Another Comeback for Olazabal

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 10, 2002, 5:00 pm
Jose Maria Olazabal wasn't sure if this moment would ever materialize. But, then again, he has overcome things much worse than an ailing golf game.
Olazabal fired a 7-under-par 65 to post a 13-under total in the Buick Invitational, and then waited as J.L. Lewis and Mark O'Meara collapsed to hand him his first PGA Tour title since the 1999 Masters Tournament.
'The last couple of years I didn't play well at all,' Olazabal said, 'so this is a new feeling.'
Olazabal collected $648,000 for his triumph. It was his sixth career PGA Tour victory, and his first non-major since the 1994 World Series of Golf. The Spaniard, who turned 36 Tuesday, won twice on the European Tour in 2001, but longed for stateside success.
Five years ago, Olazabal was ecstatic just to swing a club. He was sidelined for 18 months, during which he was bedridden due a back condition that made it agonizingly painful to walk.
He returned to competition in 1997, winning almost immediately. His near-miraculous recovery extended into a pair of Ryder Cup appearances and five European Tour victories over a five-year span.
Nonetheless, Olazabal was unhappy with his game. He doubted if he would ever regain his major-caliber form.
'When you're not playing well, you wonder to yourself if you're going to be able to get things back on track,' said Olazabal, who, last year, enlisted the help of Tiger Woods' instructor, Butch Harmon.
With a more consistent swing in his arsenal, Olazabal showed signs of promise in a tie for fifth last week at Pebble Beach. However, he struggled to qualify for weekend play in San Diego, birdieing his final hole Friday to make the cut on the number at 1-under.
A third-round 67 put him back in contention; still, he needed something spectacular Sunday in order to win.
The final round was a test of patience and endurance. With the sun beating down and the mercury rising to 75 degrees, players trekked around the 7,568-yard South Course in the neighborhood of 5 1/2 hours.
Eight players entered the final round tied or within one shot of the lead; 1999 champion Woods (66) wasnt among them, but made some noise early before fading into a tie for fifth place at 10-under.
A playoff appeared inevitable, and Olazabal was the first to post a number. He birdied four of his final six holes. The two-time Masters champion nearly eagled the finishing hole, spinning his third shot from 94 yards just past the left edge of the cup. He made the short birdie putt to finish at minus 13.
While Olazabal went to hit balls off the first tee in preparation of sudden death, Lewis, O'Meara and John Daly took aim at his target.
Daly, seeking his first victory since the 1995 British Open, made it to 11-under with one hole remaining. He hit his tee shot into the left fairway bunker; but, needing an eagle to tie, he cast aside any notion of laying up.
'I had to go for it, man,' Daly said. 'I figured I had to hit 4-iron, maybe into the (greenside) bunker, and try and hole-out.
'I haven't been in this position in a while, had to go for it.'
Daly ripped his mid-iron; his approach ran violently through the fairway and into the right bunker, with the pin tucked on the left-hand side of the green.
He nearly executed his plan, missing his bunker blast by a few feet. He, however, also missed the birdie putt and finished in fourth place at 11-under.
'I'm getting closer (to winning),' he said.
O'Meara, who, like Daly hadn't won since hoisting the Claret Jug, held sole possession of the lead at 13-under through 11 holes. But he bogeyed Nos. 12 and 17 to keep him winless since 1998.
Lewis was the last man to challenge Olazabal. Following his birdie at the par-4 17th, his drive at 18 kicked into the right rough. He hit a 6-iron, but it jumped out of the flier lie, and traveled 220 yards, instead of the desired 175.
Lewis left himself with a tricky third shot, 72 yards from the pin, in the left rough. With his ball hovering on top of the grass, he caught another flier. His ball carried 45 feet past the flagstick.
He now had to two-putt to stay alive.
His first effort was a timid one, coming to rest seven feet from the hole. Lewis then pushed his par putt.
'I choked,' said a dejected Lewis, whose lone victory came in the 1999 John Deere Classic. 'I just embarrassed myself, what can I say?'
Just the opposite held true for Olazabal. This was the third of what he hopes to be at least 18 starts on the PGA Tour this season. And with one victory already under his belt, perhaps he will challenge his 22-year-old countryman, Sergio Garcia, who desires to win money titles on both the European and PGA Tour.
'I'm just pleased that I won this week,' he said with a laugh. 'I'm not that young.'
Full-field scores from the Buick Invitational
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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”