New Zealand Still Leads World Cup US Alone in Second

By Sports NetworkNovember 17, 2001, 5:00 pm
New Zealand's Michael Campbell and David Smail retained their place atop the leaderboard Saturday, shooting a best-ball 65 in the third round for a total of 22-under-par 194 at the WGC- EMC World Cup. They will be paired on the final day with defending champions Tiger Woods and David Duval, who teamed up to lift the United States into sole possession of second place.
The Americans fired a 9-under 63 at the Taiheiyo Club's Gotemba Course to close within three shots of the lead at 19-under 197. They had a chance to pull even closer at the par-five 18th, but Duval dumped his second shot in the water fronting the green and Woods lipped out his four-foot birdie attempt.
Host Japan, represented by Shigeki Maruyama and Toshi Izawa, kept the home crowd happy by posting a 65 in the shadow of Mount Fuji. They finished with a share of third place at 18-under with Ernie Els and Retief Goosen of South Africa, Angel Cabrera and Eduardo Romero of Argentina, and Thomas Levet and Raphael Jacquelin of France.
The South African, Argentinian and French teams each turned in 63s on a day rife with low scores. Twenty of the 24 teams in the field shot 6-under-par or better.
The Americans, five shots back at the start of the day, vaulted into the mix with 10 birdies in the third round. Woods led the way with six birdies, including four on the inward nine.
'I think we played fairly well today,' said Woods, the top-ranked player in the world. His British Open-winning partner is ranked No. 3.
'It wasn't a great round but we moved up the board and put ourselves in a position to win,' Woods added. 'I just wish I would have made that birdie putt on the 18th because I don't like to finish that way.'
After Duval made the last of his four birdies at the 11th to take his team to 16-under, Woods took control with two straight birdies. He followed an eight-foot putt at 13 with a sensational 9-iron approach to tap-in range at the 14th.
They both hit irons off the tee at the par-4 15th but their bids for accuracy backfired when Duval's drive finished in the left rough and Woods' shot landed in the right fairway bunker. Duval then left his second short of the green and Woods sent his approach from the sand over the putting surface.
Although Woods threaded the needle between some trees with his punch third shot, his ball rolled 20 feet past the hole and his par try caught the edge of the cup and spun out. Duval had a chance to save the day but missed his putt for par after chipping to six feet.
The U.S. regrouped right away, with Woods birdieing the 16th with a six-footer before knocking his tee shot at the par-3 17th to 10 feet then rolling in the putt to get to 19-under par.
Campbell, No. 30 in the world, took the Kiwis to 20-under with a six-foot birdie at the 13th. The unheralded Smail, a regular on the Australasian Tour with experience playing Japanese courses, got into the act by holing a birdie putt from off the edge of the 14th green.
Campbell missed birdie attempts from eight and 10 feet down the stretch but two-putted from 15 feet at the last for a closing birdie.
'It will be a big thrill tomorrow to play with Duval and Woods,' said Campbell, who finished third behind Woods at the Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand a year ago Monday and second to him at the TPC of Europe in May.
New Zealand is in position to win its first ever World Cup title, while the U.S. is chasing its third straight Cup and 24th overall since the event's inception in 1953.
Els and Goosen, a duo with three U.S. Open titles between them, is seeking a third victory in this event for South Africa. Els, who captured the 1996 World Cup with Wayne Westner, drew his team within four shots of the lead Saturday with a short eagle putt at the 18th hole.
Romero drained a lengthy eagle putt at No. 18 to move Argentina into third place, as well, while Welshmen Phillip Price and Mark Mouland shot a 62 for a share of 17-under 199 with Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain (65), Thomas Bjorn and Soren Hansen of Denmark (65), and Andrew Coltart and Dean Robertson of Scotland (66).
Robertson chipped in for birdie at the 15th to lift Scotland to 18-under but he and Coltart ran into trouble at the next hole and were lucky to come away with a bogey. Robertson had an opportunity to make up for the bad hole but missed a four-footer for birdie at the 17th.
The Norwegian tandem of Per Haugsrud and Henrik Bjornstad fashioned an 11-under-par 61 -- the low round of the tournament -- to jump into a tie for 11th with England (63), Australia (64) and Ireland (64) at 16-under 200.
Click Here for Full-Field Scores From the WGC-EMC World Cup
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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.