Major Shocker Hamilton Wins British Open

By Sports NetworkJuly 18, 2004, 4:00 pm
TROON, Scotland --Todd Hamilton defeated Ernie Els in a four-hole playoff on Sunday to win the 133rd British Open Championship at Royal Troon Golf Club.
'I was trying to look around as much as I could to soak it all in,' said Hamilton. 'I've won tournaments around the world before, but nothing on a stage like this, so to be Open champion is very special.'
The duo finished regulation tied at 10-under-par 274 after Hamilton bogeyed the 72nd hole and Els missed a 7-foot putt for birdie. After pars on the first two holes of the cumulative playoff, Els missed the green at the par-3 17th and knocked his second shot to 8 feet.
Hamilton, who posted a 69 in the final round, found the green off the tee and two-putted for par while Els was unable to convert. Back to the 18th tee, Hamilton hit his drive down the right side and managed to clear a bunker with his approach.
The American, who spent 17 seasons traveling the world before earning his PGA Tour card through Q-School last year, rolled a utility club within 2 feet of the hole and tapped in for par and the biggest win of his career.
'It was a lot of hard work. Ernie is a true champion. He fought to the very end, not only in regulation, but in the playoff. That's why he's a major champion,' said Hamilton. 'I'm so excited. I probably won't sleep for two days. I won't even sleep on the flight home, which I'm usually able to sleep pretty well, but I guarantee I'll be up.'
Hamilton held the outright lead heading into the final round, but with a handful of the top players in the game within a few strokes of the top spot, the 38-year-old had plenty of work ahead of him to maintain his position.
He got off to a good start at the first and hit his second shot to 8 feet. Hamilton missed his birdie try right, and sent his drive into the rough at the par-4 second to fall back into a tie for the lead with Els.
Thomas Levet, who was in contention throughout the week, chipped in from the rough for an eagle at the par-5 fourth to move to the front of the leaderboard at 8 under. Phil Mickelson then holed his third shot at the fourth to grab a share of the lead.
Els converted an 18-foot putt for a birdie at the third and grabbed the lead on his own with a birdie at the very next hole. Hamilton persisted and matched his playing partner with back-to-back birdies from the fourth to reach minus-9.
Tiger Woods, seeking his first win in a major since the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage, got into the mix with a chip-in birdie from a bunker at the fifth and a birdie at the sixth. The 2000 Open champion at St. Andrews could not keep pace in the inward half.
Mickelson hit a tremendous drive at the par-4 seventh and pitched his second to eight feet for a birdie to regain a piece of the lead. Els, who bogeyed the fifth, then birdied the seventh to join the logjam.
Hamilton found trouble with a bogey at the difficult par-4 10th and Els struggled even further. The South African hit his second shot into thick grass and barely managed to muscle his ball down the fairway and was unable to get up and down for a double bogey.
Just like that, Mickelson, who snapped his drought in the majors with a victory at the Masters and nearly won the U.S. Open at Shinnecock last month, found himself in the lead.
Mickelson, who was holding on with several crucial par saves, was again joined by Hamilton, who played his second shot to 9 feet for a birdie at the 11th.
Mickelson, who had not dropped a shot since the opening round, bounced his second shot short of the green at the 13th and almost holed out with his third. The left-hander failed to make his par coming back and once again was in the chase.
Hamilton, who earned his first PGA Tour win at The Honda Classic earlier this year, kept plugging along and chipped in for a birdie at the par-3 14th after his tee shot missed the green. He moved to 10 under and at the par-5 16th, Hamilton knocked his third shot to 9 feet and drained the putt to open a two-shot edge over the field.
With Mickelson in the clubhouse at 9 under, Hamilton still had Els to worry about. Els, who was almost spoiled Mickelson's party at the Masters and was in contention at the U.S. Open until a disastrous final round, saw the door open at the 72nd hole in regulation.
Hamilton hit a bad tee shot left at the last, while Els ripped a drive down the middle of the fairway. After playing a recovery shot with his second, Hamilton hit his third to 11 feet.
Els, seeking his second Open title and his fourth major victory, played his second shot within 7 feet of the hole. Hamilton missed his par putt, and with a birdie chance to win, the Big Easy left his putt short.
The thrilling conclusion in regulation was almost imitated exactly in the playoff, but this time around Hamilton grinded out a par with his so-called 'ugly golf' tactic and walked away with the claret jug.
'I think when I don't hit the ball well, having a good short game allows me to at least be competitive, maybe not on a scale like this every week, but I play what I call ugly golf,' he said. 'I hit a lot of punch shots, a lot of big slices off the tees, or big fades, just to keep the ball in play.'
Els, who had birdied the 16th and the 17th, had the tournament in sight but was unable to sink a birdie putt at the last for his third runner-up finish at the British Open.
'Right now I'm thinking of the putt on the 72nd hole,' Els said. 'That's the putt I'm going to be thinking about for a while. I had such a good second shot, you know. And it was such a weird pin placement where if you were short of the hole, you had such a difficult putt. And if I knew that I probably would have hit it past. I tried to do that in the playoff, too. But that putt, I'm going to think about that putt for a while.'
Mickelson had never finished in the top 10 at the British Open. That was before his major breakthrough at Augusta in April, however, and he posted a 68 to finish third at 9-under-par 275.
Lee Westwood ran home an 20-foot putt for a birdie at the last to take fourth place at 6-under-par 278. Davis Love III holed his approach for an eagle at the 18th for his second straight top-5 finish at the British Open.
Love was joined by Levet in a tie for fifth at 5-under-par 279. Goosen and Scott Verplank were one shot further back at 4-under-par 280.
Woods was focused on the weekend, but only managed a 1-over 72 on Sunday. Nevertheless, the 28-year-old posted his first top-10 finish in a major since last year's Open at Royal St. George's.
Woods was joined by 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir in a tie for ninth at 3-under-par 281.
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    Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

    An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

    It was too much “socializing.”

    “I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

    Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

    “Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

    Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

    His plan for doing that?

    “Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

    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.

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    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.

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    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.”