Grillo overcomes short miss to win season opener

By Ryan LavnerOctober 19, 2015, 2:54 am

NAPA, Calif. – The 3-footer that Emiliano Grillo missed on the 18th green Sunday at Silverado wasn’t going to haunt him. Not this time.

Seven months ago, he whiffed a short putt on the 72nd hole in Puerto Rico that cost him a career-altering title. He eventually lost in a playoff.

“I had nightmares for a week,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep. It was one of the most painful times of my life.”

There wouldn’t be a repeat at the Frys.

After missing what appeared to be a certain birdie, and after Kevin Na made a mess of the second playoff hole, Grillo wedged to 10 feet and poured in the putt to win the PGA Tour’s season-opening event. It was his first start as a Tour member.

The latest success story in a high school class of 2011 that has also produced Jordan Spieth, Daniel Berger, Justin Thomas and Patrick Rodgers, Grillo, 23, is expected to jump inside the top 40 in the world rankings. He is also exempt into the Masters.

“They said the word ‘Masters’ twice today,” he said. 

Then he pointed at his smile. 

“You see this?” he said. “That is what I’m going to do every single time you say ‘Masters.’” Open: Articles, photos and videos

Two weeks after winning the Tour finale with an uphill, right-to-left-breaking 25-footer, Grillo holed virtually the same putt on the final hole of regulation.

Twenty minutes later, Na matched Grillo’s 15-under 273 total with a cold-blooded 6-footer of his own, but he never gave himself a realistic shot to win in the playoff.

In fact, he was fortunate to even get a second chance.

With the sun quickly disappearing behind the mountains, Grillo appeared to be in position to end the playoff early. He nestled his pitch shot on the par-5 18th to 3 feet, but he hammered his putt on the left edge and lipped out – eerily similar to the putt he missed earlier this year in Puerto Rico.

“I hit this one good,” he said. “I don’t know what happened.”

He had only a few minutes to recover.

“My caddie asked me if I was 100 percent and I said, ‘Yes. I want to win it,’” Grillo said. “You know how they say it: Third time is a charm.”

Still alive, Na was in ideal position on the second playoff hole, 274 yards away on the right side of the fairway. With the ball slightly above his feet, Na opted for a driver off the tight turf, a shot that he “hit perfect” five or six times this week.

This one was far from perfect. He dropkicked the shot and sent his ball screaming into the left rough, behind a tree, about 100 yards out.

“I was a little shocked by that,” Grillo said.

From there, Na somehow wedged through a small opening in the trees, but his ball skittered through the back of the green. His fourth shot was too aggressive, and he missed the 12-foot comebacker for par.

It was his third career overtime loss.

“You would think I would get my share,” Na said afterward, “but I certainly haven’t gotten my share of wins for how good I’ve played for the last seven or eight years. But you know what? It’s coming. It’s coming.”

Grillo and Na’s playoff miscues were but a sampling of a sloppy first Sunday of the season, when nine players had at least a share of the lead. 

There was a long line of players who rued their missed opportunities:

• Looking to go wire to wire, Brendan Steele overcame a rocky start and was tied for the lead when he made five bogeys in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, dropping all the way to a share of 17th.

• Journeyman Jason Bohn had the outright lead when he butchered the par-5 16th, chunking his third shot and making bogey.

• Justin Rose, the second-highest ranked player in the field (No. 7), pulled within a shot of the lead but came home in 38.

• And Justin Thomas, who made a compelling case for top rookie honors last season, shot 69 in the final round but failed to make birdie on the last five holes, a stretch that includes two par 5s and a short par 4.

Though disappointed with the finish, Thomas still stuck around the scorer’s trailer to congratulate Grillo on his 72nd-hole birdie.

“He’s really, really good,” Thomas said, “and this isn’t going to be the last time he’s in contention.”

Indeed, it’s been a steady rise to prominence for Grillo, who trained during high school at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

A fixture on AJGA and amateur leaderboards, he has battled the likes of Spieth, Thomas and Rodgers since they were 14. Thomas joked that his mom was Grillo’s mode of transportation during those tournaments, waking at 6 a.m. just to get Grillo to the course for an early tee time.

Thomas briefly tried to recruit Grillo to join him at Alabama, and Spieth tried the same trick at Texas. But the Argentine had no desire to earn a college degree. He wanted to major in golf.

After turning pro at 18, Grillo headed overseas to climb his way up the world rankings. He combined for six top-10s on the European Tour in 2012-13, then broke out at the ’14 Dubai Desert Classic, where he finished second after a closing 66.

In five starts this past season on Tour, he lost the playoff in Puerto Rico and also recorded a pair of top-25s. That was enough to get him inside the top 200 in FedEx Cup points, which sent him to the Tour Finals. He finished in the top 10 in three of the four make-or-break events, including the narrow victory in the finale.

“He hits it really, really good,” Thomas said, “and he’s not scared. He’s going to go out and get it done. If you want to win golf tournaments, you have to be able to do stuff like that on the last hole.”

Except Grillo’s week at the Frys figured to be remembered for a scary incident Saturday, when he hit into the group ahead on the drivable 17th. Little did he know the player he nearly plunked with his drive was Rory McIlroy.

Grillo said that he never got an opportunity to apologize for the incident, that he wanted to jog across a couple of fairways Sunday just to tell McIlroy that he was sorry.

“I didn’t want to be the guy who almost hit Rory McIlroy this week,” he said. “I wanted everybody to know me because I have the trophy.”

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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.

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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.”

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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?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.