Norman Makes Field for Bethpage
The charismatic Australian shot 68-71 on Tuesday for a 5-under-par total of 139 to join John Huston and amateur Kevin Warrick as the sectional qualifiers from Old Memorial Golf Club in Tampa, Fla.
Norman captured a pair of British Open titles but fell short in the other majors despite putting himself in position to win on a number of occasions. Although he may be best remembered for his final-round collapse at the 1996 Masters, Norman also suffered heartbreaking losses in past U.S. Opens.
In 1984, Norman lost to Fuzzy Zoeller in a 18-hole playoff at Winged Foot, with Zoeller shooting a 67 in the extra round to Norman's 75. Two years later at Shinnecock Hills, Norman took the lead into the final round but closed with a 75 to tie for 12th. He was also a 54-hole leader at Shinnecock Hills in 1995 but carded 73 on Sunday to finish second.
Norman missed the U.S. Open cut in 1997, 1999 and 2000 and didn't qualify for the championship in 1998 and 2001.
See who earned a spot through Sectional Qualifying
Jean Van de Velde, who surrendered a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole of the 1999 British Open then lost to Paul Lawrie in a four-hole playoff, was among 22 players who qualified in Purchase, N.Y.
The Frenchman finished two shots back of Tom Byrum, who at five-under 138 was the medalist in Purchase. Others who made it through the 36-hole qualifier in New York were Jeff Maggert, Jay Haas, Paul Stankowski, Craig Stadler, Bob Tway, David Frost, Scott Dunlap and K.J. Choi, whose victory at last month's Compaq Classic made him the first South Korean to win on the PGA Tour.
Wayne Grady, Harrison Frazar and Per-Ulrik Johansson needed extra holes to earn their spots in New York, where the qualifying shifted between Brae Burn and Century Country Clubs.
Two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, 1995 PGA Championship winner Steve Elkington and 2000 U.S. Amateur runner-up James Driscoll failed to qualify in Purchase.
A 12-man playoff for one spot took place Tuesday morning at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md., with Michael Muehr emerging as the qualifier. David Peoples and 1998 U.S. Amateur champion Hank Kuehne earned alternate status while such notables as Duffy Waldorf, Dennis Paulson, Cameron Beckman and Bob May failed to qualify.
May is remembered for giving Tiger Woods all he could handle at the 2000 PGA Championship before losing to the superstar in a playoff.
Trevor Dodds, who has posted victories on the PGA, Buy.Com and Canadian Tours, qualified alongside Bill Lunde and Canadian Tour winner Mario Tiziani at Boone Valley Golf Club in St. Louis. Jeff Julian, who is suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, opened with a 78 then withdrew after nine holes of the second round.
Charles Raulerson, Jr., was the lone player to advance from Westmoreland Country Club in Export, Pa. Jimmy Walker and Andy Sanders were the two qualifiers from Shadow Hawk Club in Houston, while European Tour winner Thomas Levet was one of three who moved on from Ansley Golf Club in Atlanta.
Heavy rains forced the suspension of sectional qualifying at Biltmore Country Club in North Barrington, Ill., for a second day. The first round is scheduled to resume at 9:30 AM ET with the second round set to begin at 10:00 AM.
Full coverage of the 102nd U.S. Open
McIlroy gets back on track
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.
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.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
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.
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.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
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.
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.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
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.
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.