My Final Tune Up

By Kraig KannOctober 31, 2007, 4:00 pm
ChildrenLAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- First of all, I never thought Id receive so many e-mails and responses regarding a week on the PGA TOUR caddying for my buddy Jay Williamson. Thanks for the kind words and support ' Wednesday was a very good day of preparation.
 
Tuesday night was actually spent on the ball field in Windermere, Fla. I manage my sons Little League team after hours which is one of the great thrills for me. PGA TOUR pro Carl Paulson is actually my assistant coach. Hes on the shelf these days with a back injury and has become a good friend ' and a heck of a baseball coach as well. The game was actually a good thing. It kept my mind off the caddy job for a few hours. After a four game win streak ' we lost a close one which ' as it turns out - was easier to take than the overnight weather that has turned golf courses in Orlando into soup kitchens. Tons of rain, making the courses nearly unplayable.
 
No worries getting to the course this morning. Dropped off the kids at school, hopped on the interstate and headed for Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and the Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World to meet the boss. I grabbed a Diet Coke and a USA Today, talked to Paulson on the phone about how well put the loss behind us, and waited for Jay to come from his room.
 
Were meeting at the Polynesian each morning and driving in together ' which keeps me from hopping on a shuttle from the tournament parking lots and gives us a chance to warm up before he actually warms up.
 
First stop was the PGA TOUR players dining area for some breakfast. He can bring in a guest, which gave me the fortune of some scrambled eggs and bacon while watching the Weather Channel to see if the rain would hold off. Jay had a brief interruption for a phone interview for The Grey Goose 19th Hole, talking about us working together this week.
 
Basically, Wednesday was dry ' but overnight rains had the Palm Course soaked beyond belief. Its built on a swamp to begin with and doesnt drain like the Magnolia Course. If today was Thursday ' I cant see that the Palm Course would have been playable. Heck, even the range was closed until late morning.
 
Jay spent much of the morning tweaking his equipment and handling a few errands and phone calls (gosh these guys get a lot of calls) while we waited for the range to open.
 
When it did, he spent about 15 minutes hitting balls, as I cleaned the clubs. Some players like the grips wiped and cleaned each day ' others dont. I did it on Tuesday; Jay said no thanks on Wednesday.
 
We played the front 9 holes of the Magnolia Course in the morning. Again ' Im taking the yardage book and focusing solely on the yardage to the front. Were comparing numbers to make sure were correct. The fairways are very wet ' lift, clean and place for sure on Thursday and Friday. The good news was the heavy dose of wind and some sunshine for the first time all week ' which is great news for the course conditions.
 
Every PGA TOUR pro hits it great ' we know that. Ive played with Jay before, but it seems like hes onto something this week. (Ive kept that quiet.) After winning on the Nationwide Tour earlier this year and nearly winning in Hartford on the PGA TOUR, Jay had his clubs stolen from the trunk of his car in Salt Lake City, Utah, during a Nationwide Tour event. Gone was the driver that he said had him more confident than ever. Since then its been tough finding the same magic. But this week, he had those weighted screws adjusted and is finding some quick results. (Lets keep that quiet too.) Jays a notorious tinkerer with equipment ' bending and checking clubs each week to the point that I joke with him about how he knows what hes even hitting.
 
The key this week seems to be the driver and the putter. He likes them both. Well see.
 
The Childrens Miracle Network Classic is a pro-am format for the first two days ' split between the Palm and the Magnolia. Then its just the Magnolia over the weekend. Thus, we spent all day today on the course well see the most (provided we reach the weekend.)
 
Long, long, long. Wet, wet, wet. A par 4 of 495 which theyll never play that far back.
 
Among the things he taught me today. stand 3 yards to the right while hes hitting, dont talk to the other guys golf ball, and dont fix the ball marks on the green ' for either player. Two hands when putting in the flag ' especially when its windy. And by the way, it was blowing 30 mph today.
 
Pros dont much care about playing for a score on each hole during a practice round. Id have three balls at all times on the tee, and ready to go in the fairway. Sometimes wed use them all, sometimes wed use just one. And when we reach the green, sometimes we never putted at all ' just chip shots from around the greens and shots from the bunkers.
 
By the way, I asked him to grade my rake-job today and got a strong passing grade. The key is to be good, but also quick as players might be ready to play from the fairway.
 
Today we had lunch in the caddy van ' a great concept which is basically a motor home with a kitchen/diner feel. Seating for about 20 and it includes players too. Tuna melts for both of us ' I bought.
 
After lunch we played the back 9 at the Magnolia Course with Steve Marino and his caddy Matt. Marino hits it a ton! He Monday qualified his way onto the Nationwide Tour last year, went to Q-School and earned a card. Hes made more than $1 million this year and it shows.
 
In between shots wed see other players like Tripp Isenhour and Kent Jones with fishing poles throwing in some lures chasing bass. Believe me ' the pressure this week is intense. Both of those guys are outside the top 125, and I dont blame them for taking their mind off things.
 
At 3:30 we did an interview for Golf Central, and met with the GOLF CHANNEL live tournament production team about Rd. 1. Apparently they are putting a microphone on me for Rd. 1 in hopes of some good banter. Then we finished up on 18 at the Magnolia, and hit the range for about 25 minutes.
 
At the end of the day, Jay said he needed to hit a few buckets to find some rhythm. With the stops and starts from the weather and the interviews and the meals and the banter with players ' it has to be tough to get a true gauge on your game.
 
I watched him hit a variety of irons. At one point he asked me to check his ball position. He wants it back a bit if its going to be windy. He hit about 30 drivers it seemed and then called it quits about 4:30pm.
 
Jay took me back to the hotel for my car. telling me not to be late for Trick-or-Treating tonight. Believe it or not he went back to the course to work on his putting before the sun set.
 
Remember, he loves that putter. Maybe that will be his biggest treat this week. Off we go on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. from the No. 1 tee at Magnolia. J.P. Hayes is our professional partner ' with top-125 pressure which will make my experience even more interesting than it already has been.
 
I think Im ready. We had carts for two practice rounds. Thursday its time to put the big bag on the back and make it work. Well meet at the Polynesian Resort at 10:30 a.m.
 
My confidence is up, and it cant hurt that I found a lucky penny on the ground today ' heads up.
 

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    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.

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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.


    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.

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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.