Smith Drives Buick to First Win
Pat Perez (70), David Gossett (71) and Loren Roberts (71) finished tied for second at 10-under-par 274.
'Honestly, I can't describe it,' said Smith. 'It's been unbelievable.'
Smith took the 36-hole lead for the first time in his career with a round of 67 Saturday. On Sunday, Smith had to hold off several challengers on the West Course at Westchester Country Club.
Smith had an up and down start and opened with a 10-foot birdie at the first to reach 12-under. At the very next hole, Smith three-putted for bogey but recovered with a birdie at No. 3.
Roberts stepped up and grabbed a share of the lead with a birdie at the sixth. However, Roberts made back-to-back bogeys from the seventh to see his chances at a comeback dwindle.
Smith bogeyed the fifth but kept plugging along and opened a two-shot edge over the rest of the field at the par-4 10th. He chipped up onto the green inside 18 feet of the cup after a long drive and then drained the putt to return to minus 12.
Smith saved par at the 11th after an errant drive nearly landed in a ditch. At the 12th, Smith continued to struggle off the tee and missed the fairway en route to a bogey.
'I had trouble all week,' said Smith. 'I had a hard time getting in the fairway and hit my drive in the left rough.'
Gossett was also in the middle of a roller coaster round and moved into a tie for first with a birdie at the 14th. At the very next hole, Gossett found the rough to the left of the green. He had an awkward lie and hit his third shot short into a bunker. The 23-year-old managed to get up and down for bogey to fall out of a share of the lead.
Perez, who squandered a late lead at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, was intent on making up for the early-season blunder. At the par-3 16th, Perez chipped in for birdie from just off the green for a share of first.
Smith, who heard the roar of the gallery from the 15th, responded moments later. He hit a brilliant second shot onto the putting surface within 20 feet of the hole and then ran home the putt for birdie and the outright lead at 12-under.
Smith cruised at even par to finish the round. He had a long birdie try at the par-5 18th after he hit his third shot onto the green and watched as the ball skimmed the cup. Smith threw his hands in the air, but his win was already secure. He converted the short par putt for the title.
The 32-year-old collected $630,000 for the win but he will not be able to carry his momentum into next week's U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park's Black Course.
'Obviously you want to play in the Open,' said Smith. 'I've played six weeks in a row and I'll probably be teeing it up on Thursday and Friday with my two kids. There's probably not a better group than playing with them.'
Stewart Cink birdied three of the last four holes for a round of 3-under 68. Cink finished tied for fifth alongside Ian Leggatt at 9-under-par 275.
Tom Lehman also carded a 3-under-par 68. He was joined by Jerry Kelly at 8-under-par 276.
Jim Furyk, Peter Lonard and Stephen Ames were tied for ninth at 6-under-par 278.
A total of six players finished tied for 12th at 5-under-par 279, including last year's winner Sergio Garcia and Bryce Molder.
For Molder, the result was worth so much more. The 23-year-old earned $66,500 to become eligible to receive sponsor's exemptions for the rest of the season.
He was joined by Len Mattiace, Mike Weir, Brad Faxon and David Toms seven shots off the lead
Final results from the Buick Classic
Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur
Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.
The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.
They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.
It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.
“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”
The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.
The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019
The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.
The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.
The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.
The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at Club de Golf de Panama.
Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins
An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.
It was too much “socializing.”
“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”
Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.
“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”
Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.
His plan for doing that?
“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”
McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018
Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.
So much for easing into the new year.
So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.
McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.
“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”
McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.
If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.
After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.
“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.
McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.
“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”
It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.
“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”
A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.
A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.
Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.
To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.
Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.
McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.
“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.
A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.
“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”
A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.