By Mercer BaggsSeptember 21, 2000, 4:00 pm
Hennie Otto fired a career-best 7-under-par 64 to take a one-shot lead over five others through 18 holes of the Belgacom Open in Royal Zoute, Belgium.
A rookie on the European Tour, Otto is in dire need of a strong finish to the season in order to maintain his playing privileges. With just over $60,000 in earnings this year, Otto stands 135th on the current Order of Merit - 20 spots removed from an automatic exemption in 2001.
Time is running out for the 24-year-old South African. The Belgacom Open is one of only four remaining full-field events on the 2000 schedule.
Thursday, Otto didn't show a sense of urgency out of the gates. He parred his first eight holes before recording his first birdie of the day at the par-4 9th. That's when the floodgates opened.
Otto birdied four consecutive holes beginning at the 9th, and seven of his final 10 holes. The South African's back-nine surge moved him past early leaders Padraig Harrington and Marc Farry, who each carded rounds of 6-under-par 65.
'I've been working really hard on my mental approach to the game and staying focused,' said Otto. 'It's coming through slowly but surely.
'Today I hit the ball great the first eight holes but just didn't make the putts. Then made a 20-footer on nine and thought the luck was going to change. Hit a good second shot on 10 to six feet and made that. Then I felt the confidence grow.'
By day's end, there was a quintet of players within one shot of Otto's lead. Lee Westwood, Stephen Scahill and Olle Karlsson (no relation to defending champion Robert) all opened in 65.
Said Westwood: 'There's a long way to go but I'm in good position. It is always nice to start off with a fast start and get into contention early. You feel like you are in the tournament more.'
Westwood is trying to reclaim the top spot on the Order of Merit. He currently trails Darren Clark by just over $82,000. Clarke is tied for 108th after the first round. The Ulsterman opened in 2-over-par 73.
While Clarke had a frustrating first day, at least it wasn't painful. The same can't be said for Thomas Bjorn. The Dane, currently fourth on the Order of Merit, had to withdraw from competition due to a foot injury after playing just five holes.
'It is inflamed underneath the left foot,' said Bjorn. 'It has been bothering me every day this week especially in the evenings. It was all right in the mornings, so I thought I would keep going and give it a try. I took a few painkillers this morning but it is not getting any better. There is too much big golf coming up for me.
'I'll be fine next week. I need some ice and some rest. I'm going to go straight home and get some treatment in London. I'll be back next week.'
Aside from Bjorn's withdrawal, three holes-in-one highlighted Thursday. Ivo Giner, Jean-Franois Remesy and Paul Affleck all carded an ace. Unfortunately, none of them managed the feat on the 16th, where a heart-shaped diamond worth $30,000 was for the taking.
Getty Images

After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

Getty Images

Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

Getty Images

Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

Getty Images

Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry