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Monday Scramble: Just 'Cant' wait

By Ryan LavnerNovember 6, 2017, 4:50 pm

Patrick Cantlay breaks through, Justin Rose stays hot, Tiger Woods announces his return, a new No. 1 emerges in women's golf and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Was there any other way for Cantlay to get his first win, needing grit and determination and a short memory? It was a fitting first triumph for a kid who has already endured so much.

Once a can’t-miss prospect, he disappeared following a series of physical and personal setbacks. His talent never was a question. It was whether his body would ever allow him to reach his full potential.

Still just 25, Cantlay is fresher than most players his age after three years away from competition. He feels great now – he played a ton of golf this fall, with no limitations – and after a strong 2017 campaign in which he reached the Tour Championship with only a dozen starts, he is now a PGA Tour winner, surviving a nervy finish and three-man playoff in Vegas.

The past few years haven’t been easy. So why would his Tour breakthrough?

1. The last hour of golf at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open was ugly, but it did feature at least one stellar shot.

On the second playoff hole, Cantlay flared his drive into the right rough, behind a tree.

With 185 yards to the flag, and believing that he needed a par to stay alive, Cantlay played the only shot he could – a cut, punch 4-iron that went under one tree branch and over another.

“It was a good shot,” he said. “I was very committed to hitting a good one there.”

Cantlay two-putted from the back fringe for the win over Whee Kim and Alex Cejka. 

2. Here’s a story that I wrote about Cantlay’s return in February. It remains one of the only times that he has discussed his personal tragedy, when he watched his best friend and caddie, Chris Roth, get killed in a hit-and-run accident in 2016.

Here’s what he said Sunday night about overcoming adversity to play good golf:

“I don’t really associate the two together that way,” he said. “It feels good to be doing what I feel like I was born to do and what I practiced to do for such a long time. The other part is so separate and it was such a heartbreaking deal that it’s not even on the same level as golf.” 

3. After beginning the year unranked, Cantlay is all the way up to No. 42 in the world.

Jordan Spieth said two months ago that Cantlay is a future top-10 player in the world, a guy who will be a fixture on U.S. cup teams for years to come.

Given Cantlay’s track record, is anyone going to argue? This was the first of many titles.

4. Cantlay wasn’t the only feel-good story of the week.

A.J. McInerney, the Las Vegas resident who survived the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, used a sponsor exemption to earn a tie for 10th in his Tour debut.

That created a dilemma. By virtue of his top-10, McInerney would have been exempt into this week’s event at Mayakoba, but even more pressing was the second stage of Tour Q-School, which begins Tuesday. He needs somewhere to play next year, so he made the tough choice:

Q-School, here he comes.

5. After winning just twice in his previous 62 starts, Justin Rose went back-to-back on the European Tour.

Rose rode a 64-65 weekend in Turkey to overtake a resurgent Nicolas Colsaerts and move within striking distance of Tommy Fleetwood at the top of the Race to Dubai standings (134,839 points). He hasn’t won the European Tour’s Order of Merit since 2007.

Rose is just the third player to follow a WGC title with another victory the following week, joining Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

Look out, Fleetwood. Rose is red hot.

6. Remember those ridiculous pre-tournament publicity photo shoots before the WGC-HSBC Champions, the one this year in which players soared through the air in a harness? Yeah, Henrik Stenson injured himself during it.

“I’m not Superman even though certain people thought I was Superman,” he said after tying for 35th in Turkey.

Henrik Stenson

Stenson said he’s been dealing with a rib injury the past two weeks and is set for an MRI this week. The injury will cause him to miss the final two events of the European Tour season. 

7. The European Challenge Tour wrapped up its season last week, with the top 15 in the points standings earning cards on the big tour next year. 

One notable name who graduated: Chase Koepka, Brooks' younger brother. He finished ninth on the money list and will have full status next year on the European Tour. 

8. Tiger Woods made news last week with what he wrote and what he said.

First, the headline you surely have seen by now: That Woods will return later this month at the Hero World Challenge, a stunning decision by a guy who was cleared for full golf activity only a few weeks ago and who vowed, this time, to take his recovery slowly.

