Garcia crashes Spieth's homecoming party

By Rex HoggardMay 23, 2016, 12:27 am

IRVING, Texas – Sports rarely stays on script.

If it did, Sunday’s bookend bro-mance would have ended with Jordan Spieth hoisting the trophy in his hometown event, just hours after Rory McIlroy scored his own emotional victory back home in Ireland.

McIlroy did his part, putting on a ball-striking show coming down the stretch at the Irish Open, roping fairway woods at the 16th and 18th holes on his way to a three-stroke victory, his first win in Ireland as a professional.

Spieth came up short. Well short.

The world No. 2 started the day two strokes off the lead in the day’s final group at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but bogeyed the third, fifth and eighth holes to make the turn five strokes off the pace.

He finished his day with a 4-over 74 and tied for 18th place, nearly equaling his best finish at an event he’s been attending, in one role or another, since he was a toddler.

“I almost matched my best finish in six starts here,” shrugged the crowd favorite who finished 16th when he was 16 years old at the Nelson in 2010.

But then moral victories did little to soften Spieth’s mood.

This was supposed to be a statement weekend for the world Nos. 2 and 3 following Jason Day’s masterpiece last week at The Players. The latter, McIlroy took care of his side of the exacta.

But choruses of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” were not intermingled with “The Eyes of Texas” late Sunday afternoon.

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

Instead, Sergio Garcia broke through for his first PGA Tour victory since the 2012 Wyndham Championship, edging 54-hole leader Brooks Koepka on the first extra hole after the hard-hitting American deposited his drive into a lake.

“Kind of stinks given I had a chance here at a hometown event,” Spieth said. “I haven't had great success here in the past. This was an opportunity, you can't win them all and certainly would have liked to have put on a little more of a display but, you know, just a tough day. Just an off day.”

To be precise, it was an off week for Spieth, at least tee to green. He ranked 55th out of 73 players in fairways hit (30 of 56) and managed to find just nine of 18 greens in regulation on Sunday.

For three days Spieth’s putter saved him, proving yet again that a solid short game can make up for even the most wanting ball-striking. But on Sunday that magic was absent.

It was a similar story for Koepka, who held a three-stroke lead at the turn but bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15 to slip into a tie.

“I really didn't have much the last 36 holes,” conceded Koepka, who closed with a 71 after posting rounds of 65-64-65. “I had no idea where the ball was going and you can't play out here when you're hitting it in the rough. You kind of play defensively. That's not really what you want.”

It would only make sense that Garcia would emerge from a crowded leaderboard that at one point on Sunday included six players tied for second place two strokes off the lead.

The Spaniard is among the game’s perennial best ball-strikers and his putting, which at times in his career could best described as suspect, was surprisingly consistent.

Garcia, who played his first professional event at the Nelson in 1999, won the tournament in 2004 and recorded his first Tour victory just down Interstate-30 at Colonial in ’01, has always had an affinity for the Tour’s Texas swing and his victory at the Nelson will be defined by his resilience.

Following bogeys at Nos. 2 and 4 to drop three strokes off the pace, Garcia birdied three consecutive holes starting at No. 5 to remain in the hunt.

The closing loop was even more of a grind, with not one but two shots into the water at Nos. 11 and 14, but he birdied the par-5 16th hole and moved into a share of the lead when Koepka dropped his third shot of the day at No. 15.

“That meant a lot the way I played coming down the stretch, it looked like he was 17 [under], I was going to be 14 [under] after 14 [holes] and to have a chance at the end it was nice,” Garcia said.

It didn’t have the emotional pull of McIlroy’s victory at The K Club, and one can only imagine Spieth’s demeanor had he finally solved his Dallas dilemma; but Garcia’s victory was not without a noticeable degree of satisfaction, as evidenced by his fist pump after putting out for par in the playoff.

“I've always said it, every win, doesn't matter even if you're playing in your backyard with friends, winning is always tough and winning here on the PGA Tour is probably the toughest,” El Nino said. “The fields nowadays, they're so much deeper than they ever were and it's so much harder to win. Every time you get one of these ‘Ws’ it's very special.”

It wasn’t the storybook finish one could have crafted, there was no tidy synergy that would have made Sunday a sentimental slam, but after nearly four years of near misses and narrow losses Garcia’s victory qualifies as a good story even if it didn’t stay on script.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

John Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge, and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means:

This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff. Rahm had missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18, his birdie bid found the cup.. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest:

A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day:Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day:

"One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.