Finally, Compton a Masters participant not a viewer

By Rex HoggardApril 6, 2015, 6:27 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Chris Haack’s interest in the Masters goes well beyond that of a normal fan of azaleas, pimento cheese and Sunday roars.

Haack is the head golf coach at the University of Georgia and could field a team with the number of former Bulldogs in this week’s field.

“Six,” Haack laughed on Monday when asked about the number of former players with tee times at Augusta National. “I’ve got a reserve.”

But of all the former Georgia players – a list that includes defending champion Bubba Watson, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk and Brendon Todd – Haack’s professional impartiality gives way to heartstrings when it comes to picking a favorite.

Erik Compton was on the 2000 and ’01 Georgia teams that won consecutive Southeastern Conference titles, and at 35 years old is among the 18 Masters rookies at this week’s tournament.

He’s also, after Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, the most compelling story.

Although his play this season, five missed cuts and just a single top-10 finish in 12 starts, leaves Compton well short of contender status, the fact that he even earned a ride down Magnolia Lane is a reason to appreciate his accomplishment.

Anyone who tuned in during last year’s U.S. Open can recite Compton’s tale – as a 12-year-old he suffered from viral cardiomyopathy and underwent heart transplant surgery; he had his second heart transplant in 2008.

That first procedure came four years after Compton watched the Masters for the first time. He’s never missed a telecast since, but that streak has been harder and harder to maintain in recent years.

After a lifetime spent trying to earn a start at the Masters, Compton began coming to grips with the reality that it may never happen following his second heart surgery.

“It’s kind of hard to believe that my first Masters is at 35 and everything that I've gone through; and there's times where I never thought I would ever play in the Masters,” he said. “There were times where it was tough to watch it on TV, as a player but not as a fan.”

His breakthrough came last June when he battled Martin Kaymer on Sunday at the U.S. Open to finish tied for second place and end his Masters wait.

It’s a measure of Augusta National’s relevance to Compton that he was the third group off on Monday morning. That’s after playing four out of the last five weeks on legs that don’t recover the way they once did.

Conserving energy, almost as much as converting 4- footers, is a part of every week’s game plan for Compton, particularly at a place that is as draining as it is mesmerizing. But Compton doesn’t figure that will be a problem by the time Thursday’s opening tee time rolls around.

“Sometimes in a regular Tour event, I've been known to lose focus and fall asleep,” conceded Compton, who made a scouting trip to Augusta National earlier this season. “Here, I think I'm happy with my form. I was a little concerned about the length of this golf course and how hard it is to walk, but when you have adrenaline and you have people rooting you on, it makes the week easy.”

Motivation, or maybe it’s energy, won’t be a problem, not here. Not at a place he’s been fixated on since he had his original heart. Not at a place he first experienced as a freshman when Haack and the team made the annual trip over from Athens, Ga., to play the iconic layout.

“I remember taking every one of those guys because when they are a freshman I want to see the reaction,” Haack said when asked about Compton’s first trip to Augusta National. “It’s the same with everyone, their jaws are dropping and they are just in such disbelief with everything. They are afraid to take a divot.”

More than most, Haack understands that Compton’s maiden trip to the Masters goes beyond the normal first-timer’s honeymoon.

Even as a freshman at Georgia it was a well-established reality that Compton’s career, which held tremendous potential following a stellar amateur career, would always be held hostage by his precarious medical history.

When he was forced back onto the heart donor list in 2008 many, including Compton, thought his career, as well as his window to play the Masters, had closed.

It’s what makes this first trip to the former fruit nursery so special.

“With Erik, because of his situation and what he has been through, he appreciates every opportunity he gets,” Haack said. “The U.S. Open was special but the Masters will probably be more special. No matter what happens I’m sure it will be a very a special week.”

It will certainly be a different week. After 26 years, Compton’s streak comes to an end. “It’s going to be weird not watching the Masters,” he smiled.

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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.