This time, Johnson overcomes controversial penalty

By Rex HoggardJune 20, 2016, 3:08 am

OAKMONT, Pa. – For a guy who’d found all manner of ways to lose a major, this was a stunningly new twist.

The man who can move a golf ball insanely long distances was drawn into a “he said, he said” with the USGA over a golf ball that nudged a fraction of an inch at the worst possible time on Sunday at the U.S. Open.

Did Dustin Johnson cause his ball to move as he prepared to putt on the fifth green?

Had he unwittingly run afoul of the rules, again, or were gravity and insanely fast greens to blame?

This time it didn’t matter. DJ made sure of that with a performance that will be remembered as equal parts surreal and special.

Johnson, the sometimes troubled and infinitely talented 31-year-old bomber who had come painfully short so many times, won his major in convincing fashion – closing with a 68-turned-69 thanks to a bizarre rules violation that nonetheless left him three strokes clear of the field.

Although never one to get caught up in minutia, Johnson would be forgiven if he recalls his Oakmont breakthrough as a four-stroke triumph – the margin he would have won by had he not run afoul of yet another rules snafu – but then the U.S. Open trophy thankfully doesn’t come with small print or asterisks.

Instead, Johnson will recall starting the final round four strokes adrift of Shane Lowry, who is best described as a jolly, bearded giant, following a worst-of-the-week 71 in Round 3.

Major championships aren’t won on Sunday mornings, but Lowry seemed to score a moral victory when he completed his delayed third round early on Father’s Day with two birdies over his final four holes for a four-stroke advantage.

U.S. Open: Full-field scores | Live daily blog | Photo gallery

But there are two things at Oakmont that are in short supply – trees and guarantees, no matter the size of one’s lead or heart.

For three days there was the distinct feeling that the golf world had thrown a party and the guest of honor was a no-show, with Oakmont playing soft and soggy.

Lowry entered the final turn at 7 under par, the same number eventual champion Ernie Els was going into Sunday at the ’94 Oakmont Open when the beast played to a beautiful par of 71.

For three days, however, Oakmont masqueraded as a par 70 that was left defenseless by torrential rains on Thursday.

But on Sunday Oakmont became painfully familiar, like a recurring nightmare or a visit to the dentist, and Johnson’s plan of persistent punishment worked to perfection.

“Winning any tournament, there's a lot of satisfaction, but to get it done in a major, especially I've been so close so many times, it's just an unbelievable feeling,” said Johnson, who dominated the field tee to green. “It's hard to even describe.”

Johnson birdied the second hole after driving to the edge of the green and he seemed to sidestep the type of fateful mistake that cost him in the past when his ball moved as he prepared to hit his par putt on the fifth green.

Johnson told the walking official he hadn’t grounded his club and he was advised there had been no rules violation, but we’ll come back to that.

A birdie at the ninth moved Johnson into a tie for the lead and Lowry continued his free-fall with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 9 and 10.

It was at the 12th tee when things began to unravel in far too familiar fashion for Johnson. There were no wayward drives, no untimely three-putts, no mental lapses which have haunted him in the past.

Instead, it was Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of rules and competition, who informed Johnson that officials planned to review the ruling from the fifth green after the round and that he might be penalized a stroke.

“We agreed that we were concerned about what we saw and felt obligated to have a conversation with Dustin about it, and the 12th tee presented the best opportunity to do that,” Hall said. “We told him that what we saw was a concern, but we also asked him a couple of questions.”

For seven holes Johnson, who steadfastly contended he did nothing to make his ball move and shouldn’t have been penalized, battled indecision, an increasingly difficult golf course and an assortment of some of the best players in the game – including world No. 1 Jason Day, who cut the lead to three strokes at one point.

Sergio Garcia, who also made a run on Sunday, once opined that he felt like he was playing more than the field at major championships.

On Sunday at Oakmont Johnson would have been forgiven if he felt similarly out-gunned against the field if not the rules committee.

“At that moment there was nothing I could do about it. Let’s just focus on that shot and go from there,” Johnson said. “This golf course is very difficult. It’s very difficult to close, so from 12 to 18 I just tried to focus on what I was doing.”

That Johnson would make the peculiar and largely panned ruling irrelevant with a dominant performance only added to a moment he’d been denied so many times.

For a player who some considered incapable of dealing - or unwilling to deal - with major championship pressure, Johnson put on a clinic in crisis management.

After three-putting the 14th hole for bogey, Johnson played a perfectly U.S. Open round of golf with pars at Nos. 15, 16 and 17 and a towering approach to 5 feet at the last.

The man who had three-putted the last green at last year’s U.S. Open to lose by a stroke, who grounded his club in a dirt-patch hazard and was penalized two strokes at the 2010 PGA Championship, who had stood on the edge of major glory so many times and failed, refused to allow fate and an unfavorable rub of the green to keep him from his major.

“Just one more thing to add to the list, right?” he figured with a smile born from his ability to overcome adversity.

Throughout Johnson’s eventful career, which now includes victories every year for nine consecutive seasons, he’d spoken of when, not if, he’d win a major and at Oakmont he broke free of the Grand Slam gloom on his own terms.

“It’s validation for all the work he’s done, on the golf course and off the golf course. Regardless of who you are each near-miss, and he’s always processed this stuff differently than anyone else, but the clock’s always ticking and the questions just grow and grow,” Johnson’s manager, David Winkle, said. “Now he will have a little bit of relief.”

When Johnson eased his birdie attempt into the hole at the last he flashed a rare show of emotion, hugged his fiancée and son and was met by Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA.

The moment was a perfect metaphor for so many years of frustration and major futility.

Congratulations on winning the U.S. Open, now add one.

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 a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder 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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.”

Getty Images

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?''