Confident Shark Ready to Attack

By Mercer BaggsAugust 23, 2001, 4:00 pm
There was a time when Greg Norman would headline any tournament he entered. Such is not the case anymore.
 
But every now and again, Norman regains his confidence, and with it his form and his swagger.
 
Thursday was one of those days.
 
With a leaderboard that any major championship would cherish, its Norman whose name is at the top.
 
The 46-year-old Australian shot a 5-under-par 65 to tie Jim Furyk for the lead after the first round of the $5 million WGC-NEC Invitational at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, OH.
 
Right now its as confident as Ive felt in two or three years on the golf course, Norman said.
 
Four Ryder Cuppers are tied for third place ' three from Europe and one from the U.S. Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjorn and Tiger Woods all opened in 4-under 66.
 
Woods, the two-time defending champion, is still recovering from a bout of food poisoning that allowed him only three practice holes prior to teeing it up on Thursday.
 
Im feeling a little bit better, Woods said. I was kind of worried about my stamina for today, but Ive been all right today.
 
Norman was more than all right on Thursday.
 
Winless since capturing the World Series of Golf at this venue in 1997, Norman made seven birdies and two bogeys en route to his lowest round of the season on the PGA Tour.
 
Norman birdied his first two holes. Following a dropped shot at the par-4 6th, he chipped in from 24 feet for birdie at the par-3 7th.
 
He then found something in his putting stroke while walking down the 10th fairway.I was questioning myself why I wasnt releasing the putter, he said, and I started thinking about how I used to putt and I lifted my shoulders a little more. Once I got my shoulders a little more elevated, all of a sudden the putter started to release.
 
It proved quite effective. Norman rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt at No. 12, a pair of 15-footers at Nos. 14 and 16, and a 30-footer on the 17th.
 
Though, he ended his round with a two-putt bogey at the last.
 
I still believe I can (win), said Norman, who has 18-career PGA Tour victories to his credit. I still hit the ball long enough and I still have a lot of mental aptitude, and so I still want to keep on going.
 
Norman started his season with a tie for fourth at the Bay Hill Invitational, but has since failed to notch a top-20 in nine tour events.
 
He is, however, healthy after undergoing hip and shoulder surgeries the past few years.
 
I feel great, he said. As long as I still feel like I can win, Im going to stay here and still play. Now, I may never win again, but if I still do believe I can win, thats fine.

Furyk - winner of the season opening Mercedes Championships - made three birdie putts over 15 feet, chipped in from roughly 20 feet at the 16th, and concluded his day with a 25-foot birdie at the 18th.
 
Im obviously very happy, said Furyk. Sixty-five is a great score on this course, under these conditions.
 
Tigers not worried about course conditions, but rather his physical condition.
 
Some Chinese food disagreed with Tigers tummy; that, combined with the intense Atlanta heat at last weeks PGA Championship led people in the gallery to say, He looks bigger on TV.
 
Woods ' who said he has lost nine pounds in the last eight days ' started slowly on Thursday, parring his first seven holes before sinking a 15-foot birdie putt at the 8th to make the turn in 1-under 34.
 
Following four more pars to start the back nine, Woods birdied Nos. 14, 15 and 16 to end the day one off the lead.
 
Im pleased with the way I hit the ball, said Woods. I come in here with a lot of confidence, just because I hit the ball really well on Sunday (at the PGA Championship). Ive been working on a few things over the summer and its starting to come together at the PGA and then it really came together on Sunday.
 
While Tiger had a breakthrough Sunday, Montgomerie had an I-want-to-break-things Sunday. Montgomerie signed an incorrect scorecard in the final round of the PGA and was disqualified.Rather than fly from Atlanta to Akron, Monty decided to take the scenic route, driving the majority along I-77.
 
I was starring at 77 for a long time, said Montgomerie earlier in the week. I hope Im not staring at that number on Thursday.
 
That was certainly not the case, as the 38-year-old Scot recorded seven birdies and three bogeys.
 
A victory this week wouldnt make up for another majorless season, but: I suppose its all thats left, isnt it, quipped Montgomerie.
 
We start the year with a number of goals, and four of which have gone by the wayside. The fifth goal, I suppose you look forward now to the Ryder Cup and look forward to the experience, and then you look at the World Golf Championship events.
 
News, Notes and Numbers
 
*Experience allows for rest at Firestone. Neither Phil Mickelson, nor David Duval played a practice round before teeing it up Thursday. Norman played but 18 holes, while Woods played only three. All are past winners at Firestone Country Club, and all were under par in the first round. Mickelson shot 3-under 67 and Duval shot 69.
 
*Clarke made the only eagle in the first round, posting a three on the par-5 2nd hole.
 
*The last time Norman held at least a share of the lead after a round at an official PGA Tour event was in 1997, when he won the NEC World Series of Golf by four strokes.
 
*Furyk and Woods were the only players to post a bogey-free round on Thursday.
 
Full-field scores from the WGC-NEC Invitational
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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.