Casey unmoved by European Tour changes

By Rex HoggardDecember 5, 2015, 8:22 pm

NASSAU, Bahamas – Paul Casey would rather make his statements with his golf clubs, like he did with a third-round 63 on Saturday when he bested the Albany course record by two strokes and moved within two shots of front-runner Bubba Watson at the Hero World Challenge.

When it comes to the Englishman’s complicated relationship with the European Tour, however, he has chosen to be slightly more outspoken.

For the second consecutive year, Casey has chosen to forego European Tour membership, a move that will keep him from playing next year’s Ryder Cup.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with the Ryder Cup,” he said. “That’s been the frustrating part, really. That reaction.”

The move to remain focused on the United States, where he lives with his wife and 1-year-old son, Lex, surprised some following the European Tour’s recent move to restructure its membership requirements, dropping the minimum number of starts from 13 (including the World Golf Championships and majors) to five (excluding the World Golf Championship and majors).

The restructuring was designed to give players who had fallen outside of the top 50 - like Casey, who began the year 75th in the Official World Golf Ranking - and weren’t qualified for the WGCs and majors a chance to maintain status on both tours.

“That number hasn’t changed, it’s still five [regular European Tour events],” Casey said. “There was a quote that said [European Tour chief executive officer Keith] Pelley had done everything he can to make it as easy for me to play the European Tour. The number is still the same, Keith Pelley. The number is still five.”

Casey points out he will continue to play the World Golf Championships and major championships he’s qualified for whether they count toward European membership or not, adding that the schedule in 2016 will be even more complicated by golf’s inclusion into the Olympics, which is a top priority for the 38-year-old.

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He specifically mentioned the difficult decision some players will have next year when the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be held opposite the French Open, which will count as two starts and be worth double Ryder Cup points on the European Tour.

“I love Bridgestone. I love Akron [Ohio]. I’m going to play Bridgestone,” Casey said. “It hasn’t gotten any easier.”

The reaction to Casey’s decision has been mixed, with some surprised he wouldn’t take advantage of the new tour minimum that would require he add as few as three events to his schedule if he were to qualify for both the Ryder Cup and the Olympics, which will count as official starts next year.

Some even viewed Casey’s decision as a product of lingering ill will toward the European Ryder Cup system, after he was passed over for a spot by Colin Montgomerie in 2010 when Casey was ranked seventh in the world.

“When you put so much into the Ryder Cup and feel like you should be on the team and you get let down like that, maybe that's harboring some of his decision-making to this day,” Justin Rose told ESPN UK recently.

Casey quickly dismissed that notion on Saturday.

“No, that never even crossed my mind,” he said. “The Ryder Cup was never even discussed.”

For Casey it was a relatively straightforward, if not emotional, decision to keep his focus on the U.S., where he turned a corner in 2015 with eight top-10 finishes and his second trip to the Tour Championship, where he finished tied for fifth place.

Still, the competitive benefits for a player who has been beset in recent years by injury and off-course distractions remain secondary to Casey’s primary motivation.

“I’ve approached it purely selfishly from a family point of view,” Casey said. “Lex has really changed my life and I want to spend as much time with him and Pollyanna as I can. It’s a tough decision, but one that I live with.”

Casey’s frustration with some of the reaction is evident, but for a man who was reportedly in tears when he learned he’d been snubbed by Montgomerie in 2010, there is a sense that things won't always stay this way.

“I have said that part of the reason I dropped out of the top 50 was that I was trying to play both tours,” Casey said. “There was talk that if I got back in the top 50 I would rejoin, but I always said, ‘maybe.’

“It’s still a maybe, but something has to give. I would love to, I really would. Some of my best moments, experiences were on the European Tour and the Ryder Cup.”

Until then, he’s content letting his play speak for itself and keeping his focus as close to home as possible.

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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.