Lewis poised to end victory drought

By Randall MellJanuary 30, 2016, 11:55 pm

Stacy Lewis isn’t wasting any time trying to end her drought.

With a 6-under-par 67 Saturday at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic, Lewis moved one shot off the lead at the Ocean Club on Paradise Island in the LPGA’s season opener. She’s looking to win for the first time in her last 40 starts.

Lewis, who is seeking her 12th LPGA title, said the most difficult part of going winless last year was being asked about not winning in so many post-round interviews.

Of course, Lewis was asked after Saturday’s round about how she felt being in position to win for the first time since she claimed the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship 18 months ago.

“My goal this week was to be in this position right here, to be in that last group going into the final day,” Lewis said. “And, honestly, the best thing about this week is how I'm so happy with how my ball striking is.

“If I win tomorrow, that's great, but my golf swing is where it needs to be. My wedges are getting better. I am still not quite trusting them, so there's room to improve there. I haven't played anywhere close to my best golf yet this week, and I've got a chance to win tomorrow. That's getting back to where I was before.”

Though Lewis didn’t win last year, her first winless season since 2010, she finished second or third in about one of every three starts. In 26 events, she finished second six times and third three times. It had to be maddening, especially coming off her three titles in ’14, when she became the first American in more than 20 years to sweep the Rolex Player of the Year, Vare Trophy and money-winning title.

Joe Hallett, Lewis’ swing coach, told GolfChannel.com that Lewis didn’t allow the frustrations of so many close calls to derail her approach to the game.

“Stacy’s focus has not changed from last year and the year before and the year before that,” Hallett said. “Our goal is to put ourselves in position. Our goal is to make sure we are consistent.”

Since her last victory, Lewis has 19 top-10 finishes in 39 events.

At No. 3 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, Lewis is the highest ranked player in the field this week. No. 1 Lydia Ko isn’t making her first start until next week and Inbee Park withdrew Thursday with a bad back. Park is out for the next month.

Lewis trails Anna Nordqvist and Charley Hull by one shot going into the final round, but Lewis will be looking them both in the eye on the first tee box. With a birdie at the last Saturday, Lewis got herself in the final group.

With the winds down over the Ocean Club Saturday, Lewis took advantage in a bogey-free round of six birdies.

“I think tomorrow is supposed to be even less wind, maybe a little more calm,” Lewis said. “So you're going to have to make some birdies. You're going to have to shoot a good score, but you're not trying to force things. That's the biggest thing for me tomorrow, is just to stay patient and trust my golf swing.”

Lewis opens 2016 much more settled than she did a year ago.

At the start of last season, Lewis teed it up frustrated over her search to find a golf ball to replace the version of the Titleist ProV1 that she had played since 2009. Before the start of last year, Titleist decided to cease manufacturing of the '09 ball and did not resubmit it to the conforming list.

She went through different versions of Bridgestone balls until finding what she liked midway through the year in the Bridgestone 330S. She also struggled to find a driver early last year. That driver-ball combination helped contribute to a drop-off of 10 yards per average drive. With a TaylorMade M1 in her bag now, Lewis likes the driver/ball combo.

“That little lost distance that we talked about last year, it's almost 90 percent made up with equipment right now,” Hallett said.

Lewis is happy where she is at in her personal life, too. She got engaged to Houston golf coach Gerrod Chadwell in November and bought a new home in Houston.

“Personally and professionally, I think Stacy’s in a very good place,” Hallett said.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.