Norwegian Leads in Hong Kong

By Sports NetworkDecember 1, 2001, 5:00 pm
Norway's Henrik Bjornstad fired his career-low round of 10-under-par 61 Saturday to grab a slim lead heading into the final 18 holes of the Omega Hong Kong Open. The 22-year-old from Oslo vaulted to 17-under 196, one shot ahead of another young golfer, Adam Scott of Australia.
Scott, 21, owned a piece of the lead until a bogey at the last saw him finish with a 66 for a three-day total of 16-under-par 197. He was followed by two-time Masters champion Jos Maria Olazbal, whose 7-under 64 earned him a share of third place at minus 15.
Bjornstad began the day six strokes off the lead but quickly made his presence felt with four birdies and an eagle over a span of five holes, starting at the second. He rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-3 8th for his third 2 of the round, then saved par out of bunker at the 9th to cap a sizzling front-side 28.
After spinning a wedge back to two feet for birdie at the 10th, Bjornstad found a bunker with his second shot at the par-5 12th and blasted out to tap-in range for a birdie that took him to 16-under.
The Norwegian's run at the magic number 59 came screeching to a halt at the 13th, where he failed to convert a birdie putt after his approach stopped within three feet of the hole. Bjornstad also missed a 10-foot try at the 14th but did manage to sink a 25-footer for birdie at 16 to post a new course record at Hong Kong Golf Club.
'Everything just went my way. I hit almost every shot good,' said Bjornstad, who is seeking his first professional victory. 'If I had made the putts, it would have been real good. But I can't complain about a 61.'
Bjornstad, the Norwegian Amateur champion in 1996, was a member of the European Tour in 1999 but lost his playing privileges after missing 13 cuts in 20 starts. His best showing that year was a tie for 13th at the Heineken Classic.
Since winning his card back at Q-School prior to the 2001 season, Bjornstad has recorded three top-10s, including a career-best tie for fourth at the Argentina Open. His improved play helped him finish 83rd on the Order of Merit, giving him exempt status on the 2002 tour.
Scott, the first-round leader after shooting 64 on Thursday, turned a poor opening drive into a bogey and slipped to 10-under-par. But he birdied half of his next 14 holes, culminating in a chip-in birdie at the 15th, to join Bjornstad, who was already in the clubhouse, at 17-under.
Although Scott missed the fairway at the 18th, his approach easily carried the water fronting the green and landed on the front edge of the putting surface. He left his first putt five feet short, however, and his bid to save par slid by the left edge of the cup.
'I moved myself into contention. It was a good job done,' Scott said. 'I played much better than yesterday and hopefully, I can keep it going. It would have been nice to have tied for the lead but a lot of stuff can happen out there.'
Scott, who turned pro in mid-2000 after an outstanding amateur career, reeled in his breakthrough win in his first start of 2001 at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa.
Olazabal, who captured his 19th European Tour title at the French Open in May, put himself in position to seriously contend for No. 20 with a bogey-free round made up of five birdies and an eagle.
The 35-year-old Spaniard, a runner-up at the BMW Asian Open in Taiwan a week ago, admitted he'll have to do better than his average of 31 putts per round this week if he wants to come out on top Sunday.
'Its going to be a matter of making putts and that is going to be a tough task for me,' he said. 'The grains break one way, then another way and finally you really don't know where to hit it. It is tough to get the pace right. That has been my problem.'
Also at 15-under was England's Mark Foster, who finished first on the 2001 Challenge Tour money list. He turned in a six-birdie, two-bogey 67.
Welshman Mark Pilkington carded a flawless 62 to finish three strokes off the pace with Swedish players Anders Forsbrand and Carl Pettersson, who had matching 68s.
Taiwan's Yeh Wei-Tze and Zaw Moe of Myanmar were 1-2 after Friday's second round but fell back into a tie for eighth place at 12-under 201 with four others, most notably defending champion Simon Dyson of England.
The Hong Kong Open, which began in 1959, is being co-sanctioned by the European Tour and Davidoff (Asian PGA) Tour for the first time. This is the second event to count toward the 2002 European Tour Order of Merit and the season-ending tournament on the 2001 Davidoff Tour schedule.
Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, who also finished second last week in Taiwan, has all but locked up the 2001 Davidoff Tour Order of Merit title. He shot a third-round 67 for a share of 26th place while his main competition, Charlie Wi of Korea, struggled to a 3-over 74 and dropped to 78th.
For Wi to take the money title he will need to finish in the top five and Jaidee will have to take the same sort of tumble that Wi suffered Saturday.
Full-field scores from the Hong Kong Open
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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.