Mid-term grades for PGA Tour - and beyond

By Rex HoggardApril 22, 2015, 12:30 pm

Although we are only one Grand Slam into the major championship season, this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans is the 23rd out of 47 PGA Tour events this season, which means it's time for GolfChannel.com’s annual mid-term grades.

Jordan Rules: Competitively, Jordan Spieth turned the corner from good up-and-coming player to bona fide superstar with his victory at the Masters.

His play at Augusta National capped off a run that included two victories (Masters and Valspar Championship) and two runner-up showings (Valero Texas Open and Shell Houston Open) and moved him to second in the Official World Golf Ranking.

But it was his decision to play last week’s RBC Heritage after his Masters whirlwind that seems to separate the 21-year-old from the rest of the pack.  It would have been easy, and understandable, for Spieth to skip the annual Hilton Head Island, S.C., stop, but then easy just isn’t his style. GRADE: A.

Young and restless: Lydia Ko turns 18 Friday, she’s won six times in the LPGA and is No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings. And just when you thought her tale was too good to be true, she revealed late last year that she will begin studying to be a psychologist.

Not that she seems to be taking anything away from her day job. She’s finished inside the top 10 in six of her seven starts this year, including a victory at the Women’s Australian Open.

Still, it’s good to have a Plan B. GRADE: A.

Task masters: Whatever the outcome of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force, and given the blueprint it may take a decade to fairly judge the moves made by the 11-member committee, there are a few immediate takes worth grading.

Task force member Davis Love III was named the 2016 U.S. captain, and while some questioned giving the 2012 captain a match mulligan he did receive the full support of the players, which may end up being the group’s most influential change.

Unfortunately, there was a fair amount of collateral damage that accompanied the changes. Officials shifted the qualification process away from the Tour’s fall events, robbing those tournaments of some much-needed cachet. GRADE: C+.

Searching for answers: A season that began with a colossal case of chipping woes and another injury-induced withdrawal from the Farmers Insurance Open took a turn for the better at Augusta National.

Although he bookmarked his week with 73s on Thursday and Sunday, Tiger Woods’ tie for 17th at the Masters was his best Tour finish since the 2013 BMW Championship and it was the first time he’d gone 72 holes since last year’s Open Championship.

Maybe most telling, however, was the zeal Woods showed when asked about this most recent hiatus from the game, which was caused by lapses in his game, not his body.

“I worked my ass off,” he said at Augusta National. GRADE: Incomplete.

Shhhh: At the Ryder Cup last fall Patrick Reed playfully silenced the partisan Scottish crowd and so far this season he’s shh’d the metaphorical noise after an eventful few months.

At the WGC-HSBC Champions in November he was criticized for a gay slur during the first round, and earlier this year a published report alleged a series of missteps during his college days, first at the University of Georgia and then at Augusta State involving potential cheating during qualifying rounds.

Reed apologized for the slur via Twitter, “I’m sorry for using offensive language;” lashed out at reports he cheated while in college, and maintained a competitive pace that now includes four Tour victories in the last 24 months. GRADE: B.

Match Play maker: Next week’s WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship will undergo an extreme makeover this year with a new format, venue and date on the calendar.

If early reviews are any indication, two out of three isn’t bad.

While Harding Park is a one-off stop for the event and many have applauded the format changes, it’s the Match Play’s new spot on the schedule, the week before The Players, that has some concerned.

Holding a World Golf Championship on the opposite coast the week before the circuit’s marquee event has likely upended many a travel schedule and adversely impacted the field for the Wells Fargo Championship, which will be played the week after The Players with a less-then-perfect field. GRADE: C+.

Making a statement: Following a six-month, self-imposed hiatus from the game, Dustin Johnson returned to the Tour at the Farmers Insurance Open and quickly quieted any doubters.

In his six starts since returning, Johnson has five top-10 finishes, including his first World Golf Championships victory at Doral, and a tie for sixth at the Masters, his best finish at Augusta National.

When Johnson left the Tour last year amid a cloud of uncertainty generated by a report on Golf.com that he’d been suspended for failing a drug test, allegations both Johnson and the Tour denied, it would have been easy to expect some early struggles, but DJ’s struggles seem to be behind him now. GRADE: A.

Olympic movement: Although grass is growing at the Olympic golf course in Brazil and officials are confident the construction delays that plagued the project have subsided, the venue is far from tournament ready.

A test event will be played Nov. 26-29 on the Gil Hanse-designed layout, but there is still no word on what that event may be and it’s doubtful officials could make any significant changes before next year’s Games.

Simply put, grass is growing at the Olympic course, but it’s far from grown. GRADE: C.

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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.