Six To Watch This Summer
In this world of what have you done for me lately? each fits nicely into conversation around the water cooler. In no order of importance, here we go:
Davis Love III: Davis hardly needs to be reminded that he hasnt won a tournament since The International in 2003. Loves 03 campaign was nothing short of spectacular and thats much of the reason were looking for more and wondering why we arent seeing the results. He was third on the money list that year with more than $6 million in earnings. This year hes shown signs of getting back to winning ways. Four top 10s and the runner-up finish at the MCI Heritage when Darren Clarke and Peter Lonard battled. I talked with Love that week and he was quick to point out that his son Drew has become quite knowledgeable about money lists and World Rankings.
Three stats dont help the current cause: 108th in driving accuracy, 86th in greens in regulation and 79th in putting. As it stands, 18 PGA Tour victories, including one major and two Players Championships, should get him to the World Golf Hall of Fame someday. I say 'should.' Hes better than those numbers as they stand, and I expect well see another run soon like we saw in 2003.
Mike Weir: He drives it an average of 272.9 yards, which ranks him 158th. That would be a concern except that he ranks 12th in driving accuracy and ninth in greens in regulation. Weir has always been one of the most accurate players and, like Chris DiMarco, hes forced into that because of the lack of true power.
Whats hurting Mike is the flat stick. Hes 123rd on the PGA Tour right now. After winning the Masters we expected even more from the Canadian whose World Ranking was heading north in a hurry. Last year, Weir won the Nissan Open. This year he finished second at Pebble Beach but has only one other top 10 finish. Canadians follow Weir all the time. American followers were growing after 03. I never thought that magical season was a once in a lifetime. But, like Love III, he needs a win to find himself back in conversation about the games top stars.
Jim Furyk: Why watch Furyk this summer? Im quite certain hes ready to get back to his winning ways. Like DLIII, he tied for second at the MCI Heritage and also has three other top 10s. Furyks final-round numbers this year are as follows: 67, 65, 73, 70, 68, 74, 69. Not bad, not bad at all. Jim also lacks for true power at 164th on tour in driving distance. His most impressive stat is the combination of 40th in greens in regulation and 10th in putting. Like Love and Weir, Furyks biggest season came in 2003. The U.S. Open and the Buick Open came his way, leading to a fourth-place finish on the money list. Nobody doubts that Furyk will be in the winners circle again. Its my hunch that itll come this summer, and it may come more than once. Some limb Im going out on, huh?
Sergio Garcia: When Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez is getting more W's and more publicity for contention, then something has to change. This is the time of year Garcia heats up. Aside from the Mercedes Championships, his PGA Tour wins have come at summer sites like the Barclays Classic (formerly the Buick Classic at Westchester), EDS Byron Nelson Championship and The Bank of America Colonial.
Sergio has three top 10s this year thus far, but like Love, he missed the cut at the Masters and hasnt really had a big impact week. With all the talk about great winners on the PGA Tour this year, Sergio needs to find his way into the conversation. Putting is drowning El Nino ' hes 185th this year in that statistic. Tough to win with those numbers, and even tougher to succeed under pressure. Sergio wants majors. Hell get his share, but he needs wins right now ' and soon.
Charles Howell III: It has to happen, right? Hes too good for just one PGA Tour win, right? I think so. So does everyone else. Charles finished third at the Sony Open in Hawaii and then second in his next start at the Buick Invitational. Like Sergio, this American young gun could use a putting lesson or two. Hes 145th in that category.
When you hit greens on the PGA Tour ' youd better make your fair share of birdies. Howell is not. Hes converting at just a 28 percent clip, which ranks him 116th. One of the nice things about Howell to me is that hes a straight shooter. Hes extremely knowledgeable about the game and his numbers. Charles is always striving to get better and that might be the only thing that hurts him. Two years ago, Howell was a member of the Presidents Cup team for the USA. Its no guarantee hell get an opportunity this year ' but for the sake of Americas future in team events, it would be nice if he showed up with at least his second PGA Tour win.
Jay Haas: This man hardly needs any publicity. Hes been talked about more than any player who hasnt won of late. In truth, Haas hasnt won since 1993. But hes accomplished so, so much. His 2003 season had golf observers in disbelief that at the age of 49 he could finish 15th in money and post two runner-up finishes. Last year he made another $2 million and again made the trip to the Tour Championship.
The question now is, Is he slowing down? Haas hasnt missed a cut this year but has just one top 20. I wonder how soon the Champions Tour will come calling full time. His game is certainly PGA Tour quality ' and then some. But Haas could do a lot by winning with regularity on the Champions Tour. I say watch Jay this summer and appreciate his class. He might be switching addresses sooner than we think.
Given all the talk about the Big Four and all the great names whove won this season - including Appleby, Leonard, Harrington, Perry, Scott and Toms - I just cant believe some of these guys mentioned havent found their way yet. Its a long season, I know and Im sure you can come up with your own Ones to Watch list.
Im all ears.
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
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.