Long Drive Championship down to final 8

By Jason CrookOctober 21, 2015, 3:53 am

THACKERVILLE, Okla. - The World Long Drive Championship took a page out of the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby’s playbook this year, and the result was, if not a four-bagger, at least a double off the wall.

With the change to a shot clock instead of a set number of balls, players had as many attempts as they could squeeze into two minutes and 45 seconds, plus an extra try if they were still behind, and it resulted in everything from fist-pumping drives blasted nearly 400 yards to soul-crushing losses that came down to inches.

It didn’t take long for the drama to commence, with one of the perennial favorites, Englishman Joe Miller, going down to unheralded Jason Eslinger in the first matchup of the night. The 29-year-old 4 seed playing in his home state poked an early drive 398 yards out, and it held up as Miller, the 2010 champion and No. 1 seed, fell four yards short of that mark.

“I’m just on cloud nine, just kind of a dream come true. Just to get the first win under the lights under my belt. It’s just awesome,” Eslinger said after the match. And although he said he likes the new format, he noted that the tension doesn't just affect the crowd. “On [Miller’s] last shot [my heart] went about 180 beats per minute. I was rushing with adrenaline. I knew I may have to get up there and hit another ball.”

That wasn’t the only match that went the distance. No. 2 seed Will Hogue smashed ball after ball out of play before finding the middle of the grid with a 396-yard moon shot on his final drive to beat Adam Smith and stay in the competition, while fan favorite and two-time champion Jamie Sadlowski ran the clock way down before securing his match with a 391-yard bomb.

“I like it, it adds a lot of excitement. I knew if [my last ball] didn’t do it, it wasn’t going to happen,” said Hogue, a 29-year-old from Tennessee.

Another big name and No. 1 seed, Tim Burke, took out Maurice Allen, and while the result wasn’t exactly a shock, the big surprise was the NBA legend sitting in the front row.

Allen has grown close with former Philadelphia 76er Julius Erving over the last few years, and Dr. J was in the house on Tuesday to watch his “nephew” come up just short to the 2013 champ.

“That’s a legend that’s pretty awesome,” Burke said after the win.

Also moving on is Jeff Gavin, who took out defending champion Jeff Flagg in the previous round, Jeremy Easterly and last year’s runner-up, 44-year-old Jeff Crittenden.

Both Gavin and Crittenden won their matches by a single yard.

The quarterfinals set up as follows:

No. 4 Jason Eslinger vs. No. 2 Will Hogue

No. 1 Tim Burke vs. No. 7 Justin Young

No. 8 Jeff Gavin vs. No. 10 Jeremy Easterly

No. 1 Jamie Sadlowski vs. No. 2 Jeff Crittenden

Even with the new format, Wednesday sets up as more of a marathon to today’s sprint, with the winner of the $150,000 first-place prize looking at a march through the quarterfinals, semis and finals.

The set-up would seem to favor someone who has been through the grind before, especially as the pressure mounts with precious seconds ticking away. But after a tense Tuesday, don’t try telling that to those who have been there before.

“It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been here before, there’s always pressure,” Sadlowski said.

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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.