Guess who: Familiar faces on top at Scottsdale

By Jason CrookFebruary 3, 2017, 1:40 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Super Bowl week means a few things in the golf world - the Waste Management Phoenix Open, tens of thousands of screaming fans surrounding the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale, and several familiar faces at the top of the leaderboard.

The fact that those faces are some of the most recognizable on the PGA Tour certainly doesn’t hurt the desert stop’s popularity.

Hideki Matsuyama beat Rickie Fowler in a playoff at this event last year. Matsuyama trails only Matt Kuchar by only a shot after a first-round 65, while Fowler (67) is three back.

Brooks Koepka (67) won here two years ago, topping (among others) Matsuyama in a playoff; he’s three off the lead.

J.B. Holmes won here in 2006 and 2008; he trails by three after a first-round 66.

Phil Mickelson has won here three times and lost once in a playoff; he shot 68 Thursday and sits four behind.

Bubba Watson lost back-to-back playoffs here in 2014 and 2015; he’s five back after an opening 69.

Even Jon Rahm, whose only previous start here as an amateur produced a T-5 finish, is under par and within striking distance.

So what is it about this event that brings out the best in these same guys year after year? Is it the course? The atmosphere? The booze-fueled record crowds? The answer isn’t so simple.


Waste Management Phoenix Open: Articles, photos and videos


Watson took a tactical approach.

“If you can hit the fairways ... you can always score. You can always hit the center of the green. … You’re hitting scoring clubs [into the greens], and with weather like this, it makes the course just a little bit easier,” he said. As for how the atmosphere plays into his strategy, Watson went right to the 16th hole. "You know it’s a club less," he said, "'cause you’re just jacked up, so you just have to plan on that.”

For others like Fowler, it’s a combination of factors.

“Little bit of everything. I’ve played well in the desert since I was a junior golfer. Being here, I like the golf course. It’s fun to play. If you get it going and drive it well you can make a lot of birdies,” he said. “The energy here, the crowds, the amount of people that come out, especially tomorrow and Saturday, it’s fun.”

In Koepka's case, it's all about the layout.

“Some golf courses just really fit your eye, especially off the tee and even on the greens reading some putts … the more you play it the more familiar you get with it. It’s a good place for me to come,” he said. “It’s a fun week, it’s something I look forward to every year. It’s special.”

Rahm, the hometown favorite and Arizona State alum, feeds off the fans.

“It’s a lot different than having people that are not with me. It’s always helpful,” he said. “It’s great when you hit a shot, and even if you’re not happy with it, when people clap for you, they appreciate it, it always brings you up.”

And then there’s the 24-year-old Japanese phenom, Matsuyama, who has been on a tear since late last year and calls this event his favorite stop on Tour. He just doesn't quite know why.

“I have had such good success here and played well here. … I wish I knew why I play well here."

Golf is a funny game. It comes and goes on a whim. But for whatever reason, the same names consistently find their top form year after year at Scottsdale.

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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.

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made 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.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.