Wind, setup make for a wild, wet day at Doral

By Jason SobelMarch 8, 2014, 12:27 am

DORAL, Fla. – The scoring average was 76, there were 113 balls in the water and only three of the world’s top 68 players broke par during Friday’s second round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship on a revamped Trump National Doral where winds gusted to more than 30 miles per hour.

There was no number, though, that could illustrate the brutal conditions better than the day’s most shocking anecdote.

Standing over his tee shot on the par-3 ninth hole, feeling like there was nowhere safe to land his ball, all-world shotmaker Bubba Watson grabbed a pitching wedge and decided to lay up.

Go ahead and read that last sentence again, just so it sinks in. Bubba Watson. Par 3. Lay up.

“What makes it so difficult is that it hasn’t matured yet, so there’s no soft areas anywhere on the course,” said Watson, who shot an even-par 72. “Well, I guess the water. That’s soft.”

WGC-Cadillac Championship leaderboard

WGC-Cadillac Championship: Articles, videos and photos

If you’re scoring at home, it took exactly a day and a half of niceties and formalities and various variations of the word “fair” permeating the grounds before competitors couldn’t contain themselves any longer.

As one player walked from the driving range to the first tee prior to his second round, he growled, “This course is s---.”

Trust me: He didn’t say it was sick.

It wasn’t long until he and the rest of the field were the ones feeling sick, as vicious winds attacked an already fast and firm course, leaving the tournament resembling what can only be described as U.S. Open-like carnage.

There were no birdies on the 14th hole, just one on the seventh (by Ryan Moore) and one on the fourth, thanks to a 92-footer from Tiger Woods that ranked as the seventh-longest made putt since the PGA Tour started keeping track of such things over a decade ago.

The struggles were so great that Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan collectively posted scores of 9 over – and those are the four co-leaders entering the weekend.

When the round was over and the dust was literally starting to settle, talk amongst the players centered on the course and the conditions, but more than anything else, the setup.

“The rules officials made a huge mistake,” said Webb Simpson, who posted a 6-over 78. “We all make mistakes and they made a huge mistake. Unfortunately we had to pay for it. I’m in a tough place. I played terrible, so anything I say is going to sound like complaining just because I played badly, but it was literally the most unfair I have ever played. Ever. There’s not even a close second.”

“It was getting to the point,” explained Graeme McDowell, who shot 1-under 71, “where I was thinking, ‘This is close to getting unplayable.’ It was just about playable, let's put it that way. I can't remember playing in tougher conditions on this side of the pond.”

Consider these more explanations than excuses. There aren’t many in a no-cut field where even last place scores a $44,500 paycheck who are seeking sympathy, though a little empathy might be necessary.

As it was, Watson’s tale was hardly the only one that signified the difficulty.

Brandt Snedeker had 170 yards to the flag on No. 7 – and hit a 6-iron to lay up 40 yards short. Jamie Donaldson hit driver-driver on the par-4 14th – and he had the low round of the day with a 2-under 70.

“The golf course in no wind is a difficult golf course; in 30 mile-per-hour wind, it’s nearly impossible,” said Chris Kirk, who was one of those three players under par for the day. “These are the best players in the world – all top 50 in the world are here – and guys who should be averaging 68 or 69 are shooting 75 or 76.”

It was a weird day. It was a windy day. And yes, it was a wet day.

It was a day that saw players hitting greens only to find their balls bounding into the water. It was a day where Woods lost four balls in water hazards and actually moved up the leaderboard.

It felt like a day where the last player to run out of balls could be declared the winner. Where players might be giving their best Roy McAvoy impersonations: “Give me another ball, Romeo.”

On the renovated Blue Monster, water is now present on 14 of the holes. Players found it on 12 of those.

There was no hyperbole. It was simply a day of superlatives to show just how tough the conditions really were.

“That’s the toughest I’ve ever played,” Watson said, shaking his head.

Many of his fellow competitors echoed those sentiments. But really, they weren’t even necessary. The numbers and stories told us everything.

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

Getty Images

McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

Getty Images

Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

Getty Images

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.