Others Look to Steal Spotlight

By Mercer BaggsAugust 16, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 PGA ChampionshipMEDINAH, Ill ' Players and their practice round tee times are listed on a sign outside the merchandise tent at Medinah Country Club. Tiger Woods name was on there Wednesday; however, it was a part of a statement in the top, right corner that read, No Tiger Woods as of 10:20.
Maybe hes coming out later to see how the course plays in the afternoon, pondered one fan to another.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods showed up briefly Wednesday to prepare for the PGA Championship.
As patrons looked up and down the big board they noticed another name conspicuously missing.
I dont see Phil on here, pointed out one person.
Another chimed in with: This sucks.
Phil Mickelson was offsite Wednesday, as he usually is the day before the start of a major championship, playing Chicago Golf Club. Woods, meanwhile, actually did show up. He arrived late in the afternoon to get in a little time on the practice range.
If this small sample of fan interest indicates overall sentiment, then once again the primary focus at a major championship is cast on a pair of players ' the top two players in the world.
And not everyone seems to mind. Case in point, Jim Furyk, who says hes quite content with the amount of attention he receives, and with his place in the game.
You know, it's never mattered, he said in his pre-tournament press conference. Im happy with where I stand in the world of golf.
Whether or not I show up on TV every week versus Tiger or Phil or whoever it may be, is not important to me. I think the guys that get the attention or get more attention than me are deserving of it and are obviously great players. I get my due.
Furyk is hoping to receive his due Sunday evening in the form of the Wanamaker trophy, as are 153 others who are not receiving nearly as much attention combined as are a certain two.
In the shadows of Woods and Mickelson, Furyk has risen to No. 3 on the Official World Golf Ranking. And given his recent performance, as well as his past success in Chicagoland, he has to be considered among the second tier of favorites this week.
Furyk has finished inside the top 5 in each of his last four starts, including at the U.S. Open and Open Championship. He tied for fourth in his title defense at the Western Open, held at nearby Cog Hill, and his lone major championship came in the 03 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields, also in the area.
Chicago has been good to me, he said. Hopefully I can have a good week.
Hes not the only one with such hope.
While Woods and Mickelson, who will be positioned alongside one another over the first two rounds this week, will garner the lions share of attention, others are hoping a sideshow can again steal away spotlight ' just like at the U.S. Open.
Geoff Ogilvy was the surprise winner the last time a major was contested on American soil. As is PGA Championship custom, he will be grouped with fellow 06 major winners Mickelson and Woods Thursday and Friday. Despite his status as the reigning U.S. Open champion, Ogilvy knows that he will be the third wheel in this threesome ' and it doesnt bother him one bit.
Geoff Ogilvy
Geoff Ogilvy is looking to dial-up another major upset.
Im very comfortable being the smallest name in my group. Any time you get to play with the best golfers in the world, it has to be a good thing, said Ogilvy, who also captured the Accenture Match Play Championship and could earn Player of the Year honors with a win this week.
If that doesnt happen, there are several other eager ' and worthy ' wannabe major winners.
Sergio Garcia may well be at the top of that list.
Garcia is coming off a disappointing finish to the Open Championship. He started the final round one back of leader Woods, but struggled out of the gates Sunday at Hoylake, eventually shooting 73 and finishing seven behind in a tie for fifth.
It was yet another missed opportunity to win one of golfs Big 4, and one of his best since this tournament, at this venue in 1999, when he made his formal introduction to the golfing world, nearly coming from behind to topple Woods.
He failed to do so that week. Seven years later, the 26-year-old finds himself still without a major, and still answering questions as to reasons why.
Its not easy to go out there and win a major when youre young and even when youre in your 20s, said Garcia, who has 11 career top-10 finishes in majors, but only one in the PGA since his runner-up finish in 99. Tiger has been able to do that plenty of times, and you expect everybody else to do the same. Its not that easy.
Chris DiMarco can attest to that. Hes finished runner-up in three majors, including to Vijay Singh at this event in a playoff in 2004.
Like Garcia, DiMarco is coming off a failed opportunity to win the Open Championship. But contrary to Garcia, DiMarco performed quite admirably in the final round, coming up just short to Woods.
He enters this week brimming with confidence.
I have great memories from when I put myself in position at the British Open, and if I can get myself into position like that again, I feel like I learned a lot from that week, said DiMarco, who was buoyed at Royal Liverpool by the support from his family and the memory of his mother, who suddenly passed away just weeks before that tournament.
That week has given me hope for the rest of the year and hope for my career. So Im looking forward to finishing this year out strong. If I can go out and do something crazy and maybe win a couple (of events) coming in, it could be my best year ever.
Another player looking to turn around his season is Ernie Els. The South African hasnt won on the PGA TOUR since the 2004 Memorial and is still trying to fight his way back from a knee injury that sidelined him for this event a year ago.
Els was just one off the lead after 36 holes of the British, but shot 71-71 over the weekend and finished in third place.
He believes that better putting and a better frame of mind are necessary to capture his first PGA Championship title, which would give him three legs of the career Grand Slam.
Ive got to do a couple of things a little better under pressure, and thats been on my mind a little bit, said Els, who has finished in the top 5 in each of his last two PGA starts.
It feels like my game is not too bad at the moment. Id like to hopefully be in contention again.
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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.