Spieth, McIlroy resume compelling, friendly rivalry

By Rex HoggardJanuary 20, 2016, 11:40 am

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Rory McIlroy famously lists his goals for the upcoming year on his boarding card on his way to his first event of the new season.

Whatever the Northern Irishman penned onto that card on his way to Abu Dhabi – reclaim the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, win that elusive green jacket and complete the career Grand Slam, steer clear of pick-up soccer matches – the simplest and most direct route to most of those goals is through Jordan Spieth, who McIlroy will be grouped with for the first two rounds at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

While the names have changed, it’s a familiar feeling for the world’s third-ranked player. Although the Middle East kickoff is early and far removed from the pressure that looms at Augusta National and beyond, there’s something to be said for announcing your presence with authority.

“Teeing off on Thursday morning, it's your first competitive shot in a couple of months. To tee up alongside those guys, the excitement. There's a buzz about it,” said McIlroy, who will also be joined on Thursday and Friday by Rickie Fowler. “It was sort of the same last year with Rickie and the previous couple of years it was with Tiger [Woods]. You're teeing off the first round of your season and it feels like you're right into the thick of things at the start.”

McIlroy would go on to explain that there are 142 other players assembled for this week’s lead-off event that he’s just as keen to beat, but it’s the metaphorical match with Spieth that will make Abu Dhabi the center of the golf universe this week.

Abu Dhabi HSBC: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth seemed to embrace the gravity of the moment a little more profoundly, figuring that it’s best to acknowledge the elephant in the room than try and dance around it.

“I'm very excited about the pairing,” Spieth said. “We very rarely get this pairing and very rarely will we get it going forward. So we'll take advantage and try and really feed off of each other. We all want to beat each other pretty bad, so that should help us out within our group.”

The two players have been grouped together 10 times on the PGA Tour, with Spieth holding a 5-3-2 advantage in those head-to-head match ups.

The competitive reality, however, is Spieth and McIlroy have never been paired together on the weekend, when it counts. Contrived Thursday and Friday groupings are great for fans and broadcast partners, but for this to escalate into a true rivalry there needs to be a mano-a-mano exchange on a Sunday afternoon, preferably during a major.

Still, McIlroy has made it clear his desire to ascend back atop the world rankings after losing the top spot late last season after being sidelined with an ankle injury that had him miss the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

But in simplest terms those types of esoteric goals tend to sort themselves out if the results on the golf course are there. In other words, beating Spieth would go a long way toward that end (although, according to the world ranking math McIlroy can’t overtake Spieth even with a victory this week).

“I've made no secret about I want to get back to that position, and I'd like to do it as quick as possible. So it's definitely a motivation,” said McIlroy, who admits to checking the world ranking each Monday as a way of tracking his performance.

For McIlroy, this week’s desert swing kickoff is very much a friendly confines deal. He’s won four times in Dubai, including last month’s DP World Tour Championship to complete his season on the European Tour, has finished runner-up four times in Abu Dhabi and spent the last two weeks in the United Arab Emirates preparing for his 2016 debut.

Yet what Spieth lacks in familiarity he’s made up for with impressive early-season form after beginning his year earlier this month with a commanding eight-stroke victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions that wasn’t even as close as the score might suggest.

Where the much-anticipated rivalry goes from here depends on whether the stars and each player’s game align at the right time, just don’t expect even a trace of contentiousness between the dynamic duo. Both are genuinely endearing characters who seem to share a fondness for each other.

Truth is, the closest the two will get to a scrum this week occurred on Tuesday when they competed in something called the Rider Cup Desert Challenge, which pitted an American tandem (Spieth and Fowler) against a European duo (McIlroy and Henrik Stenson) in a race on a motorized GolfBoard.

“Jordan nearly took me out,” McIlroy laughed. “We collided halfway down the fairway. Thankfully I didn't fall off. It was really good fun.”

The looming collision between Spieth and McIlroy won’t be nearly as dangerous, but it has the potential to be infinitely more compelling.

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Watch: Fathauer dunks one off flagstick for eagle

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 17, 2018, 7:45 pm

The NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest will take place Saturday night in Los Angeles, but Derek Fathauer kicked things off a little early with this eagle in the third round of the Genesis Open.

Playing his second shot on the par-4 third hole at Riviera Country Club, Fathauer dunked one off the flagstick and into the hole for an eagle-2:

The shot got the the 32-year-old, in search of his first PGA Tour victory, under par for the round and into the mix early on Moving Day.

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Luiten in three-way tie at Oman Open

By Associated PressFebruary 17, 2018, 4:17 pm

MUSCAT, Oman - Joost Luiten showed a return to form after a mediocre 2017 as he moved into a three-way tie for the lead in the Oman Open on Saturday.

The Dutchman shot a second straight 6-under 66 - the joint best score of the day - to move to 12-under 204. He was joined at the top by Matthew Southgate (69) and Frenchman Julien Guerrier (66) after the third round at the Greg Norman-designed Al Mouj Golf Club.

