These stars just need to shine

By Jason CrookFebruary 4, 2017, 1:52 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Two of the biggest stars in golf. One of the game’s biggest stages. Well-oiled fans who couldn’t have rooted harder. The second round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open had everything you could ask for … but it could’ve been even better.

The featured group of Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler (and Jon Rahm) led huge crowds around TPC Scottsdale on Friday. The players seemed to feed off each other and the gallery as they worked their way up the leaderboard at an event where each of the previous three winners had been three or more shots back entering the weekend.

That’s good news for the duo who are three shots (Fowler) and six shots (Spieth) off the lead after leaving plenty of shots out there, especially on the greens. Fowler made four birdies and a bogey in his 3-under 68, but he missed a makeable eagle try at 13 and birdie putts at 14, 15 and 16.

“I have played some good golf the last two days,” Fowler said. “But I’m going to have to play better over the next two days if I want a chance of winning.”

Spieth matched him with a 68 of his own, going out in a blistering 31, then adding two more birdies on 11 and 13; but he lipped out a birdie try on 12, made a bogey on 14, didn’t cash in birdie putts on 15 and 17 and made an ugly double bogey on 18 when he found the water off the tee.

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“I hit some good putts at the end that just missed. Kind of second-guessed a couple of reads,” Spieth said. “I have just been looking for that groove putting, and it’s almost there. Feels like it’s close.”

No offense to Rahm, who did get some hometown Arizona State support, but Spieth and Fowler are superstars – likeable superstars – and the fans let them hear it the whole day.

This wasn’t the Ryder Cup where fan support was on one side or another, and at times over the top. Everyone wanted to see these guys go low, and Spieth and Fowler did their best to oblige as they chatted their way down one fairway after another.

For the most part, the patrons were respectful. One dude offered Spieth a beer. He declined.

Some fans were nice enough to concede putts, yelling “good-good!” at the twosome.

One guy yelled, “TCU runs the BIG 12, brother!” as Spieth, a Texas Longhorn, walked by.

And that was all before they got to the famed 16th, which has gotten rowdier by the day.

When the announcer told the stadium crowd to quiet down before Fowler’s tee shot, he turned and pumped his arms, getting everyone on their feet and screaming.

“I’m definitely comfortable on this golf course,” Fowler said. “I think out of any Tour event I’ve played the most here … and it’s fun playing in front of loud crowds.”

It’s fair to say the spring-break buddies enjoyed their time Friday as they made their stroll around the golf course. If they start dropping a few more putts over the weekend, things could get downright delightful.

“The way I feel over the ball, I’m very confident,” Spieth said. “I know as well as anybody that once a couple start going in, they start pouring in.”

For everyone in attendance this weekend at TPC Scottsdale, let’s hope that happens.

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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.