Stars lined up behind McGirt

By Randall MellFebruary 16, 2014, 12:36 am

LOS ANGELES – Jimmy Walker is lurking in his rear-view mirror.

So are Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.

Some of the most gifted players in the game are in the logjam just behind William McGirt on the leaderboard going into Sunday’s final round of the Northern Trust Open.

It’s enough to make McGirt feel like David vs. a squadron of Goliaths.

McGirt heads to Sunday’s final round as the quintessential journeyman underdog, seeking at 34 to win his first PGA Tour title. McGirt has played so many mini-tours he can’t count them all.

“May have to use fingers and toes,” he cracked.

At No. 197 in the world rankings, McGirt has never even held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event before. He hasn’t won anywhere since winning a Tarheel event in 2007.

All of it makes him relish this chance in his fourth full season on the PGA Tour.

“When you are around mini-tours for eight years, and go through a bunch of heartaches at Q-School, once you finally get here, you really have to appreciate it,” McGirt said.

Northern Trust Open: Articles, videos and photos

McGirt seized the lead at Riviera Country Club on Saturday with a 6-under-par 65. At 12-under 201, he is two shots ahead of George McNeill (66) and Charlie Beljan (68).

A dozen players are within four shots of the lead.

Walker, Watson, Johnson and Spieth are all among a pack tied for sixth, four shots back.

McGirt, who is 0 for 96 trying to win a PGA Tour event, can find some inspiration in his rear-view mirror. Walker was 0 for 187 before breaking through to win his first PGA Tour event at 34 late last year. Walker has gone on to win three times already this wraparound season.

Walker wants his fourth title on Sunday. He gave himself a shot with a birdie at the last hole Saturday to shoot 67.

“I feel like I’m playing good, and I feel like that kind of carries over,” Walker said.

Watson got into contention with a 64 on Saturday, his career-best round at Riviera by four shots. He did that bombing his way around Riviera, launching his tee shot 362 yards at the 13th hole, the longest drive at Riviera all week. He was sharp in all facets of his game as he seeks to rebound from a loss at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in his last start. Watson couldn’t close a two-shot lead in the final round in Phoenix, making bogeys at two of the final three holes as Kevin Stadler went on to win.

“Only one guy beat me,” Watson said. “So, I played pretty solid. When I look back at it at the end of my career, I’m not going to pout over not winning. I took all the positives from it.”

Watson, 35, wants to get right back into the fire. He’s seeking his fifth PGA Tour title, his first since winning the Masters two years ago.

“I'm looking to the back nine tomorrow, having a chance,” Watson said. “Tomorrow is going to be about the pressure of trying to win a golf tournament, the people that haven't won, or the people that have won, trying to win again.”

Johnson, 29, is the first player since Tiger Woods to win in each of his first seven years on the PGA Tour. A bogey at the last Saturday left Johnson with a 69. He's coming off a second-place finish at Pebble Beach.

Spieth, 20, shot a 67 to get in the hunt. He is looking to shake off some weekend disappointments to win his second PGA Tour title.

“Today, for a Saturday, I felt like it was A+ for my mental game,” Spieth said. “Typically, my mental game on Saturdays has been a C. But really solid today.

Spieth squandered weekend chances at the Farmers Insurance Open and AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in his last two starts. He was in the hunt at Torrey Pines before shooting 75-75 on the weekend. He was in the hunt at Pebble Beach last week before shooting a 78 on Saturday.

“This week, I’ve just kind of taken a different mindset,” Spieth said.

 Come Sunday, golf finds out what McGirt’s mindset is and whether he can slay some giants.

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”