Bradley, Simpson, Els victims of their own success

By Jason SobelNovember 28, 2012, 6:45 pm

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – If golf’s purists support a ban on anchored putting, we can only imagine the admonishment sportswriters of yesteryear would place upon today’s generation of web-surfing simpletons whose memories can be employed for less noble pursuits than fact-checking.

Well, much like those golfers who will continue jabbing the butt end of a putter into their midsections for the next three years, I’ll keep using Google until the day our governing bodies rule the process is against the long-standing traditions of the craft. Also like them, our application of search engines is only an advantage if we know how to use them, though doing so can result in a certain reliance on them as a crutch – and yes, that correlation works for golfers using anchored putters and sportswriters using Google. Observers should consider both parties victims of their own success.

In gravely stereotypical fashion, I performed a Google search for that five-word phrase and found a stunning array of results to match. Microsoft. Coyotes. Democrats. The Spanish national soccer team. Bobby Fischer. Neanderthals. Vaccinations. Groupon.

Each one has been referred to at some point as a victim of their own success. We can now officially add the likes of Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els to that list, too.

Anchored-stroke ruling: Articles, video and photos

There was nothing curious about the timing of Wednesday morning’s joint announcement by the USGA and R&A that they have proposed a rules change to place a ban on all anchored putters beginning on Jan. 1, 2016. After close to three decades of golfers employing this style on various levels with varying degrees of prosperity without any sort of proposal, three of the last five major championships have been won by players who anchored themselves on the greens before anchoring themselves to the winner’s circle.

To their credit, the game’s governing bodies attempted to quash any notion that recent success led to the direct downfall of the anchored putter. Early in the news conference, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson proclaimed, “I think we have to make it very clear that this proposed rule change is not directly performance-related,” then followed just seconds later by reiterating, “I emphasize the reason for proceeding with this rule change is not performance-related.”

Dawson may not mince words, but he also isn’t being completely honest with himself, if not the rest of us. No, the ban on anchored putters doesn’t come as a direct corollary of three players winning majors, but as part of the domino effect witnessed in the wake of such triumphs.

Allow Bradley to explain in this thoughtful analogy:

“Growing up, when we watched Tiger [Woods], we all wanted to be like Tiger, so everyone that I knew had to have a Nike hat. That was Tiger's thing. And you saw everybody on the golf course with it. You still do,” he said. “I think it's totally natural to see a bunch more belly putters and long putters in the younger game because they're seeing all of us do it. … Just like when I was a younger kid and I had to have a Tiger Woods hat, they want to try the belly putter. They didn't see me last year at this tournament come in almost dead last. I couldn't make anything. But you see on Sunday the putts going in, and I think that's totally natural. You see a lot of the younger generation doing what they see on TV.”

Therein lies the main theme for these players: Victims of their own success.

If Bradley doesn’t win the 2011 PGA Championship while brandishing a belly putter, fewer pro shops and retail outlets start carrying them. If fewer pro shops and retail outlets start carrying them, fewer young players start using them. If fewer young players start using them, then maybe a kid like 14-year-old Tianlang Guan never picks one up and putts his way into golf’s record books by qualifying for the Masters before entering high school.

If this sounds like a never-ending cycle of regression, congratulations: You see eye-to-eye with the USGA and R&A. Without directly addressing the younger generation of golfers on Wednesday, officials were clearly unnerved by reports at some recent junior tournaments that said nearly half of all competitors were anchoring putters.

And so a decision had to be made. Either continue allowing this style at all levels or force a cruel termination in the aftermath of so much fruition. The caretakers of the game opted for the latter and while they staunchly oppose the inference that their decision culminated from those major championship victories, there’s zero doubt that these performances helped force their hand and speed up the timeline of action.

It’s unrealistic to speak in hypotheticals, but we still have to wonder: If Bradley hadn’t sunk an improbable 35-footer on the penultimate hole of last year’s PGA Championship, if Simpson hadn’t coolly knocked in his devilish par attempt on the final hole of the U.S. Open, if Els hadn’t banged in a birdie bid at the Open Championship that he believed was for second place, would Wednesday’s announcement had taken place?

In an ironic paradox, those three players championed the cause for anchored putters while also unintentionally championing the cause to have them banned.

It is the very definition of becoming victims of their own success.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.''