Three Share the Lead in The Soo

By Marty HenwoodJune 26, 2003, 4:00 pm
SAULT STE. MARIE, Ontario -- Three players share the lead after Thursdays opening round of the Canadian Tours $129,088 Northern Ontario Open.
Australians David McKenzie and Tony Carolan as well as rookie Steve Marino of West Palm Beach, Fla., each opened with a 3-under 67 at a windswept Sault Ste. Marie GC.
Six others, including Ian Doig (Newmarket, ON) and Fraser Mulholland (Vancouver, BC) are just one shot off the pace. Torrential rains pounded the Soo for most of the morning Thursday, with chilly temperatures forcing players to don their jackets after basking in mid-30s temperatures on Wednesday.
Playing his first Canadian Tour event of the year, McKenzie, who had seven top-10 showings in 14 appearances in 2002, wielded a hot putter on the opening day, canning back-to-back 27-footers on his third and fourth holes to get the early jump. The birdies came on the heels of a bogey-saving 25-footer on the opening hole that, had it not found the bottom of the cup, could have steered McKenzie towards the wrong end of the leaderboard.
My putting really let me down last year, so it was nice to find the touch again, said 36-year-old. Its always good to make those long ones, it feels like I havent done that in ages. It turned out I putted well early and struck it well late, and that added up to a decent day.
McKenzie had been playing well on the Australasian Tour prior to last Christmas, but struggled after the break. He worked on his game but had final rounds of 3-over par in three consecutive events on that circuit that cost his twenty to thirty places in the final standings. Earlier this year, McKenzie began to round back into form, finishing 15th at the Nationwide Tours Clearwater Classic on his home soil.
Even last year, I had some great finishes but there were only two or three tournaments where I had a realistic shot of winning, he admitted. Guys just seemed to be running away with it every week. It seems I play bad every Sunday, and that is something I need to get my head around. Maybe I can change that this week.
Carolan is making his return to the Canadian Tour after undergoing emergency gall bladder surgery last May. During a Tour stop in Myrtle Beach, Carolan was misdiagnosed by a doctor and flew back to Australia on a marathon Charlotte-Washington-London-Singapore-Brisbane trek that took some three days from the time he packed his bags in South Carolina. Thinking the situation was not serious, Carolan was shocked to discover his gall bladder had swelled to the size of a tennis ball and the subsequent surgery left him off the links for three months. He retained Tour privileges for this season with a medical exemption.
During the Tours last visit to the Soo in 1999, current PGA Tour regular Arron Oberholser ran away with an 11-shot triumph at the Ontario Open Heritage Classic at this same course, with the margin of victory still standing as a Tour record. Carolan finished second along with Canadian Ian Leggatt, who won his first PGA Tour crown at the 2002 Touchstone Energy Tucson Open. Leggatt had seven runner-up finishes on the Canadian Tour from 1996 to 1998, including two playoff losses.
Yes, I remember that'Arron was kind of freaky that week, laughed Carolan, before offering a good-natured jab to his friend Leggatt. Had Arron not been here, I probably would have had a chance to play Leggo in a playoff, and we know how that would have ended. But it feels good to be back, and maybe this will be a new start for me.
Marino, who earned an exempt card at Winter Qualifying School this past February, was an All-ACC selection while at the University of Virginia in 2002. Playing as an amateur, Marino was T17th at the Canadian Tours Lewis Chitengwa Memorial Championship last summer.

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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.