Monty Back on Top in Euorpe

By Sports NetworkDecember 14, 2005, 5:00 pm
European TourNothing like the old guard showing off one more time. That's what happened in 2005 as tour veterans like Jose Maria Olazabal, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Colin Montgomerie combined for four wins and 16 top-five finishes.
Leading the old guard in battle in 2005 was Colin Montgomerie. The Scotsman got off to a hot start as he shared second place at the Caltex Masters, where he was the defending champion. Then in Australia, he finished 11th at the Heineken Classic.
Colin Montgomerie
Colin Montgomerie won his eighth career Order of Merit title in 2005.
Must've had too many free sponsors drinks that week as it was the only time in his first six events that he finished outside the top six. A trip to China knocked him for a loop as he went his next seven tournaments without a top-10.
Monty also threw in a missed cut for good measure. Included in that stretch was a tie for 42nd at the U.S. Open, his first major of the year. Montgomerie missed the Masters after playing Augusta each of the previous 13 years.
After returning to Europe, Montgomerie shared second place at the Smurfit European Open at the K Club, host of the 2006 Ryder Cup - a place and event Monty surely wants to be a part of.
Two events later, the 42-year-old battled world No. 1 Tiger Woods tooth-and-nail during the final round of the British Open. Montgomerie got within one of Woods, but a two-stroke swing over the 12th and 13th holes dropped the Scotsman three back and he would end five back at St. Andrews, where Monty found good karma later in the season.
For Montgomerie, this was his fourth second-place finish in a major championship versus no wins. After the Open Championship, he struggled with a withdrawal and two missed cuts in his next for events.
Battling U.S. Open winner Michael Campbell for the lead in the Order of Merit, Montgomerie closed the season with a bang. He lost in the first round of the HSBC World Match Play Championship, and that defeat to Mark Hensby was a kick in the pants.
Montgomerie returned to the Old Course at St. Andrews, as well as Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, for the dunhill links championship. Trailing by five strokes entering the final round, Monty needed just a 1-under 71 to collect a one-shot win over Kenneth Ferrie.
He nearly faltered with a bogey on 11 and a double bogey at the 12th, but Montgomerie settled in and sank a short birdie putt on the 72nd hole for his first individual win at the Old Course.
With three more events on his personal schedule, Montgomerie ended the season with three top-8 finishes to snatch his eighth Order of Merit crown, as he finished ahead of Campbell for the top spot.
With three-time defending champion Ernie Els on the sideline, the HSBC World Match Play Championship had lost some of its luster. However, with the reigning U.S. Open champion, Campbell, and a two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen on hand, there was no loss of talent in the field.
The final would come down to the aforementioned reigning U.S. Open champ, Campbell, and a two-time European Ryder Cupper, Paul McGinley, who had been blitzing his competition.
Campbell, the fourth seed at the tournament, managed a 1-up win over Geoff Ogilvy in his opening match. With each match played over 36 holes, Campbell needed 37 holes to down his second-round foe, 12th-seeded Steve Elkington.
The 36-year-old made fast work of fellow U.S. Open champion Goosen in the semifinals. Campbell blitzed Goosen, who at the time was the fifth-ranked player in the world, 7 and 6, to make the finals.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the bracket the Irishman McGinley was routing the competition. He opened with an easy 6 and 5 win over Dane Thomas Bjorn. McGinley then throttled 2004 European Ryder Cup teammate, Luke Donald, 9 and 8, in round two.
McGinley faced world No. 13 Angel Cabrera in the semifinals. Cabrera was having a fine season in his own right with a win and four other top-four finishes. The Irishman, though, took care of business with a 4 and 3 win over the Argentine.
In the final match, McGinley and Campbell battled throughout in a tight match. Campbell bogeyed the 31st hole to square the match. However, McGinley bogeyed the 33rd and 34th holes to fall into an insurmountable 2-down hole with two to go.
The victory for Campbell made him the fourth player to win this title and the U.S. Open crown in the same season. He joined a short list that includes Gary Player, Hale Irwin and Ernie Els.
It may not have won a tournament. It may not have been a long shot. But the most memorable shot of the year came from the putter of the legendary Jack Nicklaus.
Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus poses on the Swilken Bridge for the final time.
Nicklaus, who won two of his three British Open crowns at St. Andrews, missed the cut in what he said would be his final competitive round of golf. But he didn't go down without a fight.
Throughout his career, Nicklaus has had a knack for making putts late in tournaments to close out a win or put pressure on a formidable foe.
Preceding 'the putt,' Nicklaus crossed the Swilken Bridge one last time and paused for a long time to soak in the atmosphere. His partners stopped short of the bridge to give Nicklaus the stage.
True to his fashion for the game of golf, Nicklaus would not spend the lengthy amount of time alone on the bridge. He was joined by his playing partners -- Luke Donald and Tom Watson, a five-time British Open and two-time Senior British Open champion.
Nicklaus did not stop there, as he waved the three caddies onto the bridge for some pictures. Finally, Jack and son Steve, his caddy for the week, were given time alone on the bridge. Tears flowed from many an eye, but the best was yet to come.
The Golden Bear had ripped a huge drive near green and rolled his second shot within seven feet. He dropped in a tough, left-to-right breaker for a final birdie and one of the loudest ovations you'll ever hear on a golf course.
The top rookie on tour has a unique name and a long one at that. Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandaz-Castano collected a win at the KLM Open in his rookie season on tour. He also had another top-10 en route to finishing 57th on the European Tour Order of Merit.
The 25-year-old had a streaky year that started out with him missing three straight cuts before he made his next three. He ended the season making the cut in his final three events, finishing no worse than tied for 34th in those tournaments.
Other top rookies included Sweden's Peter Gustafsson and England's Richard Finch. Gustafsson had best his finish at the Open de Espana, where he tied for second. Finch shared second place at the Italia Open for his best placing of the season.
As mentioned, Michael Campbell won the HSBC World Match Play Championship. That, in and of itself, would have been good enough to give him a good year. But it was Campbell's victory at the U.S. Open that made this a breakthrough season for the New Zealander.
Retief Goosen had held a three-shot lead entering the final day, but collapsed with an 11-over 81. Campbell took full advantage of the opening by carding one of the few sub-par rounds Sunday. He posted a 1-under 69 to hold off world No. 1 Tiger Woods, who also posted a 69, on Father's Day.
All wasn't lost on the season for Goosen, though, as he picked up a win and five other top-five finishes and took fourth in the Order of Merit.
Former European Ryder Cupper David Howell had a strong year as well. He collected a win and two seconds among his 11 top-10 finishes this season. Only Montgomerie (13) had more top-10s this season.
Also having a good year with each picking up two wins were Niclas Fasth, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Stephen Dodd.
Ernie Els deserves to be in the good year category as he won three times early in the season, but a mid-season knee injury halted what could have been a player-of-the-year type season.
Time to pick on guys who didn't get it done this past season. We'll start at the bottom and work our way up.
Lars Brovold -- 20 starts, two cuts made -- not much else to say there. Malcolm MacKenzie played in four more events than Brovold, and actually made two more cuts while earning 15,929 euros and placing 236th on the Order of Merit.
Just two more guys to call out for their play in '05. Englishman Matthew King, coming off a two-win season the European Tour's Challenge Tour, made it to the weekend three times in 24 tries. Not so good. His best finish was a tie for 28th, his first start of the season.
Finally, Mattias Eliasson collected three top-25 finishes in his 24 starts. However, he made only eight other cuts in his 24 starts. His best finish was a share of eighth at the Mallorca Classic late in the season. However, he missed 10 of 12 cuts at one point in the middle of the season.
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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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.