Old vs. Young on the PGA Tour
On consecutive days this week David Toms, 44, banished his Players Championship demons at Colonial and Davis Love III, 47, was one of eight players who qualified for July’s British Open. That DLIII’s back was spared the full 36-hole treatment by a storm is relevant only to his caddie and physical therapist.
The Tour’s marketing strategy this season has a distinct young vs. old overtone, fueled by a media guide that featured Jim Furyk (oldish at 41) and Rickie Fowler (the 22-year-old face of Generation Y-not), with a dash of Matt Kuchar (the Tour’s resident mid-pro at 32) thrown in. But as of late, age has started to hold its own with beauty in the “wins” column.
Toms’ victory on Sunday at Colonial was the second consecutive for a fortysomething following K.J. Choi’s, 40, victory at The Players’ All-40 finale.
“I'm going to have to go to my barber tomorrow and get something to cover this gray up. It has been a roller coaster,” Toms said following his eventful fortnight.
All total, the over-40 set has four victories this year compared to seven for the twentysomethings, a number padded by Nick Watney’s victory at Doral and Aaron Baddeley’s breakthrough in Los Angeles, both within a month of their 30th birthdays.
In fact, of those seven twentysomethings, none were younger than 26. The point? For all of Ponte Vedra Beach’s hype, golf does not set up well for generational clashes.
With apologies to Boston’s Tim Wakefield, the 44-year-old knuckleballer who held the Chicago Cubs to one run on the same day Toms held on to win his first Tour tilt in more than five years by one stroke, no other sport rewards experience over youthful energy like golf.
What else could explain Tom Watson, see Turnberry, 2009 Open Championship; or Greg Norman, see Royal Birkdale, 2008 Open? Or Fred Couples each spring at Augusta National?
If one doubts the resilience, or relevance, of experience then look no further than this year’s money leaders. 2001 called, it wants its money list back, with both Toms and Choi among this young season’s top 5 cash grabbers.
In some ways Toms’ Thursday and Friday three-ball at TPC Sawgrass was an apropos microcosm of how long in the tooth can clip long off the tee given the right conditions and the right golf course. For the first two rounds at The Players Toms outplayed Jason Day by five strokes and Anthony Kim to the tune of 16 shots, two of the circuit’s young gun poster-players who are a combined 48 years old.
“I watched those two guys hit 3-wood probably 70 percent of the time around the golf course, and that was the way for them to play the golf course,” Toms said on Friday at Sawgrass. “But for me it kind of evens out because if I was aggressive and hit driver and I could get it into the right spot, I was right there with them, so I wasn't way behind the guys all two days.”
In some ways, the threesome was a clinic of sorts for Day and Kim, if not those who wish to rush the next class to the top of the heap without the proper competitive vetting.
“On No. 4 on Thursday he hits this drive down the left side and he’s maybe 10 yards left of where he was aiming and he was like, ‘Bite,’” Day recalled. “I’m like come on. How good is this guy flushing it? He hits that little cut and he’s a silly putter.”
Bomb and gorge may be the future, but a baby cut and hot putter has no expiration date.
Even Tiger Woods, who after four knee surgeries and another extended stay on the disabled list is starting to look every bit his 35 years, took the long view on Tuesday when he was asked about his chances to reach Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships: “It took Jack over what, 24 years, 23 years to do what he did. It takes time. I still have plenty of time, and I feel that going forward I'm excited about playing major championships and playing golf again. I just want to be healthy and solid, and I feel like I can give it a go.”
The Tour’s desire for new blood – particularly considering Woods’ extended slump, which is now at 20 official Tour events without a trophy presentation, the longest of his career – is certainly understandable. Just don’t expect the old guys to go quietly.
Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggardGC
Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.
The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up right 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."
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.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
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.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
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.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
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.
“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.