Q-School Medalist Leads Nissan

By Sports NetworkFebruary 17, 2005, 5:00 pm
2005 Nissan OpenPACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- England's Brian Davis, the medalist at last year's Q-School, posted a 6-under-par 65 on Thursday to take the first-round lead of the Nissan Open.
Davis' countryman Luke Donald shared the lead until a bogey at his last. He carded a 5-under 66 and is tied for second place with Darren Clarke, who aced the par-3 sixth, and Brett Quigley.
Tiger Woods put himself in good position to reclaim the top spot in the world ranking. If Woods finishes better than a solo fourth place, he would overtake Vijay Singh for first in the rankings.
Woods shot a 4-under 67 and is tied for fifth place, but he could have played much better. He tallied three three-putts and missed a pair of birdie putts from inside 10 feet.
'I played like a fool today,' said Woods. 'I putted terrible. It's an absolutely horrific day on the greens. I'm pleased with the way I hit the ball, but disappointed with the way I putted today.'
This marked Woods' best start at this event, which is the only one Woods has played at least four times and never won.
The weather played havoc on Riviera and the tournament Thursday. Wind changed several times for the players in the morning tee times before a steady rain pelted the course.
Davis had the final tee time of the morning group and did not seem affected by the weather. At the par-5 first hole, Davis hit a driver, then knocked a 4-iron to 4 feet. He sank the eagle putt, then played solidly around the turn.
At the sixth, Davis converted a 5-footer for birdie, then made it two in a row with an 11-footer at No. 7. Davis parred the eighth hole, but tapped in a short birdie putt at the ninth to make the turn at 5-under 30.
'I got the ball rolling straight away,' said Davis. 'I made it close a few times. I made some good putts.'
Davis started strong on the back nine by running home a 9-footer for birdie at the 10th. Then the wind shifted and was into his face on the second nine, but Davis remained steady.
He parred every hole, but looked to be in trouble at the 15th, when Davis was looking at a bogey. The Englishman holed a clutch 16-footer for par, then parred out to get the 18-hole lead for the first time in his career, including his time on the European Tour.
'The back nine played really tough,' admitted Davis. 'I made a key par putt with four holes to go to keep my momentum going. It played tough coming in and the rain started, so I was obviously pleased to get in at 6 under par.'
Donald soared to the top of the leaderboard with a birdie at his opening hole, the 10th at Riviera, and some spectacular golf around the turn. He collected three birdies in a four-hole span from the 17th, then looked like he was going to take sole possession of the lead.
He sank two long birdie putts at four and five, then hit his tee ball inside 2 feet to set up birdie at the sixth and join Davis at minus-6. Donald's drive at nine landed in a divot and his approach found sand. He made bogey to fall into a tie for second.
'You've got to take the good with the bad,' said Donald. 'The rain wasn't coming down too hard and it didn't feel like it played that difficult out there.'
Clarke was 3 under on his round thanks to four birdies and one bogey. Then he came to the 199-yard, par-3 sixth. He hit a 7-iron that pitched over the flag and watched as it trickled back into the hole for the only ace on Thursday.
'A little bit of skill and a lot of luck,' said Clarke, referring to his hole-in-one.
Quigley birdied his first four holes then added three more birdies and two bogeys for his 66.
Two-time defending champion Mike Weir is part of the group tied with Woods in fifth place. Jose Coceres, Adam Scott, Kevin Sutherland, Omar Uresti and James Driscoll are knotted with Woods and Weir two shots out of the lead.
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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.