Day's win caps a strange week at Torrey Pines

By Rex HoggardFebruary 9, 2015, 2:23 am

SAN DIEGO – With apologies to those with a Left Coast bias, Sunday’s final frame at the Farmers Insurance Open was all the proof one needs that the cosmic tumblers are not falling as they once did.

Consider that J.B. Holmes parred his final two par 5s on Sunday at Torrey Pines, which is akin to Albert Pujols bunting in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, Chris Paul III dishing at the buzzer, the Seattle Seahawks letting Marshawn Lynch play spectator with the ball at the 1-yard line.

Well, you get the point.

In a sign of just how off script golf at the highest level has become, the week in southern California began with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson failing to advance to the weekend in consecutive weeks for the first time ... ever, the former knocking off after just 11 holes with a deactivated back and the latter with a deactivated putter that led to his highest start at his hometown event in a dozen years.

Strange days, indeed.

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But the 2015 Farmers Insurance Open wasn’t about proper release patterns or glute activation or an AWOL putting stroke. This was about playing without pain and with a purpose.

It might be the most bizarre take from four days along the Pacific Ocean that scribes spent more time asking about the health of Jason Day’s caddie/swing coach Col Swatton (rough diagnosis, an old back) than they did Day’s litany of ailments.

Since arriving on Tour in 2008, Day’s potential was matched only by his penchant for landing on the disabled list. There have been back ailments (2014), ankle injuries (2013), right wrist problems (2007) and most recently a balky left thumb (2014), which slowed him for much of last season and prompted him to skip a return home to Australia late last year.

Make no mistake, Day’s dramatically improved health and his inspired play at Torrey Pines are not mutually exclusive, and yet another sign that 2015 is shaping up to shatter the status quo.

Asked if it felt different starting the season so far removed from the trainer’s table, Swatton’s take was telling, “100 percent, 100 percent. We knew he could do what he wants to do if he’s healthy.”

Not that his overtime victory on Sunday was without any metaphorical pain.

When the day began with a blanket of fog inching its way up the cliffs on Black’s Beach there were 10 players within two strokes of the lead. By lunch that number had dwindled to half that, with Holmes in control at 10 under par with two par 5s waiting.

But at the 13th hole Holmes, who is still among the bomber circuit’s longest (29th this season in driving distance), made a mess of the par-5 13th hole and laid up at the closing hole on his way to another par and a four-way playoff.

“If it would have been 5 yards shorter or 3 or 4 yards longer, it was really on a downslope to the hole and it was just a lie that my tendency is to hit it a little bit further and hit a draw, and long and left is dead,” Holmes said of his decision to lay up on the 72nd hole.

Instead, Holmes finished tied with Day, Harris English and Scott Stallings at 9 under par and laid up, again, after finding a fairway bunker in the playoff at the 18th hole.

The crowded field was whittled to two when English and Stallings, looking to become the first back-to-back winner at Torrey Pines since Woods in 2008, made par; and when Holmes airmailed the green at No. 16 in the second extra frame Day only needed to two-putt from 14 feet for his third Tour victory and his second in less than a year.

“To be able to win the way I did was very statisfying,” said Day, who closed with a 70 that featured just a single bogey over his final 30 holes on a South Course that was every bit as stingy as anything the frat brothers will play until May.

Explain again why the USGA dragged its feet so long to bring the U.S. Open back to this seaside municipal gem?

“The rough was thicker than it was in 2008 [for the U.S. Open] because for the Open the rough was graduated. Here it was thick up to the edge of the fairway,” said Charles Howell III, who finished tied for fifth one stroke out of the playoff. “The greens were firm, the fairways were narrow, it was every bit as hard as it was then.”

You didn’t have to tell Woods or Mickelson how hard things were at Torrey Pines.

A 2 1/2-hour fog delay to start the week on Thursday appeared to derail Woods, who was 2 over par and moving gingerly when he withdrew after only 11 holes.

“It's frustrating that it started shutting down like that. I was ready to go,” said Woods, who has withdrawn from three of his last eight official PGA Tour events. “I had a good warm-up session the first time around. Then we stood out here and I got cold, and everything started deactivating again. It's frustrating that I just can't stay activated.”

Mickelson made it 36 holes, but was no less dejected by what transpired on Torrey Pines’ greens.

“I’m down. I’m frustrated, because I see other parts of my game do very well, but putting as bad as I have, it starts to creep into some of the other areas too,” said Mickelson, who led the field for Rounds 1 and 2 with five three-putts.

Day had no such issues at Torrey Pines, nor did he have any health concerns, which may be as empowering, and strange, as the trophy he hoisted in just his third start of the season.

Even Day, who will move to fourth in the Official World Golf Ranking on Monday, could appreciate the juxtaposition his pain-free start to the season has created.

“I’ve come close so many times to having great years and especially going off last year and having the ups and downs, to be able to be healthy and getting off to a great start is special,” Day said.

One could almost call it strange.

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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.