In Search of a Summer Spark

By Kraig KannMay 12, 2006, 4:00 pm
Summer is just around the corner. And as we all know, the weather is heating up in a hurry. And this is about the time some players begin to catch a hot streak.

Remember a few years back when Kenny Perry caught fire and won his string of tournaments ' Bank of America Colonial, Memorial Tournament and the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee?

Perry is but one example of a list of players who have had great summers. And actually, Kenny, who is coming back from injury in time to prepare to defend next weeks Bank of America Colonial, might benefit from the week in Ft. Worth, Texas ' where he always seems to find the magic.

So lets compile a list, shall we? Who are 10 players who either might - or could -really use a summer hot streak?

In no order of importance, and void of all the statistical numbers, heres my list with thoughts and off the top of my head analysis:

1. Chris DiMarco ' DiMarco would actually be at the top of this list. Hes 100th on the PGA TOUR money list and after spending time in the top 10 in the World Ranking, has slipped to 13th. Had an overseas win earlier this year, but hasnt been able to do it on the PGA TOUR. A ski accident hurt his rhythm. After last years Presidents Cup, who would have thought that Chris wouldnt be on the 2006 Ryder Cup team? Not me, and not you. He still may make it, though he doesnt want to rely on a captains pick ' especially if he hasnt found the form that put him on the automatic list. Better get going ' and get some points.

Paula Creamer
Paula Creamer is still searching for her first win of 2006.
2. Paula Creamer ' Wasnt she supposed to challenge Annika Sorenstam this year for the top spot in the newly created Womens Rolex World Ranking? Tough to do when you are 13th on the money list. Lets face it, we may be expecting too much too soon, but shes the one who brought it up. Right now, Creamer cant seem to put four rounds together. And while shes looking up at Annika on the money list, shes not taking advantage of the Sorenstam whos not even leading that list.

3. Annika Sorenstam ' Yep. Annikas fourth on the money list and trailing Lorena Ochoa, Karrie Webb and Mi Hyun Kim. Thursday on Golf Central we compared Annikas 2005 numbers to her 2006 numbers. Staggering. Shes nowhere close to her standards of a year ago. Do the research ' youll be amazed at things like Driving Accuracy and Scoring Average. Its not a Solheim Cup year, which is good for Europe right now. Amazingly ' its not an Annika year, either.

4. Jose Maria Olazabal ' Jose Maria begins my list of Europeans who need to get on their horse and ride. Hes missed a few Ryder Cups now and would love to get back in the mix. Hes too good not to be among the PGA TOURs elite with consistency. Sure, hes 12th on the PGA TOUR money list. And thats great. But he wants wins. And he wants badly to be at the K Club for the Ryder Cup. Hes too important not to be on a team that will play in Europe. Lets hope he gets there.

5. John Daly ' Remember the John Daly who nearly won the AmEx against Tiger? Remember the Daly who battled Vijay at the Buick Open? Remember Daly who battled Vijay in Houston? Sometimes we forget that amidst all the talk about Daly and the gambling and Daly and the drinking or whatever the latest story is. Fact is Daly is a good guy with an even better heart. His game is in there somewhere and wouldnt it be great if he could repeat the Buick Invitational feat and make us think about his game instead of his bloated position on the money list (140).

6. Ernie Els ' Ernies now outside the top five in the World Ranking. All the talk about the Big Five might just be media hype, but the truth is that players buy into it. They realize where they are on the list. And theres only so much positive to be taken from the under the radar discussions. Ernie wants to be in every discussion about the worlds best players. Now he needs a win before the U.S. Open so he can go in with confidence instead of flying in under the radar.

7. Sergio Garcia ' What can you say about Sergio that hasnt been said many times before? Sergio has won his share of PGA TOUR events. But he needs more of them. Arguably the best tee-to-green player in the world, Sergios problems are around the greens. His opening round at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship wasnt a good sign. A contending Sergio is great for the game. He is among the most charismatic in all of golf. Now all he needs is to get hot and be among the biggest winners in golf. Forty-fourth on the money list at any point in the season is not what he wants. And trust me, television networks want him in the mix as often as they can get him.

8. Hale Irwin ' Go ahead and say it: Hales had his run. Well, guess what ' thats what carried the Champions Tour for a number of years. Hale played the role of dominator to perfection. Hes fifth on the money list and the Champions Tour could really use a summer splash by its most decorated Champion to spice things up.

9. Peter Jacobsen ' Heres another one. Jake might not be the greatest player on the Champions Tour but he is the greatest showman of his day. But that only works when he wins and Jakes been dry for a while. Cmon Peter, 12th place in money is great at the ATM, but not with the FAN. We need a run.

10. Ricky Barnes ' This might be a surprise. But he had such promise and such appeal that a Nationwide Tour run would be great fun. Top 20 gets you to the PGA TOUR next year. But 45th-place finishes at the Virginia Beach Open won't get you anywhere close to it. A summer hot streak (and thats all it takes is three or four really good weeks) and we might have some flash to go with Camilo Villegas next year.

Im sure you can give me some other names. (Sean OHair comes to mind ' so does Michelle Wie and so does Davis Love.) I didnt put Tiger here because his summer schedule is TBD at this point. And while a big summer of wins would do a lot to energize a somewhat non-descript PGA TOUR season to this point, it's hard to find reason to think that does much to motivate Tiger right now.

But think hard. Check the stats if you like, but sell me. I wont just take a name for an answer. Good luck.
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
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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.