Bugg Loses Battle with Leukemia
Diagnosed with acute mylogenous leukemia shortly after the 2002 Nationwide Tour Championship a year ago, Jace fought bravely and optimistically to the end. In a phone conversation with close friend David Branshaw Tuesday evening, Jace said, 'Im feeling good. Still having a little trouble getting up the stairs, but Im going to be all right.'
A couple of unwavering faith, Jace and Misty faced this challenge with amazing strength, believing the entire time that their miracle was coming and Jace would someday return to his second love'that of playing professional golf.
Those who knew and loved Jace had prepared themselves for this moment since Jace was advised to return home to Kentucky just before this years Nationwide Tour Championship a month ago. Prior to that he was undergoing treatment in Houston, Texas, where his team of physicians felt that all treatment options had been exhausted and it was time for Jace to be with family.
A winner on both the Canadian and Nationwide Tours, Jace was also a winner in life. Battling unfavorable odds since his diagnosis, Jaces optimism and faith never wavered. When chemotherapy wasnt successful, Jace knew his cure was just around the corner. When a bone marrow transplant sent Jace into remission earlier this year, Jace thought his prayers had been answered. When he relapsed, Jace sought more treatment with the confidence he so often displayed on the golf course. And when doctors told him that all hope was lost, Jace quietly knew they were wrong. You see, Jace knew a thing or two about overcoming odds.
Jace Bugg didnt have an all-world playing resume when he embarked on his professional quest. His collegiate consisted of a couple of years at Rend Lake Junior College. His amateur career was highlighted by a quarter-final appearance in the 1997 U.S. Amateur. But his determination to prove himself was stronger than his pedigree showed. When Jace won on the Canadian Tour in the spring of 2001, he did so in dramatic fashion by shooting a final-found 63 to overcome a six-shot deficit and win by three. He was obviously thrilled, but he knew it was just one step along the way of getting to the top. His wife, Misty, was caddying and it was obvious that sharing it with her was more important than any trophy could ever be.
When he Monday qualified for the First Tee Arkansas Classic early last year, he was just hoping to find a way to play himself onto the Nationwide Tour. A final-round 65 gave him a one-stroke victory and more importantly, an exemption through 2003 and a realistic chance to get to the PGA Tour.
Somehow, Jace managed to finish the season 29th on the money list despite an abundance of nagging injuries. Bothered by sore joints for most of the year, Jace thought he had a feisty case of tendonitis, but he never complained. When he didnt respond to therapy after a four-week hiatus from the tour is when doctors decided to test for potentially more serious causes of his soreness. He learned the cause just before he was to leave to go to Q School.
Although his time on the Nationwide Tour was brief, he managed to touch many hearts. In an individual pursuit like professional golf, acquaintances are many, but true friends are rare. Jace Bugg was rare.
Never the type of guy to engage in idle gossip, and never the type of guy to cast a stone, Jace never had a cross word to say about anybody. Jace had an ego the size of a Titleist, and a heart the size of a giant.
When his good friend David Branshaw was in contention at last years Gila River Golf Classic last fall, Jace left his sponsors home in Las Vegas, packed his stuff in his RV., and drove the six plus hours to Phoenix to see his friend win his first Nationwide Tour tournament. That happened at the end of his four weeks of treatment, and his body ached mightily the entire time. He never complained. When Branshaw was fighting back tears at the trophy presentation ceremony, Jace and Misty could be seen in the stands with more than a few tears welling up in their eyes. And when David called Jace this past Tuesday night, Jace didnt care that David was calling to check on him, all he wanted to do was wish his buddy good luck on the eve on Q School finals.
We all believed that Jace would someday tee it up again. We all knew that every tournament he played, every person he met, and every town he visited were all better off when he left than they were before he was there.
If the true measure of a man is whether or not he leaves the world a better place than it was before, then Jace was, indeed, a giant.
Jace Bugg was 27.
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McIlroy gets back on track
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.
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.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
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.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
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.
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.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
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.
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.