DJ's star once again shines brightest at WGC

By Rex HoggardMarch 6, 2017, 12:40 am

MEXICO CITY – So begins the age of DJ.

That would be the preferred hot take following the broad-shouldered bomber’s second victory in as many starts to become just the sixth player to win in his first event after taking over the top spot in the world rankings.

Dustin Johnson, the man who looks like he was made in a laboratory to play golf, overcame a quirky-cool golf course, inconsistent greens and the year’s deepest field to win his 14th PGA Tour title on Sunday at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

Simply stated, he was better. Better than anyone with his iron play (first in proximity to the hole), better than all but four players in greens hit, better than all but three in driving distance, not that his length has ever been a surprise.

His only blind spot, relatively speaking, was the “goalie” guarding every hole for the better part of 2 1/2 days, which was DJ’s unique way of saying that putts that could have gone in and should have gone in, simply, had not.

But that wasn’t a problem on Sunday as he began the day in the final group, a stroke behind Justin Thomas. There was a 15-footer at the second, 5 1/2-footer at No. 6, 29-footer at the eighth and 8-footer at No. 9 – all for birdie.

Just around siesta time in Mexico City, Johnson made the turn with a four-stroke advantage, his second victory of the season and place atop the world order all but assured.

That he stumbled bringing this title to the house only adds to the style points, with Johnson losing his four-stroke advantage in four holes to Jon Rahm. But he prevailed with a late birdie at the 15th hole to reclaim the lead and a clutch par at the last to keep it, which is what truly great players do.

“Starting the beginning of last year my game really has felt solid and it hasn't really let up any,” said Johnson, whose lead in the Official Golf World Ranking has now been extended to a decisive 2.36 points advantage. “I've got a lot of confidence in the game. I feel like I'm controlling my ball very well and I feel like my driver is a little straighter, which if I can drive it straight I'm going to play well every week.”

Johnson’s current run has been impressive – dominant, even. But like most hot takes, the view from 30,000 feet often provides a skewed perspective.

With a monsoon of respect, giving DJ the keys to the kingdom before the season’s first major would ignore so much.


WGC-Mexico Championship: Articles, photos and videos


It would gloss over the fact that Thomas already has three victories this season and said of his swing earlier this week that it made him want to “throw up” and yet he still found himself in contention late on a Sunday at one of the game’s biggest events.

That Rory McIlroy went from the trainer’s table and six-weeks of rehabilitation for a rib injury to in the WGC-Mexico hunt with a performance that the Northern Irishman admitted exceeded his own expectations.

“I was hoping to sort of improve as the week went on,” said McIlroy, who faded on Sunday with a 71 to tie for seventh in his first Tour start of 2017. “That was obviously the plan, that's the plan every week. I hit it pretty well every day. The course changed a little bit as the week went on. I didn't quite adjust to it.”

That Phil Mickelson is showing the kind of life that will make him much more than a novel pick at the Masters despite a tee ball that spent more time in the trees than an arborist. Lefty wasn’t entirely pleased with his tie for seventh place, but his optimism going forward is well-founded.

“This is a good tournament for me to build off of. It was disappointing yesterday, but to come back and play a good solid back nine and get a little bit of momentum now, I'm looking forward to the upcoming stretch,” said Mickelson, who at 46-years-old may still be the most entertaining player in the game.

That first-year Tour player Rahm may actually be better than advertised, as evidenced by his Sunday rally at Club de Golf Chapultepec that propelled the Spaniard into the lead late in the round until a pair of sloppy three-putts at Nos. 16 and 17 dropped him into a tie for a third.

That Jordan Spieth has finished inside the top 15 at five of his six starts this year (he was T-12 in Mexico), won at Pebble Beach by four shots and should be, regardless of the official line, the favorite next month at Augusta National.

Johnson might be the most underrated player of his generation, having won at least once every season since he joined the Tour in 2008. Only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus started their careers with that kind of consistency in the modern era.

On his way to victory, he had his golf ball get stuck in a tree just long enough to cost him a stroke at the 16th hole on Saturday, rolled in 137 feet of putts in Rounds 1 and 2 combined (16 feet less than Tyrrell Hatton rolled in just on Day 1) and began his week with a relatively pedestrian 70. Despite it all, he still claimed his fourth WGC title, second only to Woods, with a one-stroke victory over Tommy Fleetwood. But even after that performance, DJ acknowledged the champions-by-committee reality of today’s Tour.

“The competition is so good out here, they are all good players,” he said. “You look at a leaderboard and there are a couple of names you don’t want to see, mine would be one of them.”

One of them.

Winning last year’s U.S. Open turned a page in the novel that is DJ and he’s come by his lofty position atop the world heap honestly, but this is far from a one-man show. He might be the lead character in golf’s current production, but the marquee still has plenty of stars.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.