Webb charges to another Founders Cup win

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2014, 2:51 am

PHOENIX – Karrie Webb is inspired playing the JTBC Founders Cup in a way no other player is.

She might be the only woman who teed it up at Wildfire Golf Club who received a pep talk on the weekend from one of the four living founders of the tour.

Webb got a phone call Friday night from Louise Suggs, her spitfire voice informing Webb that she needed to shoot 64 to win this event for the second time in its four-year history.

“She says, `Hey Karrie, it’s Louise,’” Webb said in her best gravelly voiced imitation of her friend and mentor. “She always starts the conversation that way.”

Webb didn’t deliver what Suggs wanted on Saturday, but she did one better on Sunday. Webb shot 9-under-par 63 to charge from six shots back.

“I made it up to Louise,” Webb said. “It’s meant a lot that I’ve had such a great relationship with her. She’s a character. She’s got great stories, and she’s always leaving me voice messages.”

Webb first met Suggs after she won the Titleholders in 1996. Webb won $190,000, which rivaled the U.S. Women’s Open as the biggest checks in women’s golf. Suggs was there to congratulate Webb after.

“I want you to know you just made more in one week than I made my entire career,” Suggs told Webb.

There was mutual admiration, and the seed of a friendship planted.

“Karrie has one of the best swings in golf,” said Marilynn Smith, an LPGA founder who watched Sunday’s finish with fellow founder Shirley Spork and pioneer Renee Powell from a special stage behind the 18th green. “Her swing reminds me of Louise Suggs, the rhythm, the balance, the timing.”

Webb won the inaugural Founders Cup in 2011, and it seemed preordained. Nobody appreciates more what the founders and pioneers did paving the way for the today’s players.

“I’ve watched the way Karrie is with the older players, with the founders, and there’s a lot that the younger players can learn from her,” said Stacy Lewis, who tied for second. “Karrie is somebody I’ve always looked to for how to do things the right way. She does that, and it’s probably why she’s playing well here this week. She gets it. She gets what this week is about.”

Webb, 39, is already a Hall of Famer. Her victory was the 41st LPGA title of her career, moving her into 10th place on the tour’s all-time winner’s list. She’s in historic company, now tied with Babe Zaharias, one of the LPGA’s 13 founders and maybe its greatest athlete.

“I just love the feeling of this event,” Webb said.

After claiming the $225,000 first-place check, Webb thanked LPGA commissioner Mike Whan for creating the tournament, which he designed to honor the game’s founding members and pioneers in a way that “pays it forward” to the future of the women’s game. Webb then told the fans at the trophy ceremony that she was donating $25,000 of her winnings to “The Founders Film,” a documentary being made about the 13 women who founded the LPGA. She also announced she was donating $25,000 to LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, the charity beneficiary of the event.

“They interviewed me for the documentary this week,” Webb said. “After, I asked them when they thought it was going to be finished. They said it all depended on the funding and that they only had about 10 percent of the total funding needed.”

Webb wants to see that movie made, and as LPGA pros learned again Sunday, it’s difficult to stop her when she really wants something.

Four seasons ago, Webb started the final round here at Wildfire Golf Club six shots back but mounted a charge to win by a shot.

At Sunday’s start this year, Webb was six shots back again. Playing the back nine, she was still six back.

At the 10th tee, Webb started wondering what it might take to win. She thought shooting 29 would give her a chance, but she didn’t even tell her caddie what she was thinking.

“I thought it would sound ridiculous,” Webb said.

Webb birdied six of the last eight holes. She buried a 20-foot birdie at the last to take the outright lead, but then she had to wait two hours to find out if it would hold up.

Four players ended up teeing it up at the 18th needing birdies to tie Webb.

Azahara Munoz and Amy Yang missed their chances. Behind them, Mirim Lee missed her chance. Finally, Lydia Ko, with the last chance to force a playoff, missed her 40-foot birdie chance.

“It’s just sort of one of those things that snowballed into a great back nine,” Webb said.

A persevering back-nine charge that honored the spirit of the founders.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.