Rocha Daniel Take Lead Into Weekend

By Marty HenwoodJuly 12, 2002, 4:00 pm
Canadian Tour-LargeEDMONTON, AB -- Matt Daniel of Richmond, BC and Brazilian Alex Rocha share the lead after Fridays second round of the Canadian Tours $150,000 TELUS Edmonton Open.
 
The duo leads the pack at 11-under 133, one shot in front of Stuart Anderson (Ft. McMurray, AB), Scott Hend (Australia), Bobby Kalinowski (Scottsdale, AZ) and Aaron Barber (Minneapolis, MN). Brett Bingham of Red Deer, AB and Andy Johnson of Orlando, FL are at 9-under 135.
 
Barber, who won this event in 2001, fired a Glendale G&CC course record 9-under 63 Friday, erasing the benchmark set by Lee Trevino back in 1985.
 
A total of 60 players were 1-under 143 or better and will play on the weekend.
 
Rocha fired a 5-under 67 Friday and surrendered the outright lead when he bogeyed the 367-yard, par-4 final hole. During Thursdays opening round, Rocha hit driver off the tee right and caught a break when the ball hit a tree and took a favourable bounce. The 24-year-old went on to birdie the hole, but used discretion Friday. But Rocha launched his two-iron tee shot left into the trees, took a drop and salvaged the 5.
 
'I felt I robbed the course of a shot in the opening round, but the 2-iron today was a disgusting shot,' laughed Rocha, a former First Team All-American at the University of Mississippi. 'Other than that, Im quite happy. But was that shot ever horrible.'
 
Two weeks ago, as the Brazilian soccer team wrapped up the World Cup, Rocha received permission from Tour officials to wear the bright yellow jersey of his native land during the final round of the Greater Vancouver Classic. While a title here wouldnt shake Brazil to its foundation the way the soccer squad did two weeks ago, Rocha knows what a win would mean back home.
 
'You dont know how good it feels to see that Brazilian flag at the top of the leaderboard,' he remarked Friday, pointing to a television screen set up in the media room. 'You guys may not see the way the people are at home - of course, Brazil is huge on soccer, but they always support their athletes in any sport. Should I win here, you probably wont understand what it will mean to the people of my country. It is quite a heavy weight, but I love the feeling.'
 

Daniel, 26, played the past few seasons on the Canadian Tour but was unable to keep his card last season. He went back to Qualifying School this past fall and regained his playing status, but struggled for most of the season, making just one of seven cuts through the Lewis Chitengwa Memorial Championship. Recovering from a back injury, Daniel took two months off and returned for last weeks Victoria Open, winding up a season-high tie for 13th. This weekend, Daniel hopes to build on that result, although he admits he is heading into unfamiliar territory.
 
'I took the time off and came back more relaxed, not trying to force it so much,' said the 1993 B.C. Junior Champion. 'I felt I always had the shots in me, but I had to relax and just let the shots happen. I havent been in this position, but I am going to keep doing exactly the same thing. Well find out how I react in this situation. What else can you do?'
 
Less than one week after his first Canadian Tour win in Victoria, Hend appears poised to become the first player to win back-to-back events since New Zealander Steven Alker captured the McDonalds P.E.I. Challenge and Bayer Championship to close out the 2000 season. The triumphs paved the way to the Order of Merit crown for Alker. Hend, who has been married for just over a week now, appeared to have an ominous start Friday when his tee shot on the opening hole wound up in a tree.
 
'The first thing I thought after that shot was it was going to be one of those days,' admitted Hend. 'But then you have to remind yourself that things like that can happen. I played solid, put myself in contention for the weekend, and that is where I want to be on Sunday. If I can beat myself, that is what it is all about. Winning the battle with myself and the mind games that go along with it.'
 
Barber, the 2001 Order of Merit champion, was at 8-under with one hole to play Friday. A new course record seemed remote at best when the 29-year-old hit his tee shot into a sand bunker on the right side of the fairway. After hitting his second shot to the fringe, Barber canned the 45-foot birdie putt to establish the record and get to within one of the lead.
 
'I wasnt even sure what the record was, but I thought someone might take it real low this morning,' he admitted. 'I just wanted to get back on the leaderboard and into contention. Obviously, I like this city.maybe I should come back every couple of weeks to play.'
 
This weekend, Barber will go in search of his second straight Lewis Chitengwa Memorial Trophy, named in honour of the Tour rookie who passed away suddenly in Edmonton last summer. As emotional as Barber was that Sunday afternoon one year ago, Barber admitted the young Zimbabwe golfer will likely stir up the same type of feelings this weekend.
 
'Now that I am back into the hunt, Lewis is in my thoughts even more. It keeps things in perspective, and we realize that we are lucky to be playing golf. It shows what is important.'
 
NOTES: Hend is just one shot back and will head into the weekend trying to become the first golfer since 2000 to win back-to-back events. Steven Alker of New Zealand won the McDonalds PEI Challenge and Bayer Championship two years ago.Former NHL goaltender Grant Fuhr finished at 6-over 150 and missed the cut.
 
Full-field scores from the Telus Edmonton Open
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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.