Reed to Euros: No blue for you

By Rex HoggardOctober 3, 2016, 12:31 am

CHASKA, Minn. – Born in Spring, Texas, educated in Georgia, and truly at home only in San Antonio, for three glorious fall days Patrick Reed played his frenzied role to perfection.

He was animated and angry, energized and endearing; the perfect tonic for America’s Ryder Cup woes if not the ideal epicenter for what turned into the game’s most raucous member-guest (think TPC Scottsdale’s 16th hole times 18).

From the outset of the 41st matches, U.S. captain Davis Love III stressed that each of his 12 players had a single job. For Reed, he may have exceeded even the most lofty job description.

The 26-year-old paired with Jordan Spieth to play all four team sessions, hauling his American stable mate across the finish line on Saturday afternoon with the type of performance that defines Ryder Cup careers, a masterpiece that included six birdies and an eagle through 17 holes.

He was even better on Sunday.

When Love marched Reed out in the day’s first match against Rory McIlroy, Europe’s undisputed heavyweight at Hazeltine National, the job parameters remained unchanged - win your match - but in practice the outcome was much more nuanced.

European captain Darren Clarke had to front-load his Sunday singles lineup with hopes that they could set an early tone for a comeback like the one that went the Continent’s way in 2012 at Medinah.

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An early American victory would be clutch; if Reed could keep McIlroy from running away with the match and posting an early European flag on the leaderboard, it would have a profound impact on the back end of Clarke’s lineup.

“It was important to get some excitement going in the beginning and get off to a good start,” Love said. “We knew they were going to load the boat, and we had to get off to a good start against them.”

There was a brief moment, just past the lunch hour, when Love & Co. had no American flags on the scoreboard and trailed in six matches. It was Medinah all over again.

Leave it to Reed, the U.S. side’s unlikely ace, to set the tone with a deafening performance. He eagled the fifth to square his match with McIlroy, birdied Nos. 6 and 7 to keep pace with the Northern Irishman and traded the week’s ultimate blow on the eighth hole.

From 50 feet, McIlroy – pushed to the limit by unruly fans all week and keen to push back – charged in a 50-footer for birdie. “I can’t hear you,” he roared at the masses. Moments later, Reed matched him with a 25-footer for birdie, followed by a finger wag in McIlroy’s direction.

So much show, so much swagger, so much spirit.

There’s no better theater in golf than the Ryder Cup, and for three days there weren’t two better leading men than Reed and McIlroy. If the Minnesota masses had a tendency to go too far, and they did, Reed’s antics only went to prove once and for all that it’s not indifference that has cost the U.S. team all these years. If anything, Reed and his frat brothers may care too much.

If you can want something only so much, Reed’s passion was boundless and infectious. But then he’s always been that way.

“He hates losing more than he loves winning,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach at Augusta State and still a member of his inner circle. “He’s a rock star playing pro golf. If he could play in a dome with people yelling at him, he’d love every single week.”

By the time Reed finally pulled away with a birdie at the 12th hole to take his first lead of the day, the rout was on with the U.S leading in seven matches and needing just five points to reclaim the cup.

The U.S. team motto all week at Hazeltine was “12 Strong,” and the box score suggests that was the case with every member of Love’s team earning at least one point. But when the line between obituary and ovation is so thin, the actions of a single man can often dictate the outcome.

Reed wanted to play McIlroy, he wanted to play early, it’s in his DNA. Love and fate delivered both and he took care of the rest in a frenzied blur befitting his budding Ryder Cup reputation.

His record in the transatlantic title bout now improves to 6-1-2 in two starts after going 3-1-1 at Hazeltine, and his reputation as a bona fide match-play closer has now reached urban legend proportions.

“I told Ian Poulter back in 2012 that he was built for the Ryder Cup, and I think Patrick Reed is built for the Ryder Cup, too,” Love said. “He's got that attitude.”

Some players are made for these high-pressure events, players like Reed who thrive on adversity and the harsh head-to-head reality of match play. There’s nowhere to hide or play it safe, just a glaring spotlight and an unrelenting opponent.

Reed wanted the pressure. He wanted the moment. He wanted to be Love’s guy out front nixing any possible European rally.

“My job was to not allow blue [European flags] to go on that board, I couldn’t allow blue to go on that board because I knew they needed me to come out and get that confidence going,” said Reed, his voice hoarse from three days of exuberance. “I knew if Rory went out and got a point, it just wasn’t good for our team. I had to do my part.”

As he headed up the 18th hole, his mission all but accomplished even with McIlroy still having a chance to scratch out a half point if he could win the final hole, Reed provided the perfect walk-off to his week, firing his approach shot to 5 feet and rolling in the birdie putt for a 1-up victory.

He’d done his job. He’d kept McIlory under his thumb, and helped lift the U.S. to its first victory in the biennial matches since 2008. He’d done it with grit and emotion. He’d earned the U.S. side’s Man of the Match honors and a new nickname – Minnesota wild.

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii, the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilders Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''