Karlsson on Cruise Control in Wales

By Sports NetworkJune 3, 2006, 4:00 pm
NEWPORT, Wales -- Sweden's Robert Karlsson is writing his name in the European Tour record book at the Wales Open en route to a massive third-round lead.
He fired a 4-under 65 on Saturday to finish three rounds at 18-under-par 189, which is good for a six-shot lead.
Karlsson's 189 score is a new European Tour record for lowest 54 holes, topping Tiger Woods' former mark of 192 from the 2000 WGC-NEC Invitational at Firestone.
The 189 obliterated Paul Casey's 2004 tournament 54-hole record by eight strokes. The six-stroke margin is also the largest on the European Tour this season.
Although Karlsson will not be sitting back on Sunday.
'There's another 18 holes to go and if someone throws in a 61 behind me I will still have to play well to win,' said Karlsson. 'If you start thinking that it's yours to win, then you are in big trouble. I'm trying to stay away from those sorts of thoughts all the time.'
Paul Broadhurst birdied the last hole to shoot a 2-under 67. He is alone in second place at 12-under-par 195, which is one shot better than Gary Orr, who carded a 4-under 65 at the Roman Road Course at Celtic Manor Resort.
The Swede began the third round with a four-shot lead and flew out of the gate. He drained a 4-foot birdie putt at the first, then added another birdie from less than a foot at the par-5 third. Broadhurst kicked in a short birdie putt at the fifth to get within three of the lead.
That was a close as Broadhurst would get. He shanked his approach from the left rough at seven and walked off with a bogey. Broadhurst also bogeyed eight to fall five behind Karlsson.
Karlsson hit plenty of long drives in the fairway on Saturday, including a bomb at the ninth. He knocked his second to 12 feet, then drained his birdie putt. Karlsson sank a 20-footer for birdie at the 10th to move to 18 under par, which gave him a seven-shot lead.
Karlsson made his first mistake of the round with an errant drive at the 14th. Broadhurst went even farther right, hitting two courtesy cars, but luckily got a free drop. Broadhurst went on to make bogey, a score Karlsson would have gladly taken.
The Swede made a curious decision to go at the green with his second from the rough. Karlsson's ball never had a chance at the putting surface and landed in the pond in front of the green. He missed a 35-footer for bogey, but still held a six-shot lead thanks to Broadhurst's mistake at the same hole.
Karlsson atoned for the error quickly as his eight-iron second shot at the par-5 16th stopped two feet from the hole. He tapped in the eagle putt, but dropped a shot at 17 thanks to a drive than landed in the 16th fairway.
Broadhurst birdied 16 and hit his approach to 2 feet at the last. That birdie moved him into sole possession of second place at minus-12, but Karlsson holed a 10-foot birdie putt at the same hole to move six ahead.
Karlsson owns five European Tour victories and four of them came when he held at least a share of the 54-hole lead. He has not won since the 2002 European Masters, but a win on Sunday puts him in a good spot.
If Karlsson can break par on Sunday, he would break Ian Woosnam and David Llewellyn's all-time low total of 258 on the European Tour. It would also solidify Karlsson's standing on the Ryder Cup list, which would certainly delight the Swede. He finished 11th on the points list in 1999 and was passed over for a spot by then captain Mark James.
'It was a shock and I questioned why it happened, but he was the captain and made his decision,' said Karlsson. 'It would be a fantastic bonus to get in this team, but there are a lot of big tournaments coming up and a lot of good players who would expect to be in the side. But first, I have to take care of tomorrow.'
Broadhurst is also in the mix for a Ryder Cup spot, but knows how difficult his task will be on Sunday.
'A six-shot lead is massive the way he's playing,' admitted Broadhurst. 'He's making it like a pitch and putt track, to be honest. He's playing nicely and it's going to be tough to catch him.'
Simon Dyson (69) and Henrik Nystrom (64) are tied for fourth place at 10-under-par 197.
Colin Montgomerie only managed an even-par 69 on Saturday and the Scotsman is tied for sixth place with Matthew Millar (67), David Park (64), Johan Skold (67) and Anthony Wall (63). The group is knotted at 9-under-par 198.
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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.