Five Share Lead Annika Three Back

By Sports NetworkAugust 25, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 WendyDUBLIN, Ohio - Defending champion Catriona Matthew was one of five players to post rounds of 6-under-par 66 on Thursday to share the lead after the opening round of the Wendy's Championship.
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam parred her first 12 holes Thursday before going on a late run.
Matthew was joined atop a crowded leaderboard at Tartan Fields Golf Club by Soo-Yun Kang, Paula Marti, Marisa Baena and Heather Daly-Donofrio.
Rachel Hetherington and Karrie Webb lead a group of seven players one stroke behind the five leaders. They were joined at minus-5 by Brandie Burton, Pat Hurst, Meena Lee, Helen Alfredsson, Michele Redman, Lara Tadiotto and Nadina Taylor.
Annika Sorenstam returned to action for the first time since the Women's British Open. She carded a 3-under-par 69 and stands in a tie for 27th. She started on the back nine and parred her first 12 holes, before picking up three birdies in her last six holes to end three shots off the pace.
Matthew, who turned 36 on Thursday, started on the back nine and opened with a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 10. She made it two straight when she knocked her third to the par-5 11th within 2 feet.
The two-time Solheim Cup performer made another 6-foot birdie putt on the 12th to make it three in a row. Matthew bogeyed the par-3 15th, but came right back with a birdie on 16.
Matthew made the turn at minus-4 after sinking a 15-foot birdie try on 18. She birdied the fifth and seventh, but stumbled to a bogey on the eighth. The Scotland native knocked her third to the par-5 ninth to tap-in range to share the lead.
'I got off to a perfect start,' said Matthew. 'I birdied the first three holes. It's just great when you're defending and start well and be in contention again.'
Daly-Donofrio birdied the first, third and fifth to quickly move to minus-3. She dropped in back-to-back birdies from the eighth to get to 5 under.
The two-time winner on the LPGA Tour bogeyed the 11th, but got that stroke back with a birdie on 12. Daly-Donofrio sank an 8-foot birdie try on 13, but slipped to a bogey at the next. She erased that mistake with a birdie on the 16th before she parred the last two holes.
'It's a great place to be, the top of the leaderboard,' Daly-Donofrio said. 'You can never win a tournament on the first day, but you certainly can play your way out of a tournament on the first day. It's just a very easy, steady round today.'
Baena birdied each of the first two holes from within 6 feet. She then two-putted for birdie at four. The 28-year-old drained an 8-foot birdie putt on eight and two-putted for birdie on nine to turn at minus-five.
After a bogey on 10, Baena birdied 11 and 15 to share the lead.
Marti started on the back nine and posted birdies at 12 and 17. Around the turn, she ran in a 13-foot birdie putt on the third. The Spaniard got up and down for birdie at the fourth. She birdied eight and two-putted for birdie on nine to close a bogey-free round.
'It definitely was a nice day. I haven't had a good round for a long time,' said Marti. 'I just played very good golf today. I didn't miss a fairway, I didn't miss a green.'
Kang knocked her second shot to 3 feet at the first and kicked that in for birdie. She stuck her wedge within 2 feet at the fourth to get to minus-2. However, Kang three-putted for bogey at six, but got that stroke back with an 8-foot birdie putt at the eighth.
The Korean chipped in for eagle on the ninth to jump to 4 under. Around the turn, Kang birdied the 10th from 10 feet out and the 16th from 6 feet for a share of the lead.
Mi Hyun Kim, the 2000 runner-up and 2002 champion, and Hee-Won Han, the 2003 winner and last year's runner-up, each carded 4-under-par 68s. They were joined there by Cristie Kerr, 2003 Kraft Nabisco champion Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, Women's British Open winner Jeong Jang, Angela Jerman, Amy Hung, Karen Weiss, two-time winner this season Paula Creamer, Giulia Sergas, Sae-Hee Son and Sherri Steinhauer.
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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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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.