Talking With His Clubs

By Randall MellMay 13, 2011, 12:31 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rory Sabbatini left a gift in Ben Crane’s locker before Thursday’s start to The Players Championship.

It wasn’t a porcelain turtle . . .

Or a tub of slow-churned butter for Crane’s morning muffins . . .

Or a slow-dance CD collection . . .

Or any such reminder of how these two players controversially clashed over slow play at the Booz Allen Classic a half dozen years ago.

“Rory left some sun screen for my wife,” Crane said. “He knew she had gotten sun burned. It was pretty thoughtful.”

Sabbatini and Crane struck up a most unlikely friendship after they settled their differences all those years ago.

Rory Sabbatini
Sabbatini had just 26 putts during his 5-under 67 Thursday.
(Getty Images)
“What happened between us, I think it was good for me,” Crane said. “It really brought the fact that I was playing too slowly to the surface. I needed that. I’ve gotten a lot better. You know, right after it happened, he called me and apologized, and I apologized to him.

“Rory wears his heart on his sleeve. You don’t really have to wonder what he’s thinking.”

Well, actually, we are wondering with Sabbatini back in golf’s spotlight in a big way.

Sabbatini’s 5-under-par 67 in the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship moved him into early contention to win his seventh PGA Tour title. He’s playing some terrific golf. He won the Honda Classic in March, tied for third at the Wells Fargo Championship last week. His level of play is especially impressive when you consider Sabbatini is in the middle of a storm of controversial speculation that puts him in the same bad spot he was following his riff with Crane in ‘05.

Playing amid reports he is facing a possible suspension for confrontations with a player (Sean O’Hair) at the Zurich Classic and with a volunteer at the Northern Trust Open, Sabbatini’s been a rock between the ropes. He seems unaffected.

“I just focus on my job,” Sabbatini said.

If you’re wondering what Sabbatini is thinking about reports he clashed with O’Hair over slow play, you’ll have to wait a while longer. He isn’t interested in addressing any of it.

“People need to stop listening to the knitting circle, because amazingly you get things lost in translation,” Sabbatini said following his round Thursday. “I have to focus on my job and not worry about all the hearsay. I’ll let them concoct their own stories.”

In the meantime, Sabbatini’s clubs are speaking eloquently.

In a round of six birdies and a bogey, Sabbatini needed just 26 putts.

“You have a couple good weeks with the putter, and you develop some confidence,” Sabbatini said.

Sabbatini will need all the confidence he can build to make a weekend run. His record shows this isn’t a course that suits him. In 11 starts at The Players, Sabbatini has missed the cut seven times. His best finish here is a tie for 27th.

Still, Sabbatini’s ability to summon his best amid turmoil bodes well for him this week. The TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course promises a dose of turmoil for every player. There’s so much trouble lurking here.

“I look forward to playing here,” Sabbatini said. “It’s a challenging course, but it’s also a course where there’s a little bit of stress on you. You come here expecting tough conditions and where any errors you make are going to be penalized severely.”

Sabbatini’s got a pretty good answer for handling stress this week.

He's got a hot putter.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMellGC
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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.