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.”

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.