Kirk wins Deutsche Bank, is Ryder Cup next?

By Rex HoggardSeptember 1, 2014, 11:35 pm

NORTON, Mass. – If anyone needs tickets to the Georgia-Tennessee game on Sept. 27 in Athens, Ga., Chris Kirk may have one to unload depending on how things play out on Tuesday in New York City.

The fourth-year PGA Tour player emerged from a crowded and convoluted leaderboard on Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship to claim his third title and a spot at the table when Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson huddles in the U.S. war room on Tuesday to make his final three picks for this year’s matches, which will be played the same weekend as the SEC East tilt which Kirk is currently planning to attend.

The Georgia alum had been something of a long shot to land one of Watson’s coveted picks, the byproduct of his pedestrian play of late (he hadn’t posted a top-10 finish since June) and his status as a Ryder Cup rookie.

Watson hasn’t telegraphed much over the last few weeks in the run up to Tuesday’s announcement, but the one outlier has been his perceived aversion to picking a first-timer for what promises to be unfriendly confines for the U.S. team.

On Monday, Kirk may have changed the captain’s mind thanks to a near-flawless closing loop at TPC Boston.

Although he began the day just two shots behind Russell Henley, conventional wisdom pegged Rory McIlroy, playing in the penultimate group, and Jason Day as the favorites. But as Henley slowly faded it was Kirk, along with Billy Horschel and Geoff Ogilvy, who emerged as the front-runners.

Updated FedEx Cup playoff points standing

Deutsche Bank Championship: Articles, videos and photos

Kirk grabbed a share of the lead at the ninth hole with a 10-footer for birdie and pulled ahead of the pack with another birdie at No. 13.

“My birdie putt on 13 definitely kind of got me going, got me a little bit feeling like I could do it,” said Kirk, who closed with a 66 to finish at 15 under par.

Horschel, who was also looking to make an impression on Captain Tom as well as pad his FedEx Cup chances, matched Kirk shot-for-shot. When the two traded birdies at the 15th (Horschel) and 16th (Kirk) holes at virtually the same time, it became clear TPC Boston’s closing hole would be the swing vote.

Playing in the group ahead, Kirk’s drive found the rough along with his lay up and he was unable to convert his birdie putt at the 18th hole.  Horschel watched Kirk’s par from the middle of the 18th fairway and proceeded to “lay sod” over his second shot which found a hazard.

“I just stayed in the shot a little too long,” said Horschel, who made bogey at the last and closed with a 69. “I hit it good enough today to win and it’s just a little unfortunate it ended like that.”

Ogilvy – who has been playing the role of the 2011 New York Giants, the 9-7 wildcard darlings who won that season’s Super Bowl, in these playoffs – also made a run at the title, grabbing a share of the lead with a 9-footer for birdie at the 13th hole but also came up short at the par-5 finishing hole.

Needing a birdie to keep pace with Kirk, who teed off 40 minutes before the Australian, Ogilvy hit a Winged Foot-like chip from left of the green that hit the flagstick and rolled to 5 feet. The only thing missing was Phil Mickelson airmailing drives into corporate tents and Colin Montgomerie mumbling to himself.

Well, that and the birdie putt, which Ogilvy missed – but it wouldn’t have mattered after Kirk birdied the 16th hole. Still, for Ogilvy, who began the playoffs 90th on the FedEx Cup point list and grabbed the final spot into the Deutsche Bank Championship at No. 100, his runner-up finish was a reason to be optimistic.

“Nine days ago I wasn’t playing again until Napa ( Open in October) so that’s a good result,” smiled Ogilvy, who vaulted to 24th on the points list. “You come into this event 100th, you’re probably the last guy, statistically, expected to play the BMW.”

Whether you favor the concept of playoff golf or not really doesn’t matter at this juncture, the powers have delivered on their promise to round up the top players at a time they normally wouldn’t and deliver drama, however contrived.

Consider the plight of Ben Crane, who at 78th on the FedEx Cup points list to start the week was outside the cut off for next week’s BMW Championship. He birdied the 17th hole on Monday to assure him a spot at the third playoff stop and then made a mess at the last on his way to a double bogey and final-round 72.

At first officials told Crane he would remain inside the top 70; then he was out; then he was back in when Jordan Spieth missed a 16-footer for birdie on the 18th hole. He finished 69th, five points ahead of No. 71 Robert Streb who was bounced by a combination of late birdies by McIlroy and Day and confusing math.

“I wanted to move on. I left it up to someone else which is frustrating but that’s the game we play,” said Crane, who tied for 29th place.

Similarly, Kirk’s Ryder Cup plight is now in Watson’s hands.

“I certainly don't feel entitled or feel like I'm a shoo-in to get a pick. I obviously really put myself into consideration and it's something that I would love to do,” said Kirk, who finished 14th on the Ryder Cup point list and will likely be vying for the final spot along with the likes of Webb Simpson and Bill Haas, who both finished tied for ninth at TPC Boston.

“Like I've said before, I mean the nine guys that made it are automatic picks, those are the guys on the team. The other three, if you get in, it's a bonus.”

Just to be safe, if you know anyone who needs tickets to the Georgia-Tennessee game they may be in luck.

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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.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.