Security Tight as Tiger Plays Disney

By Mercer BaggsOctober 17, 2001, 4:00 pm
Per usual, Tiger Woods beat the sun to work Wednesday morning, teeing off in the dark on a chilly central Florida morning.
He breezed through 18 holes at the Magnolia course ' host of this weeks National Car Rental Golf Classic in Lake Buena Vista ' alongside fellow Windermere residents John Cook and Mark OMeara, and then spent a solid 15 minutes obliging the media.
Yet there was something atypical about Tigers practice round. There was something missing ' a crowd.
Tournament officials didnt allow spectators to follow Woods on Wednesday. Tickets are only valid Thursday through Sunday; that has recently been the case in this event, though in the past, fans who showed up for a practice round were allowed to follow the players.
'In previous years, the practice rounds have been available for public viewing at no cost,' said Tournament Director Kevin Weickel. 'The number of guests who have watched practice rounds has been limited to around 50 guests per year.
In light of the events of Sept. 11, we are trying to provide a safe environment for everybody.'
It was the first time Woods could remember playing publicly in such anonymity.
It was definitely different, it was quiet. I liked it, said Woods.
Golf, like every other aspect of professional life, is experiencing an increase in security since Sept. 11. Men in blue outfits with badges are omnipresent. All bags are checked, even those of the players.
Earlier in the week, a couple of players forgot their Tour identification clips and werent allowed access to the locker room.
Wednesday, Woods exited the parking lot and showed security his driver's license. They then asked for his Tour badge. He didn't have it. Eventually, they let him pass.
These particular precautions are a bit new to Woods, though hes experienced a heighten awareness around him for years.
Ive had to deal with this ever since I turned pro. Its something Ive just become accustomed to, Woods said.
But there are still concerns.
In golf, its probably the most accessible sport there is. If someone wants to do something, they can,' Woods said. 'The galleries are right next to you. Thats one of the things we pride ourselves on in our sport, is the accessibility to it. But, then again, thats one of the dangers of it, too.
Tiger is making his first start since the Bell Canadian Open, six weeks ago. It wasnt supposed to be this way, but after the terrorist attacks everything changed.
It changed your perspective on how life is viewed, he said. You appreciate absolutely every aspect of your life.
For Tiger, there was no WGC-American Express Championship. No trip to Paris for the Trophee Lancome. No Ryder Cup. No golf.
Instead, he got some rest, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and even had a good conversation with the only other athlete to rival his celebrity ' Michael Jordan. He didnt start practicing until two weeks ago.
Its nice to be able to take a nice long break, said Woods. It worked out best for me, time to rest up physically, mentally and just try to get things back in order.
And so hes back to work. Hell play the Tour Championship in Houston in two weeks. Hell then travel to Hong Kong for an exhibition, before making his way to Japan to defend his World Cup title with partner David Duval.
Traveling abroad is still a risky proposition ' though it helps to have a personal jet at your leisure. Yet at some point, apprehension has to give way to routine.
In January, Woods will play in the New Zealand Open ' the homeland of his caddie, Steve Williams.
Williams is currently in New Zealand, opening a new racetrack; therefore, Woods has employed collegiate teammate Jerry Chang on his bag. Chang has played with Woods in the past couple AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Ams. And Woods even looped for his Stanford buddy in this years Public Links Championship.
In 1999, Woods won the Buick Invitational with former schoolmate Brian Bell as his caddie.
This is a very comfortable event for Woods. He commutes to the course from his home. He won here in his rookie season of 1996, and again in 99.
Now, he just has to shake off the rust and find the form that has led to five PGA Tour victories this season and over $5.5 million in earnings.
Im a pretty good practice-round player, he joked. Will it correlate into hitting it well in the tournament? I dont know.
Woods tees off Thursday with OMeara at 8:30 a.m. ET on the Palm course. Hell then play the Magnolia course Friday at 12:40 p.m.
The Magnolia will be the sole venue over the weekend.
There are 144 players in the field, with 144 amateurs. The amateurs will compete in the first two rounds. A cut (low 70 and ties) will be made for the professionals after the second round. The winner will collect $612,000.
Full field and tee times for the NCR Walt Disney Classic
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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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.