Bunker Shots Hello and Goodbye - COPIED

By Randall MellMay 3, 2010, 3:00 am

Blasting into the week ahead, from Tiger Woods’ return to the regular stage to Lorena Ochoa’s goodbye as a tour regular ...

PGA Tour (75x100)PGA TOUR

Quail Hollow Championship

How about if we pick up where we left off at the Masters?

With Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Anthony Kim and Lee Westwood in the field, the cast that created so much weekend drama at Augusta National is back together at Quail Hollow.

The focus on Woods promises to be about more than golf yet again. This marks the first time he’ll tee it up in a regular PGA Tour event since news of his marital infidelities rocked the golf world. He’ll meet the media again Wednesday a little after noon Eastern time. The traditional golf media outlets will be joined this week by news crews from CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC. The entertainment news media, however, won’t be there. Inside Edition and Extra were among gossip-style programs that were denied credentials after missing April 2 deadlines for applying to cover the event.

Bunker shot: Nobody’s watching Woods more closely than his fellow Tour pros. At Doral, Graeme McDowell said what most players are thinking. He said players would be looking for signs of vulnerability when Woods returned. They would be looking to see if Woods appeared to have lost any of the intangible gifts that have made him so dominant his entire career. He said if Woods doesn’t win quickly, players would begin to believe his “force field” has weakened. McDowell, though, also said he expects Woods will quickly assert himself. What ought to worry Woods’ peers is how terribly rusty Woods looked in his return at the Masters, specifically at the start of the final round, and yet still managed to threaten with a Sunday push. He looked just a couple dabs of polish from regaining his winning form.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Tiger Woods. Contender – Phil Mickelson. Darkhorse – Jason Dufner.

  • Course: Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte. N.C. Par 72, 7,447 yards. (Designed by George Cobb in 1961, modified by Arnold Palmer in 1986 and redesigned by Tom Fazio in 1997 and ’03).
  • Purse: $6.5 million (winner’s share, $1,170,000).
  • TV times: Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m. (ET); Saturday-Sunday, CBS, 3-6 p.m. (ET)
  • Last year: Sean O’Hair (11-under, 277) came from three shots back starting the final round to win, finishing a shot ahead of Lucas Glover and Bubba Watson.

LPGA Tour _newLPGA

Tres Marias Championship

Lorena Ochoa’s farewell as a full-time player is this week’s big story.

Ochoa, who announced her retirement Friday, won’t return to the LPGA again until she plays in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in November. The love that Mexico will pour out on its favorite daughter will be palpable. The perfect ending would be an Ochoa victory, and it wouldn’t constitute a fairy-tale finish, but definitely a feel-good finish. Ochoa is still the No. 1 ranked player in women’s golf and a favorite this week. She’s the defending champ.

Bunker shot: The week’s subplot is nearly as compelling as the main storyline. Who wants to step up as Ochoa’s successor? It’s the question even LPGA pros are asking. The favorites to assume the No. 1 ranking are all foreign born. South Korea’s Jiyai Shin, Taiwan’s Yani Tseng and Norway’s Suzann Pettersen were challenging even before Ochoa announced her retirement. Japan’s Ai Miyazato has shown strong signs she’s game and willing. Among Americans, the curiosity centers on Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie. Kerr, 32, is the most decorated American with a chance, and she fiercely desires the crown, but Wie, 20, is the great American hope with all that potential working for her. Paula Creamer, out mending a thumb injury, will be looking to work herself into the conversation with her return expected in June and Angela Stanford has the tools. There’s a statement waiting to be made this week.     

Mell’s picks: Winner – Lorena Ochoa. Contender – Suzann Pettersen. Darkhorse – Vicky Hurst.

  • Course: Tres Marias Country Club, Morelia, Mexico. Par 73, 6,539 yards (Designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 2004).
  • Purse: $1.3 million (winner’s share, $195,000).
  • TV times: No TV.
  • Last year: Lorena Ochoa (25-under 267) finished a shot ahead of Suzann Pettersen.


