Tiger survives 'flinch,' leads at Bay Hill

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2012, 9:27 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – “A kid fainted, a lady yelled, I flinched.”

If that sounds like the dramatic beginnings of a low-budget Hollywood thriller you’re not too far off. Tiger Woods’ less-than-embellished assessment of what happened in a split second on Bay Hill’s 15th tee is historically accurate and, more to the point, metaphorically apropos as the final stop on the Florida Swing moves into its final lap.

With a three-stroke lead over Graeme McDowell, Woods, who had bogeyed the 14th hole, began his backswing just a teen-aged boy passed out near a concession stand behind the 15th tee. A woman yelled and Woods pulled his tee shot left into a yard adjacent the fairway.

Woods signed for a double bogey-6 and briefly gave up a share of the lead to McDowell a hole later.

“I tried to stop (the swing), but I was past the point of no return and flipped it out of bounds,” said Woods, who finished with a 71 for an 11-under 205 total. “It was a solid day. Just happened to have one little fluke thing where a kid passed out.”

Officially the Tour calls what happened next “bounce back,” a statistic that measures the number of times a player follows an over-par hole with an under-par hole. But Woods’ birdie at the par-5 17th lifted him one shot clear of the Ulsterman and salvaged what was quickly becoming a runaway.

Instead of a four-stroke (or more) cushion, Woods will begin Sunday’s turn a shot ahead. In political terms, it’s a statistical dead heat.

Sure, McDowell ran down Woods when he was four down through 54 holes at the 2010 Chevron World Challenge. But that was a “one-dimensional” player who had been on Sean Foley’s watch for less than four months at a limited-field silly event.

“(In 2010) I had just started working with Foley so I was very new to the mold,” Woods said. “I only had one pattern at the time. Now I’ve got much more variety in my game.”

The new Woods is showing a surprising amount of savvy in recent weeks. Although he wasn’t as sharp on Saturday as he was on Friday, when he hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation and had a birdie, or eagle, putt on every hole, he played the type of round that could have made Sunday a formality if not for a 15th-hole “fluke.”

The new repertoire includes an updated version of the stinger shot, which he hit on numerous occasions Saturday, and a surprisingly conservative game plan.

“I wasn’t aggressive hardly any,” Woods said. “It was just too firm. I just relied on my lag putting.”

Well putting, and historical context that would suggest that regardless of his prolonged victory slide Woods is still the easy bet on Sunday.

He is 48-for-52 with a 54-hole lead and on the half dozen occasions he has won at Bay Hill just once (2009) he began the final round without at least a share of the lead.

There are other numbers, however, that suggest, as foregone conclusions go, Woods may be something short of a lock. In January he began the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship tied for the lead but faded into a tie for third and having GMac in the final pairing will only serve to remind him of his 2010 miss at Sherwood Country Club.

“There’s a familiarity of Tiger Woods being on the leaderboard every week, but that’s what he did when he was at his best, up until a few years ago,” McDowell said. “It’s been a weird couple of years without him kind of competing . . . I know he says he’s not on a comeback, he’s been around for a long time, but he’s still got to win.”

A victory on Sunday would be Woods’ first official Tour title since the 2009 BMW Championship, a run of 30 months filled with questions and doubt and more than one missed opportunity.

Late Saturday Woods was asked what a long-awaited “W” would mean, “It would mean No. 72 (Tour title). Not a bad number, either.”

This time he’s hoping he doesn’t flinch.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.