England's Chris Wood (69), another man on the comeback trail, was in fourth place at 11 under, but it could have been a lot better if not for a bogey-bogey finish. Adrian Otaegui (66) was a shot behind Wood while pre-tournament favorite, France's Alexander Levy (67), was at 9 under.

The 90th-ranked Luiten credited some hot iron play for his success after a cracked driver set him back last year when he had just two top-10 finishes the whole season.

Full-field scores from the NBO Oman Golf Classic

''I cracked my driver in my first tournament of the year in Abu Dhabi and it took me almost six months to get another one that I really liked. Once you are not driving the ball well, it puts pressure on other parts of your game,'' said the 32-year-old Luiten. ''My iron play did not get me into trouble at all today.''

Southgate was quick off the block with three birdies in his first three holes. But the Englishman then made two bogeys and a double bogey in his next four holes, and a birdie on the ninth saw him make the turn at even-par.

That forced him to think differently for the back nine and he was rewarded with three birdies.

''It was quite funny really,'' Southgate said. ''We birdied the ninth and I walked off and said to my caddie Gary ... 'We've just shot level par, so let's just pretend that we've made nine solid pars and that we haven't holed a putt and haven't made a birdie. Let's just start again on the 10th'.''

The 32-year-old Guerrier started his round with a monster 48-foot birdie putt and had an eagle, six birdies and two bogeys.

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J.Y. Ko increases lead; Lydia focuses on positives

By Associated PressFebruary 17, 2018, 3:33 pm

ADELAIDE, Australia - Jin Young Ko continued her domination of the Women's Australian Open, shooting a 1-under 71 Saturday to increase her lead to four strokes after three rounds.

The South Korean, who led after each of the opening two rounds of the LPGA tournament, had a three-round total of 11-under 205 at Kooyonga Golf Club.

Australian golfer Hannah Green moved into second place after the round of the day, a 66.

Green, 21, is seeking to become the first Australian to claim her national crown since Karrie Webb won the last of her five titles in 2014. Webb, who is playing a part-time schedule in 2018, missed the cut Friday by one stroke.

Green birdied her first three holes on Saturday and then added two more on the eighth and ninth. Two more birdies followed on the back nine with her only dropped shot a bogey on the 17th.

Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open

"I was very pleased with my ball striking," Green said. "I have put myself in contention so I'm very happy with how things are panning out.

"It was a real shame about Karrie missing the cut, but I know she has got different plans."

South Korea's Hyejin Choi (70), was tied for third, five strokes behind. Australia's top-ranked golfer Minjee Lee was tied for fifth after a 69, six off the lead.

Former No. 1 Lydia Ko shot a 71 and was eight strokes behind.

"It's always nice to be able to start the season on a good note, and I've obviously got tomorrow," Lydia Ko said. "Hopefully, I'll be able to finish off on a high note."

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Cantlay, McDowell, Saunders share lead at Riviera

By Doug FergusonFebruary 17, 2018, 3:51 am

LOS ANGELES - Tiger Woods waited 12 years to get back to Riviera and lasted only two days.

Woods had three straight bogeys early on the back nine Friday and didn't play well enough to make up for his misses. He had a 5-over 76 and missed the cut in the Genesis Open for the first time in nine appearances as a pro.

He was at 6-over 148, one shot worse than his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old at Riviera.

''I missed every tee shot left and I did not putt well, didn't feel very good on the greens,'' Woods said. ''And consequently, never made a run. I knew I had to make a run on that back nine, and I went the other way.''

Patrick Cantlay ran off three straight birdies toward the end of his morning round, starting with a tap-in on the par-3 sixth when he missed a hole-in-one by a fraction of an inch, and shot a 69. He was tied with Graeme McDowell (66), the former U.S. Open champion who is trying to work his way back from a two-year slump.

They were at 7-under 135.

Sam Saunders also was at 7 under, making back-to-back birdies until it was too dark to continue. He had three holes remaining in his second round. Ryan Moore bogeyed his final hole for a 68 and was one shot behind at 136.

Rory McIlroy overcame a few short misses on the front nine for a 69 and was at 2-under 140.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

Cantlay was coming off a three-putt bogey when his tee shot at the par-3 sixth - the hole with a bunker in the middle of the green - landed above the flag and to the right, and then rolled back down the slope just over the right edge of the cup.

''I actually missed a little to the right, but it's a bowl back there so as long as you get the number right, it should be pretty close,'' Cantlay said.

He followed with a short iron into 5 feet for birdie, a 15-foot birdie on the next hole and then a wild drive that led to a bogey on his final hole.

McDowell has gone 59 starts worldwide since his last victory and has fallen out of the top 200 in the world. He had missed four straight cuts dating to late last year, though he felt he was hitting it well in practice. What helped was seeing some good scores.

''All I'm missing is a couple little numbers and a little bit of confidence,'' McDowell said.

Defending champion Dustin Johnson shot a 69 and gets to stick around for the weekend. He was at 1-over 143. Bubba Watson, who won in 2014 and 2016, has fallen out of the top 200 in the world after a two-year drought. He shot a 70 and was at 4-under 138, and then headed for the NBA All-Star weekend to play in the celebrity game.