Journeyman McGirt poised for biggest payday of career

By Rex HoggardMay 11, 2017, 8:05 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – On Monday night William McGirt was having dinner with his manager in the clubhouse at Muirfield Village, site of his signature, and only, PGA Tour victory last June.

“I was sitting there staring at the 18th green trying to figure out how I got that ball up and down,” said McGirt referring to his sand save at the first playoff hole to win last year’s Memorial tournament.

To those with even a passing grasp of McGirt’s path to Tour winner, the bigger question is, "How did he get here?"

The 37-year-old father of two lapses into thought when asked how many mini-tours he played on his way to the Big Leagues. There was the Gateway Tour, Tarheel Tour, U.S. Pro Tour and Carolina Mountain Tour. The Carolina Pro Tour, All-Star Tour and Hooters Tour; and, yes, those are all real things.

He’s played tournaments on courses adjacent cattle ranches and farms and once on a layout that had goats wandering about the property.

“It was nothing to go out and play a practice round before a Tarheel Tour event and have some guys that had just gotten off work playing in front of you or behind you and they would be in work boots, a wife beater, and keys dangling from the hip,” he laughed. “My kind of people, honestly.”

Nor would he trade any of it for an easier path to the PGA Tour. In this case, McGirt is truly the sum of his parts – an undersized journeyman who never let the odds or the realities of the modern professional game dictate his path.

All of that work, all of that perseverance, paid off last summer with his breakthrough victory at Muirfield Village, where he was on Tuesday for the Memorial media day. There are some who would have politely skipped that type of commitment on the eve of The Players - the Tour’s marquee event - but not McGirt.

“When [Memorial tournament executive director] Dan Sullivan, called me about going to media day up there, Dan said, ‘I know it's a big week, I know it's The Players, yada, yada, yada,’” McGirt said. “I said, ‘Dan, I waited 38 years; I'm not missing, OK.’”

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In a strange way going back to Muirfield Village proved to be the perfect tune-up for this week’s event. In four starts at the event he’s sandwiched a pair of T-43s around two missed cuts and had just a single round in the 60s around TPC Sawgrass before Thursday’s outing.

With limited practice and even less sleep, McGirt played the more difficult opening nine in 3 under before hitting 3-wood onto the green at the par-5 12th and rolling in a “windmill” putt from 55 feet for eagle.

He added another eagle at the 16th hole before three-putting No. 18 to finish with a 5-under 67 and alone atop the leaderboard at golf’s “fifth major.”

What McGirt lacks in star power he easily makes up for with a folksy sensibility that defies the normal clichés that dominate the sports landscape.

“[No. 18] is what it is. Not a fan of that green. Never will be,” he said of his three-putt at the last.

When asked about his record at The Players, which has been a little mixed he quickly fired back: “A little?”

And his thoughts of the Pete Dye design: “I’ve hit some shots out here where you feel like you have to hit it with your right foot on your left shoulder and you have to hit it between your legs,” he laughed.

You can take the boy out of Boiling Springs, N.C., but you can’t take the Boiling Springs, N.C., out of the boy; or something like that.

McGirt may have made his way to the show, but he’s never lost touch with all those years of toil (he joined the Tour in 2011, 10 years after leaving college). Even after what has been a seminal year he remains the same guy who once put 100,000 miles on a Honda Passport chasing his mini-tour dream.

So far in 2017 he played his first Masters in April, where he was in second place after Round 1, his first Tournament of Champions in January and advanced out of group play at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in March on his way to a top-10 finish.

Back in his rough-and-tumble mini-tour days, a good week was “being able to eat somewhere other than McDonalds for dinner.”

“Every paycheck felt like it was $100,000 out there. Any time you made money, you got a check that covered what you put in and had spent, you felt great about it,” he said.

Thanks to a steady putter and signature gritty demeanor, he’s now 54 holes away from a $1.89 million payday; and maybe that’s the best measure of how far he’s come, if not how he got here.

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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.