Hooks & Cuts: Ballin' at the Sony

By Rich LernerJanuary 9, 2014, 3:43 pm

HONOLULU – After island hopping from Maui to Oahu for this week’s Sony Open, here are a few Hook & Cuts, including a little basketball fun.

• Zach Johnson’s the “Together Man.” He’s got it together physically, tactically and spiritually.

• During the FedEx Cup Playoffs late last season I asked Jordan Spieth to explain his success. He said, “I try to play a veteran’s game.” That means he plays to the correct side of a fairway to better access the hole location, doesn’t fire at every flag and tries not to short-side himself. That means Spieth thinks clearly.

• The Tour’s resident humorist, Paul Goydos, returning to action after a year and half away to repair his left hand, took note of all the strapping young talent milling about at the Sony Open: “They all look like 20-year-old middle linebackers.” 

• Remember Ryo Ishikawa? He’s been forgotten as countryman Hideki Matsuyama’s soared. They’re good friends, and yes, Ishikawa says that Hideki’s success has motivated him. “It gives me energy,” he said. “He’s a huge talent.” Ishikawa’s healthy after being hampered by back issues early last year – able now to practice more rigorously – and he did show promise late last season with a strong performance in Las Vegas.  Ishikawa played the Presidents Cup when he was 18, and played well. Now 22, he joked, “I’m getting old.”

• Roger Cleveland has built and sold his share of wedges and he’s noticed, as many of us have, a marked improvement in short-game artistry across the Tour. “Wedges are getting better and so is technique,” he said.  Pat Perez, working with Cleveland, added, “Just about everyone out here can hit it. Your short game HAS to be better.”

• Sean O’Hair tuned up for the Sony Open after a four-day match against three scratch-handicap buddies at PGA West in La Quinta. It was their best ball of three against him. The pro won. The pros are good.

Sony Open: Articles, videos and photos

• John Daly knows a little basketball. On his golf bag, he displays the logos of his favorite teams – University of Arkansas, Dallas Cowboys, St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Celtics. I asked him for his favorite Celts and he said, “Tough to beat Bird, Parrish and McHale.” I replied that I loved how Kevin McHale used to hold the ball above his head, survey the floor and then turn, shoot and score. Daly noted, “That’s because his arms were longer than his legs.”

• Guan Tianlang, engaging and speaking good English, told me he’s added 10 yards to his tee ball since the Masters. He’s done some training at the Titleist Performance Institute in California and has added eight pounds to his frame. At this point, his plan is to go to Florida, where he’ll work with Sean Foley. He didn’t rule out the possibility of going to high school in the United States.

• Andrew Loupe, a long hitter out of LSU, echoed the prevailing rookie sentiment as they continue their PGA Tour journeys this week at Wailae Country Club. “This is something I worked for since I was a kid,” he said. “I used to say, ‘This chip to win the Masters.’” It’s a big moment for his family, too. “My dad always took me to the course, starting when I was 3 years old.”

• Goydos on Johnson: “Inside 150 yards it’s a par 2.”

• Jordan’s not the only athletic Spieth. His brother Steven’s a starting freshman guard at Brown University, averaging a respectable six points, five rebounds and three assists per game.

• Guan spoke effusively about the lengthy conversation he shared with Jack Nicklaus at the Memorial last spring. “He told me that golf shouldn’t be the only focus in my life,” said Guan. “He said it’s important to have friends, to enjoy other sports and do other things.”

• When I watch Johnson, I’m reminded of the legendary former Princeton basketball coach, Pete Carill, who used to back-door bigger and faster opponents to death. He wrote a book that perfectly applies to Zach. It’s entitled, “The Smart Take From the Strong.”

• As long as we’re weaving a basketball thread, I recently shot a story with one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, Rick Barry. It will air on “In Play with Jimmy Roberts” in the near future. Barry’s almost 70 and a Masters Division long-drive champion, regularly belting 340-yard drives. What’s his NBA all-time starting five?  Wilt, Russell, Magic, Michael and Rick. That’s right. LeBron comes off the bench and spells Rick Barry at small forward. The best give no quarter. And Barry was one of the best, averaging 40 before the three-point line in the 1967 finals against Wilt Chamberlain and that great 76er team. 

• I still play in a men’s league. We don’t say, “Hey, hustle back on D.” We say, “When you get there, you get there; take your time.”  

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.