Six Tied in Suspended Lewis Chitengwa Memorial
Hearn, Gillespie, Mike Grob, Michael Harris, Chris Wisler and sponsor invite Cameron Yancey each opened with a 6-under 65 at the 6307-yard Keswick Hall at Monticello, one shot better than Americans Hank Kuehne and Tim Turpen, as well as Andrew Smeeth and Chris Anderson.
Play was halted for an hour and forty minutes in the late afternoon when a storm blew into the Charlottesville area. Darkness suspended the opening round at 8:15 p.m. ET, with nine players still on the course. They will finish their first rounds Friday morning.
Seconds after the horn sounded to resume play following the delay, Hearn, 22, just missed an eight-foot birdie putt on his final hole that would have given him the outright lead. But the tour rookie, who has been the first- or second-round leader in four events this season, is looking forward to challenging once again this weekend.
Im still feeling confident in my game, I am swinging the club well, said Hearn. I know if I am getting interviewed by you guys, Im getting the job done. Id finally like to get interviewed on Sunday, though.
Less than a week after his first professional win at the Myrtle Beach Barefoot Championship, Gillespie, the 2001 Canadian Rookie of the Year, finds himself in the early hunt once again. On Thursday, he hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation.
Yeah, well see what happens but Im not worried about that, Gillespie admitted when asked if he was thinking about becoming the first player to win back-to-back events since Steven Alker, of New Zealand, did it two years ago. Of course, it would be great to do but I wont put any pressure on myself. Im just thinking about playing good golf. Everything is coming around for me right now.
Just as play was halted in the afternoon, Grob came into the clubhouse with a share of the lead. After an eagle on the par-5 opening hole, the 38-year-old Grob did himself one better when he aced the 137-yard, par-3 third.
An eagle and a hole-in-one will help every time, thats for sure, smiled Grob. I hit the ball well all day, although I didnt make a lot of putts.
With the rough in some areas reaching as high as ten inches, keeping the ball in play will be crucial all week. Grob was able to do that Thursday, hitting all 14 fairways off the tee.
If the guys can keep it on the fairway, it is going to turn into a putting contest this weekend, he added. If you go into the rough on any hole, there is going to be problems.
Harris birdied his first three holes, including a 15-foot putt on the par-4 second, and missed just one fairway all day.
The start was key for me, by the time I knew it I was 3-under, said Harris, who finished tied for eighth at last years Grant Forest Products/NRCS Classic in Sudbury, ON. There is no way you can plan on a start like that, but you are able to feed off it and stay aggressive. Hitting straight is key out hereif you get it in the rough, youll be struggling to make bogey all day long.
Named in honor of former Canadian Tour rookie Lewis Chitengwa, who died suddenly in Edmonton last summer during the TELUS Edmonton Open, Harris admitted that there was a little more emotion involved in the Tours eighth official event of the year. Players and tournament officials are wearing buttons with Chitengwas picture emblazoned on them this week.
A lot of the guys have Lewis on their mind this week. You think about a 26-year-old guy in the prime of his life, doing what it is we are trying to do. You try not to think about it when you are playing, but then you realize how blessed we are to play golf. Whether we shoot 63 or 73, we are lucky, and I think this tournament is a great way to pay tribute to Lewis.
Yancey was also a close friend of Chitengwas, with the two starring together on the University of Virginia golf team. In fact, Yancey took Chitengwa to get his first drivers licence in Charlottesville.
Despite playing the three par-5 holes at 1-over, Kuehne, widely regarded as one of the longest hitters in the world, managed a strong start Thursday. Coming off two events in Myrtle Beach, SC, where he admittedly struggled, Kuehne hopes to turn things around and increase his lead atop the money list this week.
These past two weeks Ive played poorly, I was a little rough around the edges, said the 26-year-old. Its been frustrating, especially after playing so well for most of the year, but Ill keep working. Ill get things turned around.
Full Coverage from the Lewis Chitengwa Memorial Championship
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.