Wind and rain may be only defense against Woods

By Ryan LavnerMarch 24, 2013, 12:44 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – The early forecast, the one meteorologists always stress is subject to change, calls for a chance of showers and thunderstorms Sunday at Bay Hill, with wind gusts up to 35 mph.

And there it is, a sliver of hope. Because inclement weather might be the only thing stopping an ultra-motivated Tiger Woods.

Motivated because he can return to world No. 1 with a victory. Motivated because Sunday will mark his last competitive round before the Masters, the major he covets most, and this is his best form in years. Motivated because he can tie a PGA Tour record with his eighth victory at Arnie’s Place.

“Just because I’ve won here doesn’t ensure that I’m going to win the tournament,” said Woods, which is true, of course, even if the numbers tell a different story.

He is 41-2 on the PGA Tour when he has the outright lead after 54 holes, and 51-4 when holding at least a share.

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The largest 54-hole lead Woods has ever surrendered was two strokes, at the 2009 PGA Championship. And last we checked, Y.E. Yang is not expected to make a cameo here.

“Tiger has made No. 1 his destination,” John Huh said. “If he plays well here, there isn’t anything we can do about it.”

Who will step up and make Tiger sweat Sunday?

Well, there are a few boldfaced names lurking.

In two hours Justin Rose went from four shots ahead to two strokes behind, then was criticized by Johnny Miller on the NBC telecast – “He hasn’t learned how to be good in the clutch yet,” Miller said.

Bill Haas, a four-time winner, had a share of the 36-hole lead, but made two double bogeys Saturday and dropped three shots back. Another stroke behind is Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA champion, who might have too much ground to make up.

So the spotlight will fall on Rickie Fowler, thrust into the final pairing with Woods once more.

You may recall their first encounter. From Fowler’s perspective, it was rather forgettable.

Playing in the final group at last year’s Memorial, Woods waxed his playing competitor by 17 strokes, 67-84, while winning the second of his three titles last season.

“After Memorial, I’m looking for a little redemption,” Fowler said. “I’m feeling good about the pairing, about my game. He’s definitely the guy to beat, but I’ll be right there to see what’s going on. … So I’m going in there with the attitude that I have nothing to lose, and we’ll see what happens from there.”

Also in the go-for-broke category is Rose, who outplayed Woods over the first two rounds here and enjoyed the accompanying circus.

There was quite a different vibe Saturday, when he pegged it alongside Haas in the final group. “It felt like a Thursday on the first tee today,” Rose said.

No buzz. No roars. No energy.

If the wind is up Sunday, and no player is making a move, Woods can put Bay Hill in a half nelson and par the place to death. There is a certain beauty in the silence.

Last year, at the WGC-Match Play, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano found Woods in flux, full of noise. Fighting his swing during their opening-round match, Woods didn’t play well but still eked out a narrow victory.  

“He’s definitely more comfortable,” Castano said after being paired with Woods again on Saturday. “Last year his routine was longer; you could see he wasn’t comfortable with what he was doing. Now he just stands over the ball and hits it. And he hits it good.”

Woods is likely to do the same Sunday, as he has done so many times before at Bay Hill.

Which is why for the Spaniard, the game plan is simple: Make birdies. Lots of them. In conditions that might not be conducive for scoring.

“Hopefully I can give him a few headaches,” he said.

And then he smiled, knowingly.

“But I don’t think so, if he keeps playing this way.”

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.