Koepka relishes chance to prove himself

By Rex HoggardFebruary 1, 2014, 3:26 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – He’s had to add more pages to his passport, while stockpiling enough sky miles to buy his own airline, and along the way he has side-armed the status quo with a trailblazing spirit that would make both Lewis and Clark blush.

All things considered, it’s been pretty standard stuff for Brooks Koepka.

“He didn’t have much of a junior record, and I told him I would be limited as to what I could do for him with a scholarship,” Florida State golf coach Trey Jones recently told your scribe. “He told me, ‘Don’t give me anything, I just want a place to play.’”

And play he has.

Koepka blazed his way through the Challenge Tour last year, winning three times on the secondary circuit to earn status on the European Tour. He also took a two-stroke lead into the final round of last fall’s Frys.com Open, the opening PGA Tour event for the 2013-14 season.

Dubai Desert Classic: Articles, videos and photos

Although he closed with a 1-over 72 to tie for third at the Frys, the long-hitting American didn’t spend much time lamenting his loss. He got back to work in December at the Thailand Golf Championship and set out this week on the back end of a month in the Middle East at the Dubai Desert Classic.

A second-round 65 pulled him to within one shot of the lead held by Rory McIlroy and midway through his round on Saturday he held a share of the lead for a time on a windy afternoon, but Koepka bogeyed three of his last seven holes to finish with a 2-under 70.

He will begin Sunday’s final turn tied for third and four strokes behind frontrunner Stephen Gallacher. Or, put another way, pretty much exactly where he wants to be.

If nothing else, Koepka is a gamer. He shares a house in south Florida with fellow European Tour standout Peter Uihlein and, on the rare occasions they are home together, the duo go head-to-head at every turn.

“Everything is competitive in that house,” he smiled.

It’s in Koepka’s DNA. Winning is the ultimate goal, but primarily he is driven to compete, which is why Sunday’s deficit in Dubai, or his late struggles in Round 3, didn’t seem to bother him.

“He loves to compete,” said Claude Harmon III, Koepka’s swing coach. “Anything, he just likes it. He goes out today and he played with Rory (McIlroy) and he’s freewheeling. He drives the green at the (par-4) second hole. It’s what he lives for.”

Koepka’s road less traveled motors down familiar lanes following Sunday’s final round, however the birdies and bogeys may fall.

According to his manager with Hambric Sports, Koepka will head home to south Florida and, depending on his finish on Sunday, is hoping to play the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

He is currently 93rd in the Official World Golf Ranking and would likely need a victory to crack the top 64 and earn a trip to Tucson. Ironically, if he does land a spot at the year’s first World Golf Championship he could bump Uihlein, who is 66th in the world but missed the cut in Dubai, out of the field.

After that he plans to play the Honda Classic and Puerto Rico Open, both on sponsor exemptions, before returning to the European Tour in Asia after the Masters.

It’s also worth noting that even his vagabond ways are a bit of a competition. By his best estimates, he figures he's played in 21 different countries since leaving Florida State. He’s eaten horse in Kazakhstan - cue the Borat jokes - hoisted trophies in Scotland, Spain and Italy; and has no intentions of trading in his European Tour card for the safer confines of the PGA Tour.

“No, I’m going to stay out here. I want to do it like Adam Scott did it,” Koepka said.

But make no mistake, Koepka is not a natural road warrior. Without a hint of hyperbole, he admits he struggles with jet lag, so much so he’s been in the United Arab Emirates for nearly a month to acclimate to the time zone.

“I do,” he smiles. “It’s so bad. You laugh, but I really do have a hard time with jet lag.”

Golf, on the other hand, has appeared amazingly easy to him, even under the most intense lights. Saturday in Dubai, for example, being paired with McIlroy was almost second nature. It’s a lesson he learned while paired at last year’s PGA Championship with Tiger Woods in the final round.

“When I was playing with Tiger I got caught watching him. I’d watched him my whole life; it was just natural,” he said. “But I learned from that. I learned just to focus on my own game and not pay attention to anyone else.”

And his next lesson is just a day in Dubai.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)