Els Barely Hangs On for Win

By Sports NetworkFebruary 8, 2004, 5:00 pm
VICTORIA, Australia -- Ernie Els struggled to a 2-over 74 on Sunday but managed to hold on and win the Heineken Classic in wire-to-wire fashion. Els finished at 20-under-par 268 for his third consecutive victory at this event.
Adam Scott, who found himself eight shots off the lead to start the final round, shot a 5-under 67 to finish one shot back at 19-under-par 269.
The same venue that saw Els flirt with 59 and establish a new 36-hole scoring record earlier in the week finally showed its teeth on Sunday.
'Conditions were tough,' said Els, who won for the 16th time on the European Tour. 'Right now, I'm just happy it is over.'
Els began his round on the Composite Course at Royal Melbourne in complete control at 22 under par but a treacherous front nine was all it took to bring his competitors back into the tournament.
Els stumbled out of the gate with a bogey at the opening hole but recovered with a birdie at the par-5 second.
At the par-3 third, Els found thick grass off the tee en route to another bogey. Trouble then met up with the South African in a major way on the following hole.
Els played his approach into a bunker at the par-4 fourth and sent his third from the sand through the green. Now chipping from the other side of the putting surface, Els left his fourth shot short and watched as the ball rolled back to his feet.
He then played his fifth inside 18 feet and two-putted for a triple bogey to fall back to 18 under.
Over the course of four holes, what had once been an insurmountable advantage for Els had been cut in half.
On the other end of the spectrum, Scott dropped his second shot inside 12 feet at the par-4 fifth and drained the putt to pull within three of the lead.
Els found trouble again with a bogey at the seventh and tossed his second into the thick grass at the par-5 ninth. He scrambled to a bogey while Scott got up and down for a birdie to grab a share of the lead.
'It was a bad break after another,' said Els. 'It was kind of laughable there at nine.'
Els countered with a birdie at the 10th but Scott matched him with a birdie of his own.
The young Australian had caught the 3rd-ranked player in the world momentarily, but Els was not ready to hand the tournament over.
'He saw I was playing quite solid and could keep going with him,' Scott said of Els. 'I think it made him get back into the groove on the back nine.'
Els landed his approach inside eight feet for a birdie at the 12th and ran home a six-foot putt for a birdie at the 13th.
At the par-4 14th, Els knocked his second shot within a foot of the hole for his third consecutive birdie to move to 20 under.
Scott tried to keep pace with a birdie at the 14th and got within one of Els with a birdie at the 17th.
In the end, however, the brilliant play that Els displayed over the first three rounds proved enough to secure the win for the Big Easy.
'On the back nine when it really counted, I put my head down and I played,' said Els. 'It was almost easier in some ways having a fair battle on the back nine with Adam. It is definitely not the way I planned it but that's the way it turned out.'
Australia's Peter Fowler posted a 2-under 70 to finish alone in third place at 15-under-par 273. Peter Hanson of Sweden was one shot further back at 14-under-par 274.
Michael Campbell, who is a two-time winner of this event, carded a 70 to finish seven shots off the lead at 13-under-par 275. The New Zealander was joined by Scotland's Stephen Gallacher in a tie for fifth.
Gareth Paddison, who played in the last group along with Els and Scott, joined Mahal Pearce, Greg Owen and Paul Sheehan in a tie for seventh at 12-under-par 276.
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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 right 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."

    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.