Howell Alone in First Tiger Six Back

By Sports NetworkNovember 7, 2003, 5:00 pm
HOUSTON -- Charles Howell III carded his second consecutive round of 4-under 67 on Friday to take the 36-hole lead at the season-ending Tour Championship. He stands at 8-under-par 134 and owns a one-shot lead over Fred Funk, who also posted a 67 in round two.
Retief Goosen, the 2001 U.S. Open winner, held a two-shot lead but came undone with a bogey at 17. He finished with a 67 and is alone in third place at 6-under-par 136, followed by Chris Riley, who trails Goosen by a single stroke after a second-round 68.
With the Tour Championship at Champions Golf Club reserved for the top 31 on the PGA Tour money list and serving as the final event of the season, most eyes were focused on the battle between Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh for the money title and Player of the Year honors.
The two, paired together in Thursday's first round, struggled a bit in the first round but bounced back on Friday. Woods, a five-time winner this season who trails Singh in the money race, put up his second 70 in as many days and is tied for 12th at 2-under-par 140.
Woods birdied the par-5 fifth then sank a four-footer for birdie at the 13th. He bogeyed the 15th to fall a notch, but the No. 1 player in the world and 1999 Tour Championship winner is still in striking distance.
'I feel like I'm playing well,' said Woods. 'I hit a lot of good, solid shots today. I hit numerous good putts, but nothing went in. Overall, I feel like I really played solid.'
Singh, a four-time victor in '03 and the leading money winner, mixed four birdies and a bogey for a round of 3-under 68. He is 1 under par for the championship and tied for 16th place.
'That was the easiest 68 I could have shot,' said Singh, who won last year at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia. 'I left a lot of shots out there, but it's very hard to read the greens.'
In Friday's action, the leaderboard became bunched tightly several times, once with eight players tied for first. The greens at Champions Golf Club, bigger than most on the PGA Tour, have provided problems for the players, but Howell was able to handle it all and move ahead of the field.
He parred his first eight holes Friday when several players were moving around the top of the leaderboard. At the par-5 ninth, Howell ran in a short birdie putt to reach 5 under par for the tournament.
Howell, who shared the first-round lead with Kenny Perry, ran into some trouble at the par-3 12th. His tee ball went almost 40 yards right of the putting surface, and his chip came up 50 feet short of the stick. Howell blasted his par-saving putt four feet past the hole, but made the comebacker to save bogey.
Howell, winless in 2003 but 27th on the tour's money list, rebounded from the bogey in a big way. He played his second to 12 feet at the par-5 13th and drained the eagle putt to go to minus-6 and claim a share of first place.
'The eagle was really big for me,' said Howell, who finished second to Singh last year at East Lake Golf Club. 'It was a big boost for me. That really helped get the round in pretty good.'
Howell was not done. At the 14th, he hit an 8-iron from 189 yards that landed 10 feet from the hole. Howell canned the putt to go to 7 under and one ahead of the rest. Another 8-iron at the 16th resulted in another 10-footer for birdie and Howell polished off his sixth consecutive round in the 60s in this event.
'I went out there today like it was yesterday, like it was the first round,' said Howell. 'It's not an easy golf course, it's definitely not an easy format because everybody is bunched right in there together and you have an idea of what everybody's doing.'
Funk was 4 under for the tournament until he reached the par-5 13th. He birdied that hole then hit his approach to tap-in range at 14 for back-to-back birdies.
At the par-4 closing hole, Funk knocked his second to seven feet and cashed in on the birdie putt to go to 7 under and take sole possession of second place.
'I just played a real solid round today,' said Funk. 'Yesterday, in mid-round, my caddie told me I was standing a little too far away from it and I made a little adjustment on the tee. I've driven the ball a lot better since. That's key here - you've got to keep it in the fairway.'
Goosen, who won last week in Tampa, became a contender thanks to three birdies in a four-hole span starting at the 13th. He got it to 7 under but drove well right into the trees at 17 and canned a 12-footer just to save bogey.
'I probably played better yesterday,' admitted Goosen. 'I got away with a couple of good lies and here we are.'
David Toms, the 2001 PGA Champion, Justin Leonard, the 1997 British Open winner, each shot rounds of 2-under 69 to join Chris DiMarco, who shot a 70, in a tie for fifth at minus-4.
Ernie Els, Steve Flesch, Jonathan Kaye and PGA runner-up Chad Campbell share eighth at 3-under-par 139.
Joining Woods in a tie for 12th are Perry, who struggled to a 2-over 73, Bob Tway (68) and Davis Love III (67), a four-time winner in 2003 who can become a factor in the Player of the Year race if he wins on Sunday.
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  • 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.

    Getty Images

    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.

    Getty Images

    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.”

    Getty Images

    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?''