If not Doral, where? Players pick favorite courses

By Rex HoggardMarch 10, 2015, 7:50 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – To be clear, the new and infused Blue Monster at Doral is not going to be winning any popularity contests among the play-for-pay types.

Don’t take our word for it.

“I can't stand the golf course,” Bubba Watson said last week. “It's way too tough for me.”

And J.B. Holmes, after a particularly bad bounce on the first hole during Friday’s second round, was equally critical, “It's pretty bad that you can hit two perfect shots and the ball can go in the water because of just a ridiculous green design that’s really just terrible.”

That Watson and Holmes finished third and second, respectively, on Sunday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship is an indication of how deep the discontent with course runs. A large number of Tour frat brothers have offered even less measured assessments of TPC Trump.

There were even rumors last week that the severity of Gil Hanse’s redesign may lead some players to skip the Cadillac in the future, although it’s status as a World Golf Championships event with no cut and guaranteed money would make that unlikely.

In fact, in a wildly unscientific poll of Tour players this week, Doral was ranked alongside dental surgery as a means to kill a few hours. In a hypothetical exercise, your scribe asked a half dozen players what schedule they would play if the golf course, not an event’s status as a major or WGC, was the only consideration.

“Memorial (Muirfield), Colonial, Quail Hollow, Riviera, TPC Sawgrass, Hilton Head (Harbour Town), Pebble, Phoenix (TPC Scottsdale), Hartford (TPC River Highlands), Tampa (Innisbrook), Augusta ... Akron (Firestone), Crooked Stick, because it’s in my home state, and (TPC) Boston and East Lake,” said Bo Van Pelt with surprisingly little prompting.

Brandt Snedeker’s “dream schedule” would include similar stops, Augusta National for the Masters, Harbour Town for the RBC Heritage, East Lake for the Tour Championship, but there were exceptions.

Doral was not on Snedeker’s list. Doral wasn’t on anyone’s list.

“I do a pretty good job playing where I want to play, but sometimes it’s travelling, sometimes scheduling plays a big role in it,” Snedeker said. “If you have five great events in a row, you can’t play them all. Memphis (TPC Southwind) is a great golf course, but it’s the week before the U.S. Open.”

With the exception of Jason Bohn, no one mentioned Bay Hill, which hosts the Arnold Palmer Invitational, any of their must-play lists.

In fact, some of those polled didn’t include Augusta National, pointing out that the golf course now plays much more difficult following a series of alterations in recent years.

That’s not to say players have anything against a difficult golf course.

“I play the Honda; it eats me alive, but it’s a high-quality test of golf,” Bohn said.

But it’s telling that some of the Tour stops that don’t draw the best fields - stops like Harbour Town, Colonial, TPC River Highlands and this week’s event at Innisbrook - nonethless showed up on every player’s wish list, while more high-profile stops like Doral and Torrey Pines don’t enjoy the same universal support.

Despite an impressive bump in field quality for this year’s event – five of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are playing the Valspar Championship – the event traditionally struggles to attract top players. Still, it was included on every player’s “dream” list.

“It’s all based on golf course,” Bohn said. “All the golf courses I like are traditional-style golf courses that yield to shot making, tournaments where low scoring is not guaranteed to win. Harder and shorter, because I’m older.”

Lists also varied from player to player depending on individual styles. A player like David Toms, who won a PGA Championship on the strength of his wedge play, tends to steer clear of sprawling ballparks like Doral and Bay Hill.

“There’s not that many left for me and the type of player that I am,” said Toms, who rattled off a predictably short list of favorite venues - Colonial, Harbour Town, Innisbrook and Pebble Beach.

“Length is such a factor now, you saw it last week. You had the best players in the world and there were only a handful that could have won that golf tournament. It’s a small list for sure.”

By contrast, Lee Westwood – who ranks among the Tour’s top third in driving distance – would look elsewhere to expand his schedule given the opportunity.

“There would be the odd exemptions," he said. "I’d probably play Torrey Pines a bit more often. That seems to suit me.”

Based on exit polling on Sunday at Doral the new Blue Monster suits few but don’t expect a collective schedule overhaul anytime soon. It is, after all, a WGC.

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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.