A Weir win would thrill a nation

By John HawkinsMay 18, 2014, 1:23 am

IRVING, Texas  It would be a really big deal if Mike Weir won the HP Byron Nelson Championship. An entire nation would rejoice. A terrific comeback story would have a happy ending, even if it weren’t the end, and every former star struggling to reclaim his glory days would have another reason to believe.

Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t, but through 54 holes at TPC Four Seasons, all this feelgood needs is some punctuation.

Let’s roll the calendar back to 2012. Weir missed the cut in all 12 of his starts that season  he’d made two cuts in 15 starts in 2011. When you’re 42 years old and you’ve made $23,312 over a two-year stretch, you begin to do a lot of thinking.

“There were plenty of times when I was down and wondering what I was going to do next,” Weir says. “You start to question whether you want to keep doing this. I’ve got two young daughters who are teenagers now, and being away from home gets harder. If you’re playing good golf, that’s one thing. If you’re playing bad golf, that’s another.”

Full-field scores from the HP Byron Nelson Championship

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For the better part of a decade, Weir was the prodigal son of Canadian golf. He won seven PGA Tour events from 1999-2004, the sixth of which was the 2003 Masters. Two of his victories would come at Riviera CC, another at a Tour Championship, yet another at a premium-field WGC.

He would climb to as high as third in the world ranking and remain in the top 10 for two years. Weir was small (5-9, 155 pounds), left-handed and ultra-tenacious  the perfect representation for a country seemingly obsessed with gaining more respect in golf’s universe.

As the first Canadian to win a professional major title, however, Weir always dealt with a greater burden of expectation than most of his contemporaries. The hopes of an entire nation seemed to hinge on his every swing. Although he remained a very solid tour pro in the mid-2000s and won a Fall Series event in ‘07, a yearning to get better led Weir to the stack-and-tilt method taught by swing coaches Mike Bennett and Andy Plummer.

That wouldn’t last, nor would a return to instructor Mike Wilson, who had helped Weir evolve from a mini-tour grinder into one of the world’s best in the late 1990s. A torn ligament in Weir’s right elbow cost him distance he couldn’t afford to lose  Weir finally underwent surgery to correct the issue in 2011.

Then things got really bad.

“I’ve continued to work with [sports psychologist] Rich Gordon, and it comes down to me accepting that I still love this game,” Weir says. “I still want to compete, still want to see if I can get back to the level I once was, or even exceed that. Bottom line is, I love being out there. That’s enough to keep me positive, keep me working hard.”

What makes this week different from all the others in recent years? Weir leads the Nelson field in putts per GIR and is second in strokes gained on the greens. In an interesting switch last month, he ditched the fat grip on his putter so many golfers have found helpful and returned to a normal-sized one.

There have been intermittent signs of life in his career in 2014. A T-44 at the Masters was greatly undermined by a third-round 79. A T-57 at Quail Hollow was equally derailed by a closing 77. Decades of data show that players who are Weir’s age  he turned 44 at the beginning of the week  struggle to put together four good rounds of golf.

To this point, he’s put together three of them. You certainly don’t have to be a Canadian to be pulling for him Sunday afternoon.

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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.