Scott Starts Strong Tiger Stuggles

By Sports NetworkMarch 25, 2004, 5:00 pm
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Adam Scott fired a 7-under-par 65 on Thursday to take the lead after the first round of The Players Championship. In stark contrast, Tiger Woods continued to struggle with a 3-over 75 to finish 10 shots off the pace.
Woods was unable to shake the troubles that led to a share of 46th place at Bay Hill last week, where his quest for a fifth straight victory at the event was sabotaged when he shot over par in three of the four rounds. Thursday at Sawgrass was no different.
The top player in the game stumbled early with a bogey at the par-5 second and dropped another shot with a bogey at the sixth. He countered with a birdie at the ninth but found trouble again with a bogey at the very next hole.
The 28-year-old's problems continued with a bogey at the 14th before his third shot landed within 10 feet of the hole at the par-5 16th. Woods drained the birdie putt but his progress was halted moments later at the infamous par- 3 17th.
Woods let his tee shot fly over the island green leaving a dismayed look on his face as the ball fell into the water.
He was able to get up and down for a bogey from the drop area, however, and avoided further disaster with a 14-foot par save at the last.
'Towards the end I made a few puts to keep me where I'm at right now,' said Woods.
With the Masters a few weeks away, Woods has now shot over par in each of his last four rounds.
'We've all been through it and it's just something that you have to keep fighting through,' said Woods. 'When it turns, it's great. But, you just have to keep plugging along, keep fighting and keep grinding it out.'
Scott on the other hand has no room to complain. The 23-year-old tied for third last week at Bay Hill for his third top-10 finish of the season.
'I've really turned my game around a little bit,' said Scott, who earned his first PGA Tour victory last year at the Deutsche Bank Championship. 'Not just this year, but from the second half last year, I played pretty solid. And it's just been steadily improving since then.'
The young Australian, whose swing has often been compared to that of Woods, caught fire on the front side with five birdies over his first nine holes.
Scott ran home a 30-foot putt for a birdie at the 12th but gave that shot back with a bogey at the 15th.
He recovered with a birdie at the very next hole and dropped a 9-iron inside three feet for a birdie at the last to secure sole possession of the opening-round lead.
'It was a perfect morning this morning,' said Scott. 'Any morning tee time that you've got in the first two days, it's always good to take advantage of it.'
Duffy Waldorf also played in the morning and got to 7-under on his round with an eagle at the par-5 16th.
Waldorf was unlucky at the 17th, however, and found the water en route to a double-bogey. He followed with a birdie on the closing hole to join Kevin Sutherland in a tie for second at 6-under-par 66.
'From what I could tell it landed about pin-high but in the fringe, and took a big hop and went over,' Waldorf said of his tee shot on 17. 'Pin-high is probably not good with the pin in the back, so that was too far. I wasn't trying to land it pin-high, I was trying to land it five or six yards short.'
K.J. Choi, Thomas Bjorn and Bob Burns were two shots off the lead at 5-under-par 67.
Ernie Els carded a 4-under 68 that featured a chip-in birdie at the ninth to join Padraig Harrington, Scott Verplank, Sergio Garcia and Brandt Jobe in a tie for seventh.
John Daly, Kenny Perry, Jerry Kelly, Jeff Sluman, Alex Cejka, Bob Tway, Steve Elkington and Frank Lickliter II were one shot further back at 3-under-par 69.
Defending champion Davis Love III had an atrocious start to his round with three bogeys and a double-bogey over his first four holes. Love added a bogey at the sixth before picking up his lone birdie of the day at the ninth en route to a round of 77.
'If you can get back to even par before the weekend, you probably have a chance,' said Love.
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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.