2009 European TourEUROPEAN TOUR

Open de Espana

No Spaniard’s won the national event since Sergio Garcia in 2002.

There’s no shortage of Spanish contenders for the title with Miguel Angel Jimenez, Alvaro Quiros, Pablo Martin, Pablo Larrazabal, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Rafael Cabrera-Bello in the field.  

Bunker shot: With European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie playing, there will be bids to win his favor. For the first time since 1995, a European captain will have more than two picks to fill out his team. Montgomerie will have three. If the teams were decided today, here’s who is in, based on points: Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Ross McGowan, Martin Kaymer, Simon Dyson, Paul Casey and Oliver Wilson. Here’s who would be out and in need of the captain’s favor: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Graeme McDowell, Ross Fisher, Francesco Molinari, Edoardo Molinari and Alvaro Quiros. The tougher the choices, the better Montgomerie’s team will look. And this looks like a formidable opponent for the Americans come early October at Celtic Manor.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Francesco Molinari. Contender – Alvaro Quiros. Darkhorse – Rafael Cabrera-Bello.

  • Course: Real Club de Golf de Sevilla, Sevilla, Spain. Par 72, 7,140 yards (Designed by Jose Maria Olazabal and opened in 1991).
  • Purse: $2 million euros, about $2.66 million (winner’s share 330,330 euros, about $443,000)
  • TV times: Golf Channel, Thursday-Friday, 9:30-12:30 a.m. (ET); Saturday-Sunday, 8:30-11:30 a.m. (ET).
  • Last year: Thomas Levet (18-under 270) finished two shots better than Fabrizio Zanotti.


Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic

Looking for their best form, Champions Tour pros have just two events before the major championship season begins.

The Senior PGA Championship is the first of their five majors and will be played May 27-30 at Colorado Golf Club.

Bunker shot: When Tiger Woods doesn’t play your event on the PGA Tour, it’s disappointing. It’s compounded on the Champions Tour when the top draw doesn’t just pass on your event but plays in a competing event in the United States. That’s what’s happening this week with Fred Couples playing at Quail Hollow on the PGA Tour. 

Mell’s picks: Winner – Bernhard Langer. Contender – Jay Haas. Darkhorse – Mike Reid.

  • Course: Fallen Oak Golf Club, Saucier, Miss. Par 72, 7,054 yards, (Designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 2006).
  • Purse: $1.6 million (winner’s share, $240,000).
  • TV times: Friday, Golf Channel, 6:30-8:30 p.m. (ET); Saturday, Golf Channel, 6:30-9:30 p.m. (ET); Sunday, Golf Channel, 7-9:30 p.m. (ET).
  • Last year: This is the inaugural event.


Stadion Athens Classic at UGA

Australian Ewan Porter rocketed from dead last on the Nationwide Tour money list ($0 in earnings) to No. 6 with his victory at the South Georgia Classic last week. His first cut made this year was a victory. A quarter into the season, he’ll be working to remain in the top 25 in money and earn a promotion to the PGA Tour next year.

This marks the fifth straight year the Nationwide Tour stops in Athens, Ga., but its first at the University of Georgia Golf Course.

Bunker shot: If you like rooting for the working class man, Matt Peterson’s your guy. He’s moonlighting big time. He’s got three jobs this week, including trying to win the tournament. Peterson is the head professional at the UGA Golf Course. He’s also the assistant tournament director. His third job is as a player. He played his way into the field through a local PGA qualifier.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Chris Kirk. Contender – Bobby Gates. Darkhorse – Miguel Angel Carballo.

  • Course: University of Georgia Golf Course, Athens, Ga. Par 71, 7,240 yards (Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., opened in 1968).
  • Purse: $550,000 (winner’s share, $99,000).
  • TV times: No TV.
  • Last year: Patrick Sheehan (14-under 274) birdied the first playoff hole to defeat Michael Sim at the Athens Regional Foundation Classic.
Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

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.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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 a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder 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.

Getty Images

Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

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.

Getty Images

McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.”

Getty Images

Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

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.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

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?''