No Rest for the Weary
So you think this job is glamorous, all the travel and all the perks that go with it and all the great golf. It is. But sometimes it also is exhausting. I went three-quarters of the way around the world in three days just a couple of weeks ago, and it took a little while to recover.
I'm not complaining, mind you. Sometimes you do unusual things in the name of business. This time it was my course architect company, Faldo Design.
Let me tell you about it. I started my journey in my other home, Orlando, and flew to Toronto Friday. From there it was a 2 1/2-hour trip north to a beautiful site near Lake Rosseau in Muskoka, though on Friday it was actually snowing. The course, temporarily called the Lake Rosseau project, is cut through the forest with these majestic rock outlets, really magnificent. But I have to tell you, I was freezing!
Then it was back to Toronto, fly to Chicago, and from Chicago to Beijing, which is 13-plus hours. I got out of the airport at 3 in the afternoon Saturday and I spent an hour or so walking the golf course. Actually that's not a bad thing, you get some daylight and you get some exercise. That evening was a business meeting, no time for sleep yet.
I got out the next morning, Sunday, about 8 and walked the course again. It's a great project, only 25 minutes from Tiananmen Square called Hong Hua International golf club. So I went from a golf course cut through the forest, very rural, to one surrounded by high rises and tall buildings in a very urban setting.
Then I jumped on a plane out of Beijing to Hong Kong, and from Hong Kong flew on to London. I got home to London Monday morning. It may sound rough, but it really was a good trip.
Golf-wise, I had a good Masters, tying for 14th. I played on the Saturday before the tournament started, and the greens were measuring at least 15-plus on the Richter scale, pardon me, on the Stimpmeter. It's really too bad that the rains came throughout the week. If the course had stayed firm all week, it would have demanded a little more strategy.
Just like the analysts predicted, though, it was basically a big-hitters' course, at least on the final day. You look at the leaderboard after three rounds, and they were all long hitters who were out front. They definitely had a little advantage.
Tiger, of course, was brilliant. I guess the papers are going to write for a long time that he isn't really impressive until it comes time for the majors. Then he just plays like a true champion. The guy is really amazing.
His big motivation will be winning the money list each year, and of course winning the majors. He's already in a different league. He is so focused on majors. There is no way anybody could maintain that enthusiasm week after week after week in regular tour events. He just goes and plays the regular tour, and if he happens to win, that's good. The day after the Masters was over, he was already thinking of his playing schedule leading up to the U.S. Open; where he's going to play, what's he going to do, and how he's going to prepare for that. That's how I operated. That's what your measured by, the number of majors you've won. He's won seven, and the truth is, I don't have any idea how many other tournaments he's won. As I said, you are measured by your number of majors, and I do know that number, seven!
That story will be written an awfully lot of times through the years, 'He wasn't really sharp until it came time for the majors.' I will guarantee it. But the majors, that's where he shines. That's where he is so great.
The mental side, that's his strongest club right now. Mental, physical, technical, he's got all of those. But mentally, he just got into the Masters at the start, he made a big move on Saturday, and on Sunday he beat us all. It was a classic case of everybody watching what Tiger was up to. Some guys may not admit it, but still there was something inside them that was conscious of what Tiger was doing. And they couldn't respond to it.
As for my week in Augusta, I was quite pleased. I opened with a 75, but then I had a really good second day and shot 67. It's really unusual - Hal Sutton, who was to be my playing partner, withdrew before the start. I thought to myself, 'What would I do if I had to play by myself during the middle of a tournament?'
Well, I thought I was going to find out. Frank Lickliter, who was my other partner, came up to me Friday morning and told me he had to drop out. I said, 'Oh, no!' I thought, 'What do I do now?' I thought it would be sinful to have a marker, it's only happened to me once in my whole career, last year at Loch Lomond.
But the more I thought about it, the more I could see the advantages. I can see where it really is better playing on your own. You play totally at your own pace, you hit whenever you're ready, you go round just the way you like it.
I did take a marker, however. I was surrounded by three-balls and I took John Harris, a guy who has been an outstanding amateur, a good player, a nice guy. So I came out and shot the 67, birdied the first three holes and just hung in there until the end of the day. It was a great day for me. The whole tournament, actually, went very well.
Actually, it was the continuation of what has been a pretty good year. I finished tied for 10th in the Johnnie Walker in Australia, tied for sixth in the Heineken Classic, and third in the Singapore Masters. And now the tie for 14th in the Masters.
So I am doing well, I think. I have the opportunity now to concentrate on my golf, and the course design business is coming along really well, also. The next few tournaments are on the European Tour, in Germany for the Deutsche Bank, and the Volvo PGA Championship back here in England.
By then, it will be time for us to meet again. See you!
McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018
Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.
So much for easing into the new year.
So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.
McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.
“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”
McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.
If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.
After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.
“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.
McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.
“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”
It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.
“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”
A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.
A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.
Johnson put on tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii, the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilders Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.
To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.
Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.
McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.
“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.
A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.
“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”
A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.
Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open
SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.
The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.
Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.
Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.
''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''
The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.
''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''
Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.
''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.
Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.
He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.
Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.
Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.
He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.
Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.
McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54
Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.
McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.
McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.
McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.
Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.
“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”
Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.
Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.
''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''
First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.
''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''
David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.
The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''