Donald, Simpson are life of the party

By Jason SobelOctober 20, 2011, 8:19 pm

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Let’s say there’s a big game on TV tonight. Let’s say you invite a few buddies over to your place. Let’s say you’re all enjoying some adult beverages while intently watching the action in your mandated man-cave.

And let’s say the entire night is interrupted when a pair of supermodels come barging through the door.

Hey, it happens.

So, what do you do? Kick ‘em out and post a “No Girls Allowed” sign on the entrance? Or welcome the unexpected surprise with open arms – literally – and crack open a few cold ones for the bewitching beauties?

It’s a conundrum every man should have the pleasure of dealing with at least once in his life, but more importantly in this case, it’s an analogy for what’s taking place at this week’s PGA Tour season finale.

You and your buddies represent the rank and file of the game’s most elite tour. The journeymen. The rookies. The tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. You are the players who don’t want to play well at this event; you need to play well here.

Maybe it’s to jump into the top 30 on the final money list and gain entry into next year’s Masters. Or the top 70 to qualify for invitationals. Or even – gulp – the dreaded top 125, ensuring status for next season and a week of vacation when others are sweating it out at Q-School.

The players who need to play well at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic are accustomed to enjoying the festivities with like-minded competitors. You know, just a bunch of guys in their man-cave.

This week, though, their shindig has been interrupted by a pair of supermodels in Webb Simpson and Luke Donald – although in reality, they’re simply super models of consistency.

The top two players on the money list crashed the party on Thursday and it doesn’t appear anybody is going to kick them out anytime soon. Paired together, Donald posted a 6-under 66 to grab an early share of the opening-round lead while Simpson was only two strokes further back as the playing partners combined for a bogey-free morning at the Magic Kingdom.

At stake between them is the season-long money title. Once thought to be the most prestigious statistical honor for a PGA Tour pro, its importance has been diluted since the implementation of the FedEx Cup. Just ask the Tour, which has chosen to focus its efforts more on the points race than the money.

Until now. With the annual playoffs already a month over, the battle for greenback supremacy has once again taken priority, which is a little like NFL teams still vying for the Lombardi Trophy long after the Super Bowl has been decided.

With his runner-up finish at last week’s McGladrey Classic, Simpson leapfrogged Donald on the list, taking a $363,029 advantage entering the finale. It means that in order to claim the title, Donald needs to win if Simpson finishes tied for second; he needs to finish solo second if Simpson is tied for eighth; or he needs a two-way tie for second if Simpson is inside the top 21.

It also means the two men had plenty to discuss while spending 18 holes together on Thursday.

“We joked around earlier on about it,” Simpson said with a smile. “He shook my hand and told me it was great to see me. We went back and forth a little bit.”

“He asked when I was having my offseason,” Donald revealed. “I said, ‘Well, it was going to be this week. Thanks for playing the last two weeks.’ But, yeah, just some lighthearted banter out there.”

As well there should be. While the money title and, potentially, the Player of the Year award remain up for grabs, it’s not as if a poor week from either player would tarnish his accomplishments.

Exactly a year ago, Simpson was ranked outside the top 200 in the world and had yet to even secure his playing privileges for this season, needing a few strong Fall Series results in order to clinch a card. Now he’s No. 12 on the Official World Golf Ranking and a two-time champion with three other runner-up finishes.

Donald, meanwhile, has parlayed doubts as a career-long underachiever into a turn as the top-ranked player and clearly the most consistent performer in the world. His low opening round at Disney not only shouldn’t be considered a surprise, at this point it should be expected.

All of which accentuates their presence at the year-end event. Simpson and Donald have gone from party crashers to the life of the party. This isn’t their bash, but they’re hardly being bashed for showing up.

You know, just like those supermodels barging into your place tonight.

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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.