Stadler, Villegas prove opposites attract on Day 1 of Barclays

By Jason SobelAugust 23, 2013, 12:53 am

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – When explaining there is no prototypical golfer, we can point to any number of examples to prove this theory. Take the case of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, polar opposites not only in the side from which they swing, but in the way they approach the game. Or a pair like Tom Watson and Jordan Spieth, as the former made a PGA Tour cut earlier this summer at age 63, while the latter claimed his first career victory as a teenager.

As if we needed further proof that there is no right or wrong approach or age or even shape of a successful golfer, it comes staring back at us from the top of The Barclays leaderboard, with full-bellied Kevin Stadler taking the lead with a 7-under 64 and flat-bellied Camilo Villegas among those just one stroke back after a 65.

“I don't think I'll ever in my life look like Camilo,” joked Stadler, a carbon copy of his Masters-winning father. “That's for sure.”

While they may look like the PGA Tour’s version of The Odd Couple, Stadler and Villegas own recent results that look eerily similar. They’ve each made the cut in 14 starts this season, twice finishing inside the top-10. It would be too dark to maintain they were both limping into these FedEx Cup Playoffs, but neither was exactly on a torrid pace entering this week, either.

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For Stadler, the opening round may be representative not of what he’s done so far on the PGA Tour, but what he’s capable of doing. In 230 previous events, he’s never won, earning a pair of runner-up finishes, but no gleaming trophies. It goes without saying that in a field featuring 123 of this year’s 125 top performers, he wasn’t exactly one of the favorites.

“I've had kind of a pretty lousy summer, result-wise, but really started hitting the ball a lot better a couple weeks ago and was looking forward to playing some golf again here recently,” he said. “Felt like I was heading in the right direction, even though the results were not showing it and finally got something out of it today.”

Stadler opened with birdies on five of his first eight holes and later added two more without blemishing his scorecard with a single bogey. It was a pretty remarkable achievement in a start-stop-start-stop round that featured two lengthy weather delays.

Then again, those breaks afforded one of the better quotes of the year from Stadler when he finally finished some 10 hours after his 8:27 a.m. tee time.

“I'm never really mentally prepared,” he deadpanned. “[So it was the] same as usual.”

Villegas, meanwhile, was flashing the type of form that once ensured him of becoming a breakout player in the playoffs. Five years ago, he earned his first career PGA Tour victory at the BMW Championship, then followed with another at the Tour Championship two weeks later.

Since then, though, his road to superstardom has taken a dark and winding turn.

He owns just one victory – at the 2010 Honda Classic – since then and after three top-10s at majors in the years 2008-10, he’s made just a single cut in majors in the past three years.

What’s been the problem? There were rumors of more style than substance. (He has since stopped reading putts in the Spiderman style that had garnered so much attention.) Rumors of a fitness regimen tailored more to a triathlete than a golfer. (He’s been known to bike 100 miles in a single workout.) And rumors of a putting stroke that just couldn't cut it on a regular basis. (The stats prove this one, even if the old eyeball test doesn’t.)

His own spin on why he played so well at Liberty National on Thursday is a comment that could rival Stadler’s in entertainment value.

“Three breakfasts, three warmups, two lunches and a bunch of birdies, which is good,” he smiled. “It was a good day. I was able to stay patient. I knew it was going to be just a grind in terms of just all this stuff that was going on, and was happy to play well, happy to finish the round.”

Getting off to a strong start is nothing new for Villegas. He’s opened with a score of 65 or better on four previous occasions this season, but never finished better than T-48 in any one of them. It’s something on which he knows he needs to work.

“Well, it's a new day,” he explained. “A bad round is a bad round. Doesn't matter if it's second round, third round, fourth round. … My game is coming back. I'm gaining confidence and I'm feeling better. I'm excited and it's a matter of taking it one at a time and the game of golf, it's a crazy game. It's great when we have the confidence. It's not so good when you lack confidence.”

Upon first glance, Stadler and Villegas – like so many other Odd Couples in the game – don’t appear to have much in common. Take a look at their recent results, current leaderboard placement and what a win would mean to each, though, and you’ll understand they’re more alike than they seem.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

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

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.