Decisions Decisions

By Rex HoggardMay 18, 2011, 11:20 pm
In fading light last Sunday Scott Gneiser rocked against the weight of his man David Toms’ staff bag and took the weight of the world, or so it seemed, onto his tired shoulders.

“Sixteen . . . I wish I would have talked him into laying up,” sighed Gneiser, a caddie-yard legend and Toms’ bagman for the better part of 12 years and 11 of his dozen Tour victories.

David Toms
David Toms reacts to his missed putt on the first playoff hole at The Players. (Getty Images)
Monday morning caddying is a dangerous business, and maybe the entire affair played out in surround-sound raucousness on TPC Sawgrass’ 16th hole, was still too fresh for Gneiser. Objectivity is a rare commodity following a playoff loss.

These are the facts: with a one-stroke lead and a swing that hit more fairways than anyone else at The Players Championship, Toms narrowly missed the fairway at the par-5 16th hole on Sunday but arrived at his golf ball with his mind already made up, or so it seemed.

“We got to the ball and he asked, ‘What do you think of 2-iron (hybrid)?’ and I liked it with a one-shot lead. He just hit it against the bottom of the club and it ran into the water,” Gneiser said of Toms’ approach shot from 249 yards.

Toms made bogey, eventual champion K.J. Choi signed for a par, and as Gneiser assessed the outcome it was impossible for his mind to not race back a decade, “We’ve laid up before to win a golf tournament.”

The “golf tournament” Gneiser was referring to was the 2001 PGA Championship which Toms won on the 72nd hole with a driver, two wedge shots and a 12-footer for par – maybe the gutsiest finish to any major championship in recent history (non-2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines division).

At the time Toms had a similar decision, a 5-wood from 220 yards from a hanging lie in the rough to a baked-out green that was never designed for such a shot; or a wedge to a comfortable yardage (88 yards) and a clutch one-putt for victory.

“I might still be playing that hole if I would have gone for the green,” Toms said at the time. “There was nothing good that could happen.”

Therein lies the fine line between a good decision that is hailed as brilliant and a bad choice that is immediately labeled a bone-headed move.

The same guy that bounced his U.S. Open chances off a tree, garbage can and corporate tent at the 2006 U.S. Open made Masters magic with a 6-iron off the pine straw adjacent the 13th fairway last year. Those who wish to distinguish between the Winged Foot version of Phil Mickelson and last year’s Masters edition do so at their own risk. The DNA is the same, only the outcome is different.

In this, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the difference between a sound and a silly shot is more often than not dictated by the outcome.

In retrospect, it’s not entirely inaccurate to say that Jean Van de Velde was simply unlucky, not sloppy, at the 1999 Open Championship when his shot at the claret jug was washed away by the rising tide in a Carnoustie’s burn.

The bounce, bad or otherwise, is certainly a crucial element at any event, and of everything that transpired on that surreal summer day in ’99 the only thing the Frenchman seems guilty of is hitting driver off Carnoustie’s 18th tee. Yet Sergio Garica tried to play it safe off the same 18th tee in his duel with Padraig Harrington at the ’07 Open Championship and we all know how that turned out.

“I got ahead of myself on 16 in regulation,” said Toms, who three-putted the first playoff hole on Sunday at TPC Sawgrass. “Seeing K.J. had to lay up already I probably should have laid up and hit a wedge up there and made par at the worst, but I felt like I could get it on the green and take maybe a two-shot lead there and put a lot of pressure on him. So that was the mindset, and I just hit a bad shot.”

Hindsight can be a dangerous judge and jury. A week earlier Lucas Glover spoke about the dangers of trying to protect a lead on a PGA Tour Sunday. In short, neither Glover nor his “beard” thought it was a good idea to play prevent defense coming down the stretch and Toms’ idea that a two-shot lead with the Staduim’s demanding 17th and 18th holes looming certainly passes the sniff test.

Maybe the only thing Toms was ultimately guilty of is forgetting who he was – a fairways-and-greens guy who wears down his opponents – not a bomb-and-gorge sort who overpowers the field.

As a subject to dissection and second-guess, however, Toms’ bold decision at the 16th hole is simply a non-story, with all respect to Gneiser. Ultimately, Toms’ choice was above reproach, just not his execution.
Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard
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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 right 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."

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.