A familiar duel

By Rex HoggardMay 10, 2011, 9:54 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – On Tuesday at Quail Hollow Lucas Glover and Jonathan Byrd dueled Davis Love III and Charles Warren in a friendly match, part of an ongoing bout that stretches back decades.

“Jonathan birdied the last to tie it,” Warren said in even tones. “Still hot about that.”

It likely gave Warren little solace that Glover and Byrd could have clipped any combination of PGA Tour two-balls this week – and did.

On a golf course fit for a major and against a leaderboard straight out of Grand Slam storage a pair of major players needed extra frames to settle things, with Glover edging his Clemson stable mate with a par on the first extra hole for his first victory since the 2009 U.S. Open.

It was a familiar outcome for the duo, who have been trading birdies and trying to get the best of each other since their junior days.

“In the South Carolina State Amateur one year we dueled it out all 18 holes,” Byrd recalled. “He won three years in a row, so obviously same outcome; Lucas won then. Lucas won today.”

But this one was anything but preordained.

Entering the Wells Fargo Championship Glover had missed three consecutive cuts and had posted just six top-10 finishes since Bethpage. In short, the swagger had faded, however slightly, and his soaring draws had been flying far too straight.

In the offseason Glover set about retooling his once-simple action with swing coach Mike Taylor but progress had been slow, if at all. His Tuesday draw against Love and Warren may have been worth a few style points, but there was little reason to have high expectations.

“As of Tuesday afternoon it was still kind of a struggle,” Glover admitted following his third Tour victory. “But I found something Tuesday afternoon.”

The key, as simple as it sounds, was to square the clubface at address. The result was four rounds in the 60s (67-68-69-69), the first time ever at the Wells Fargo, and an afternoon two-ball with Byrd. But he had predicted that.

As Byrd and Glover were warming up for Round 3 on Saturday the latter smiled, “Let’s get a tee time around 2 o’clock tomorrow.” He was only off by five hours, but it was worth the delay.

Playing in the group in front of Byrd, who began the final round with a one-stroke lead over Pat Perez, Glover birdied Nos. 7 and 8 to pull within a stroke of the top spot.

At the par-5 10th Glover walked in a 22 footer for eagle to move one clear of Byrd. What transpired the rest of the way probably looked a lot like that South Carolina Amateur, with the two trading birdies and bogeys with equal abandon.

Glover, who won a U.S. Open with his driver, rode his short game to Quail Hollow gold, putting on a clinic over the final three holes that would have made the late Seve Ballesteros, who was honored with a moment of silence midway through Sunday’s final round, proud.

Quail Hollow’s famed “green mile” turned out to be the longest mile for Glover – an up-and-down from behind the green at No. 16, a two-putt from 75 feet at the 17th and a nervy, dry-mouthed par at the last.

Clinging to a one-stroke lead Glover pulled his drive into a fan’s hip pocket, or so it seemed, at the last, flirted with Rule 18-2b (see Simpson, Webb) and managed a fist pump when his 10 footer for par dived into the cup.

Minutes later Byrd followed him into the hole for a birdie and the two marched back down the par 4 finishing hole. In OT, however, Byrd ran out of magic, hitting his drive into a bunker right of the fairway and narrowly missing a creek with his approach, leaving Glover a two-putt for victory that on Tuesday didn’t seem likely.

“He's had a difficult time the last year now, you know, off the golf course,” said Byrd, who closed with 72 to tie Glover at 15 under. “He's had to play through some things, and for him to come back and play as well as he did this week . . . I'm really proud of him.”

If Glover, whose three Tour tilts have all come from behind, doubted his ability to climb out of the depths of a misfiring game, those who know him never did.

“The dude’s got so much talent, he’s making up shots as he goes along,” Warren said. “He’s a pure athlete.”

If Tuesday’s epiphany gave him some much-needed confidence, his second-round 68 was a reason to forget the last 22 months. “He has that look in his eye,” Glover’s caddie, Don Cooper, said on Friday. “He’s hungry and it’s not for food.”

Glover’s victory capped a week filled with all manner of subtexts, silly and otherwise.

On Tuesday news swept over Quail Hollow that Rory Sabbatini had been involved in kafuffle with Sean O’Hair last week in New Orleans and would be suspended. He was not, at least according to the Tour’s “you can ask but we’re not telling” policy, and he closed with a round-of-the-day 65 to finish alone in third place at 14 under.

Perez, who ballooned to a closing 75 and was paired with Sabbatini and O’Hair in New Orleans, seemed to put the dust up in perspective.

“Sean O’Hair is one of the greatest guys in the world. I love playing with him,” Perez said. “And Rory has his moments. I’ve always gotten along with Rory, and I know how to deal with him and stuff like that.”

On Wednesday news from Spain that Ballesteros was struggling in his duel with a cancerous brain tumor further cast a pale over an event that is viewed, at least by many Tour frat brothers, as a bonifide mid-major.

“It's a sad day,” Ballesteros protégé Sergio Garcia said a day later after the legend had died. “We're all feeling for Seve's family. He's been suffering for quite a while now, so probably better that he's resting now.”

Players and caddies wore black ribbons to honor Ballesteros and the moment of silence, which came at 3:08 p.m. (ET), also served to give fans a respite from a revolving leaderboard.

Fittingly, it was two of their own that finished the story – one dressed in pink paints for Mother’s Day and the other sporting a beard that is on the Grizzly Adams side of rustic.

On the eve of Sunday’s fireworks Glover gathered with some friends at a house adjacent Quail Hollow’s 15th hole. Included in that group was a collection of Clemson fraternity brothers who began chanting “fear the beard” and “Go Tigers,” a call that’s been missing from Tour circles for some time.

At golf’s “Grand Slam light,” however, the hobbled guy in the red shirt, not to mention world No. 1 Lee Westwood, may have been the only thing missing. But that’s a debate for next week.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)