Disney event not fun and games for bubble boys

By Rex HoggardNovember 7, 2012, 9:25 pm

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – That cool wind that swept across Walt Disney World on Wednesday had nothing to do with the nor’easter roaring its way up the coast, although the chill certainly added to the atmosphere on the eve of the year’s final event.

The 400-pound elephant perched in the middle of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic standing room was about shrinking margins and rapidly dwindling playing opportunities.

Normally players arrive at Disney for the season finale with options no matter how poorly they’ve played over the previous 10 months. Finishing inside the top 125 in earnings is good for a bona fide Tour card, but the historical alternative was finishing somewhere between 126th and 150th in winnings for conditional status.

Great things have come from limited status which made Disney something of a soft deadline in the past, but in 2013 that safety net is much smaller. The condensed reality of next year’s transition to a split-calendar schedule means that there is no more “plan B.”

“It’s not like 125 (in earnings) is great and 126 is pretty good,” David Mathis said. “One (hundred) and twenty-five is awesome and 126 to 150 is terrible. That’s how the players view it because you can’t just pick and choose where you’re going to play from that category.”

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Next year’s number’s crunch is the byproduct of the loss of the four Fall Series events and the Mayakoba Golf Classic, which will all become part of the 2013-14 season. It’s a net loss of over 650 playing opportunities or, as one Tour official figured, five fewer starts for all but the top players in 2013.

It’s a reality that leaves those players who finish between 126th and 150th, which has been good for 15 to 20 starts in the past, adrift in a barren wasteland. Estimates vary, but many observers believe players with conditional status in 2013 will probably be limited to 10 or fewer starts.

“You’re begging for starts (with conditional status),” Steve Flesch said on Wednesday at Disney. “If you’re counting on (finishing) 126 to 150 you’re in trouble, big trouble. If you’re thinking of (No.) 140 getting in events you’re dreaming.”

All of which makes this week’s finale, which could be the Tour’s last trip to Disney unless officials find a replacement sponsor for the Children’s Miracle Network, an exercise in crisis management.

For the first time in more than a decade, No. 125 in earnings is every bit a hard salary cap and nobody knows that better than Gary Christian. “It’s all gloom and doom out there,” the Englishman said. He was talking about Tour player reaction to Tuesday’s presidential election, but it was an apropos take on the mood across Disney’s Palm and Magnolia courses on the eve of the 2012 finale.

“A lot of people will have a couple of grey hairs, maybe a few ulcers this week,” said Christian, who at 127th in earnings likely needs a top-20 finish to crack the top 125. “Hopefully I’m not one of them.”

Although the final stage of Q-School remains for those who fall short this week, a sense of urgency hung over the Magic Kingdom on Wednesday.

Last year it was James Driscoll who arrived at Disney perched on the abyss at No. 125 in earnings and he spent more time in the clubhouse bathroom to . . . well, clear his head, to put it delicately, then he did on the practice tee prior to his final round before closing with 68 to retain his Tour card.

“I think I had food poisoning,” he smiled on Tuesday at Disney when asked about his final round in 2011. He has the luxury of smiling this year. At 120th in earnings his $687,000 is likely enough to maintain his status.

Billy Mayfair wasn’t so cheerful. At 125th in earnings the veteran is this week’s bubble boy, with Rod Pampling at 124th and Kevin Chappell at 123rd.

Just $32,500 separates No. 130 D.J. Trahan, who clung to the final Tour card last year (No. 125) following his tie for 46th at Disney, and Mayfair. Or, to put that number in context, it is the difference between a tie for 25th (Trahan) and a missed cut (Mayfair).

Estimates vary, but according to Scott Hamilton, a Georgia-based teaching professional who works with numerous Tour players, it will take about $632,000 to finish inside the top 125 based on this week’s purse and how the “magic number” has tracked over the last few weeks.

“I kept hearing $700,000, $700-something (to finish inside the top 125), but I looked at it before the Frys.com Open and how it changed every week,” Hamilton said. “It seems the number has been moving between $10,000 to $15,000 depending on the purse.”

If that math holds, No. 123 (Kevin Chappell) through Mayfair are all in jeopardy of sliding into the money list no-man’s land and booking a trip to PGA West for this month’s Q-School. That next year’s condensed schedule will only squeeze those margins and add pressure to an already anxiety-filled environment.

For this week’s bubble players, Disney is a sports psychologist’s worst nightmare, a Draconian existence where the result and the process are virtually inseparable and an entire body of work is bottlenecked into a single start. A place where the only comfort is in the clichés.

“It's all clichés now,” Christian said. “One shot at a time. It’s a process. You know, I could probably write a golf psychology book that encompasses everything you need to know.”

Perhaps, but then all one really needs to know is that one of pro golf’s toughest week’s is suddenly a little more challenging.

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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.