cash to play mini-tours by caddying at Whisper Rock GC, otherwise known as golf course-to-the-superstars. 'I was just trying to save up money and practice wherever I could,' he told me a few years ago. 'I'd be running around there in my jumpsuit, dodging rattlesnakes, trying to make a couple of hundred bucks each day.' He was less than five years removed from looping when he earned PGA Tour status through Q-School and he’s never looked back. But that doesn’t mean Streelman doesn’t remember the good ol’ days. In fact, it’s difficult to find a more grounded pro on the most elite level. I’ve witnessed him genuinely interested in the lives of pro-am partners and taking time away from practice sessions to greet those who reside well below his pay grade. That may not be saying much, but the simple fact that Streelman has retained everyman status even while climbing the PGA Tour ranks should enhance the story now that he’s a champion for the first time. – Jason Sobel

The American women’s game has its bright new beacon.

If becoming the first American in 18 years to win the LPGA Player of the Year award last season wasn’t convincing enough, Sunday’s ascension to No. 1 seals the deal. Stacy Lewis will become just the second American to rise to No. 1 when the new Rolex world rankings are out. She will join Cristie Kerr as the only USA players to hold the top spot. Lewis’ emergence is timely because there isn’t another American in the top 10 in the world. She gives the American game a dose of hope and inspiration. You can be sure all the other top Americans will be ratcheting up their games to try to catch Lewis. – Randall Mell

Once again, Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course proved it is the best Tour track in Florida, the most complete test. PGA National is manufactured difficulty, having been converted to a par 70 for tournament week. Doral routinely produces a high-quality winner – Tiger, for instance, has won four times there – but it also has the best field. Nothing about Bay Hill’s layout excites the rank and file, and TPC Sawgrass is viewed by some as gimmicky. But you’ll hear nothing but praise for Innisbrook, with its tree-lined fairways and complex greens. It remains a hidden gem on Tour, though hopefully not for long. – Ryan Lavner

The PGA Tour needs more variety. Consider that in consecutive years Innisbrook has delivered three vastly different champions – from bona fide bomber Gary Woodland (2011) and short-game specialist Luke Donald (2012) to endearing journeyman Kevin Streelman (2013). Unfortunately, there are far too few Innisbrooks on the circuit’s dance card. It seems the Tour is a fan of just one flavor. – Rex Hoggard

Getty Images

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.

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.