Stress-Free Scott Shares Lead

By Sports NetworkNovember 3, 2006, 5:00 pm
2006 The TOUR Championship presented by Coca-ColaATLANTA -- Joe Durant played his way into The TOUR Championship with a six-week run of spectacular golf.
He needs it to last two more days.
'I'm just trying to stay out of my own way right now and not wake up for a little while longer,' Durant said Friday after shooting another 2-under 68 to remain tied for the lead at East Lake Golf Club.
Retief Goosen
Overnight co-leader Retief Goosen shot 1-over 71 Friday to fall three back.
Durant saved par from a bunker at the tough, par-3 18th for the second day in a row and ended atop the leaderboard alongside Australian Adam Scott at 4-under-par 136.
With a win and three other top-5 finishes in his last four starts, Durant made it to 23rd on the PGA TOUR money list to earn his berth in the PGA TOUR's final event.
'Two more days and I can have a nice offseason,' said Durant, whose title at the Funai Classic two weeks ago was his first in five years.
Scott fired a 3-under 67, just missing a long putt at 18 that would have given him the outright lead. He and Durant are three shots ahead of Retief Goosen, Stuart Appleby, Trevor Immelman and Brett Quigley.
Durant shared the first-round lead with Goosen after a cold, blustery Thursday that saw scores skyrocket among some of golf's biggest names. Playing in the final pairing with the two-time U.S. Open winner on Friday, Durant more than held his own.
After making a bogey at the par-3 second, Durant posted birdies at Nos. 4, 7 and 9 to make the turn tied with Scott at 4 under.
'I was kind of tentative starting out,' Durant said. 'I don't know why I felt nervous today, but I kind of did starting out. After I birdied No. 4 I kind of settled down and got into a rhythm.'
Durant drained a 17-foot birdie putt at the 12th to take a brief one-shot lead on Scott, then fell back into a tie when he made bogey from a fairway bunker at the 13th.
The key to his round was a series of saved pars on the final five holes, including one from the rough at the par-5 15th, and a pair of two-putts from 30 feet at the 16th and 17th holes.
Then, at the 18th, Durant found the same bunker he had on Thursday. From 35 yards away, he chipped within 9 feet and made the par putt to remain tied with Scott, who was already in the clubhouse.
'That's a very difficult hole for me,' Durant said, 'because I'm right in between clubs -- a 5-wood's too much and a 3-iron is just not enough. I am lucky to have made two pars from that bunker.'
Scott, who hasn't won since 2004, had four birdies on the front nine. He made a 6-foot birdie putt at the ninth that put him at 5 under and in sole possession of the lead, but gave that shot back when he made bogey from a bunker at the 10th.
A series of frustrating putts -- a 12-footer at the 17th lipped out, an impressive 33-foot try at the 18th just missed -- left Scott with disappointing pars, but in good position heading to the weekend.
'I hit good putts,' he said, 'but they were obviously just slight misreads.'
One thing is sure this week: East Lake, home of Bobby Jones, is playing like a U.S. Open course. Grinding it out for pars just might get the job done.
'When you don't drop shots, it makes life a lot easier out there,' said Scott, who ranks fourth in driving accuracy and third in greens in regulation. 'I think the key to that around here is getting in the fairway off the tee.'
For Durant, who is tops in putting, the key has been to find a way to make the intermediate putts.
'That's really been the difference,' he said, 'the 4-to-10-foot range putt that I've been making.'
Among the remaining pack, several players took their shots at the lead Friday.
Goosen, the 2004 champion, led by one after an eight-foot birdie at No. 3. But he was done in by a pair of bogeys, including a three-putt disaster at the par-5 15th. He shot a 1-over 71 to end alongside Appleby, fellow South African Immelman and Quigley at 1-under 139.
The highlight of Appleby's round was a chip-in birdie from 60 feet at the 15th. The Australian had five birdies, three bogeys and a double-bogey in a round of 70.
Immelman shot a 4-under 66 and earned his share of third place with three birdies on his final five holes, including one from 22 feet at the tough 18th.
Quigley's round was less up-and-down than the others, a steady 2-under 68 that featured two birdies and 16 pars.
World No. 2 Jim Furyk -- the only top-three golfer in the field after Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson opted out -- shot a 1-over 71 to fall from a tie for third into a tie for seventh place.
He was joined at even-par 140 by Luke Donald (67) and Zack Johnson (69).
Vijay Singh, the 2002 winner, had a 2-over 72 and shares 10th place with Arron Oberholser (70) and Tom Pernice, Jr. (72) at 141.
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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.