And second, he appeared on legendary UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma’s previously taped podcast, where he dished on his recovery (I'm just a s--- giver who wants to mix it up again with the boys!), his caddie situation (Joey ain’t going anywhere!) and the state of his game.

“I can’t believe how far I’m hitting the golf ball,” he said. “I’m back to hitting it my full numbers, and not really trying to do that. I didn’t realize how much I had dropped off because of the pain in my back … just because I had lived this from day to day and couldn’t tell the difference. But now I can tell the difference, and my posture is so much better over the golf ball.”

A golf ball, he says, that is flying way too far … 

9. It’s a tight race at the top of the LPGA’s Race to the CME Globe. Lexi Thompson leads (3,266 points) but is followed closely by S.H. Park (3,029) and So Yeon Ryu (3,026). Brooke Henderson is fourth.

With her title defense at the Japan Classic, Shanshan Feng is projected to move to fifth.

The top 5 players after this week’s Blue Bay LPGA will win the $1 million CME Globe if they also win the season-ending Tour Championship.

10. Ryu’s time at the top of the Rolex World Rankings has come to an end.

S.H. Park is expected to pass her for the world No. 1 spot, even though she didn’t play in last week’s event.

Ryu needed to finish T-6 or better last week to hold on to the No. 1 ranking, but she tied for 33rd, same as Thompson, who also had a chance to ascend to No. 1. 

Jason Day and his wife, Ellie, announced that they’re expecting their third child sometime in June.

That’s cause for celebration, of course, but also, apparently, some consternation, since it has put Day’s status for next year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock in jeopardy … even though the couple doesn’t yet have a due date.

"Although I’ve had some good results at the U.S. Open" – he has five top-10s in seven Open starts – "Ellie and I are really excited about our third child and I want to be there to support her. I’m not missing the birth."

Nor should he. But can’t we address this in, like, May?

This week's award winners ... 

Can’t Believe That Didn’t Work Out: Bubba Watson’s Volvik deal. Opting for bold colors and a big payday, Watson had one of the worst seasons of his career and showed up in Vegas without a ball deal. He is playing a Titleist ball, like the ol’ days, but without a contract. 

ANOTHER Feel-Good Story: Marc Cayeux. After 27 surgeries following a horrific car accident in 2010, the 39-year-old Zimbabwean made his first cut, on the Sunshine Tour. Your trusty scribe profiled the inspiring Cayeux last year.

Sneaky-Good Fall: Chesson Hadley. After a strong season on the Web, the lanky 30-year-old has kept it rolling this fall, racking up three consecutive top-5 finishes. 

Good on You, Part 1: Charley Hoffman. Donating all of his winnings from last week’s event to the Vegas relief fund, Hoffman tied for 18th and pledged $97,600 to the victims of the Oct. 1 mass shooting. 

Good On You, Part 2: Annika Sorenstam. After hearing about the high school girl who won the boys section tournament in Massachusetts but did not get to keep the trophy or advance to the state tournament, Sorenstam invited Emily Nash to her AJGA invitational event in February. 

Big Tiger Guy: Doc Rivers. The Clippers coach told a hilarious story this week about the time he tried to get ejected so he could watch Woods make a run at the Masters. It’s easy to forget now that Tiger, in his prime, was must-see TV.  

Bye, College: Cameron Champ. Champ, a senior at Texas A&M and one of the breakout stars of the U.S. Open, advanced to the final stage of Tour Q-School, which led to his decision to leave school at the halfway point of the season. He will make his pro debut this week in Mexico. That’s a tough break for the Aggies, but they didn’t seem to need him in the fall, winning three times and sitting at No. 4 in the rankings. 

Do It For Twitter: Donald Trump. He clearly was impressed with the way he got through this shot, posting it to Twitter after his round with Japan’s prime minister (Shinzo Abe) and best golfer (Hideki Matsuyama) Sunday at the 2020 Olympic host course.  

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Smylie Kaufman. A winner here in 2015, he turned around a sub-par year with a tie for fourth at the previous week’s Sanderson Farms. Then he turned around and slumped to a 75 in Round 1 on his way to a missed cut. Sigh. 

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

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.

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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.”