Bogey-free Noh poised for Sunday duel with Bradley

By Ryan LavnerApril 27, 2014, 12:19 am

AVONDALE, La. – Seung-Yul Noh flirted with disaster late Saturday. His final drive of the day splashed down in the bunker, only a few feet from a pond, and he sighed deeply upon learning it was safe. 

His par, and bogey-free start secure – the Noh-Noh still intact – the 22-year-old Korean is now on the verge of joining elite company and becoming the latest under-25 winner on the PGA Tour.

After another blemish-free day at TPC Louisiana, Noh’s 7-under 65 Saturday was good enough for a two-shot lead at the Zurich Classic, an event that could soon produce a first-time winner for the seventh time in a decade.  

If he can la-di-da his way around TPC Louisiana again Sunday, Noh will become the first player since Charles Howell III (2010) to play all 72 holes without a dropped shot. Even more historic: If he wins in bogey-free fashion, he’d be the first since Lee Trevino in 1974.

“I’m very ready for tomorrow,” he said.

All that matters now, of course, is that he’s staked to his first-ever 54-hole lead on Tour. At 18-under 198, he is two clear of Keegan Bradley. Robert Streb is another shot behind.

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No player this week has put on an iron clinic quite like Noh, who has hit at least 14 greens in each round. On Saturday he was practically throwing darts, landing 10 approach shots within 15 feet of the cup. On the back nine, when he came home in 32 to extend his lead to two, he stuck iron shots within 10 feet on Nos. 15, 16 and 17. 

When asked about his iron play, Noh offered a sheepish grin. “Just this week,” he said, though the stats tell a different story: He is ranked 24th on Tour in greens hit, and he is in the top 10 in proximity to the hole from both 100-125 yards and 175-200.

“His iron play is off the charts right now,” said caddie Scott Sajtinac, in his first week looping for Noh. The veteran caddie, who has worked in the past for Trevor Immelman and Stuart Appleby, said he has been impressed by Noh ever since the kid landed on Tour full-time in 2012.

“Everybody knows he’s good,” Sajtinac said. “He’s the real deal. It’s just coming together this week.”

If Noh can close the deal Sunday – a tough task for 54-hole leaders this season, with just 10 of 22 players holding on to win – he will become the fourth under-25 winner this season, joining Harris English (24), Russell Henley (now 25) and Patrick Reed (23).

Inexperience hasn’t proved an obstacle to Noh in the past, however. In 2010, he became the second-youngest winner in European Tour history when the then-18-year-old captured the Malaysian Open. That year he also topped the Asian Tour Order of Merit, and the next season he earned his PGA Tour card via Q-School.

Noh had a promising rookie campaign, finishing 49th in earnings, but he struggled immensely in 2013. By finishing outside the top 150 in FedEx Cup points, Noh was briefly sent back down to the minors, but he won one of the Tour’s Final Series events to regain his playing privileges.

“It was a very good experience,” he said. “I learned from that time.”

This season has been steady, unspectacular, with just one top 10 in 13 tries. Earlier this month, after a wrist-related WD from Houston, Noh returned to Korea for two weeks with his parents and a friend. He emerged “very clean” mentally and excited about resuming his season.

A good thing, because few players on Tour are as amped up – or, now, as hungry – as his closest pursuer. Two shots behind, the 27-year-old Bradley says this is an arena in which he thrives. In this sense he’s very much like his pal Phil Mickelson – in the heat of competition, Bradley’s stride becomes more purposeful, his drives fly farther, his emotion boils over.   

“When I’m not in contention, it’s no fun,” he said Saturday after a 7-under 65. “I love waking up and feeling that energy, getting to the first tee and the biggest crowds. There is a lot on the line tomorrow.”

Not least an opportunity for Bradley, one of the game’s best American players, to break through for his first win in 20 months. In the past half year, he has switched coaches, from Jim McLean to Chuck Cook, and insists now that their work together is merely “maintenance.”

Bradley was unsure whether he’d be able to even tee it up Friday, after a late-night bout with food poisoning. “About 40 minutes from my tee time I was having some issues, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Watching him Friday you’d never know the trouble that bubbled within – he made five birdies and a highlight-reel eagle, his 66 sending him within a half dozen of the lead heading into the weekend.

“I’m most proud this week of where I’ve been mentally on the golf course and the calm I’ve felt,” he said.

Sajtinac said that Noh needs that same “calm focus” to prevail Sunday, but that attribute “only comes with age.”

Or, you know, another bogey-free round. 

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.