Sweet Round Gives Sauers Lead

By Sports NetworkAugust 31, 2002, 4:00 pm
SURREY, British Columbia -- Gene Sauers, playing in only his sixth PGA Tour event in the last two years, posted a 5-under 66 to take the lead after Saturday's third round of the Air Canada Championship. His 54-hole hole total of 13-under-par 200 left him one stroke clear of Australians Robert Allenby and Peter Lonard, who each turned in rounds of 68.
Steve Lowery, the runner-up in last year's event, made five birdies and one double-bogey in a 3-under 68. He finished alone in fourth at 11-under 202, while Kevin Sutherland (69) and second-round leader Craig Barlow shared fifth place at minus 10.
Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke birdied five of his first six holes on the way to a 66 that matched Sauers and Brandt Jobe for low round of the day at Northview Golf & Country Club. Clarke jumped from 38th place into a tie for seventh at 8-under with Blaine McCallister (70) and David Gossett (72).
Vijay Singh, the highest ranked player in the field at No. 9 in the world, rounded out the top-10 as part of a 10-man logjam that included Jobe, defending champion Joel Edwards and 2000 Air Canada winner Rory Sabbatini. The group finished six shots off the pace at 7-under-par.
Sauers, who started Saturday's play two strokes off the lead, began his climb to the top of the leaderboard with a 25-foot birdie putt at the third hole followed by three straight birdies from the fifth to the seventh.
In between clubs with his approach to the par-4 10th, Sauers chose a 9-iron but came up short of the green. He chipped up then missed a 10-foot par putt for his first dropped shot since his initial hole of the tournament, ending a streak of 44 bogey-free holes.
Sauers immediately struck back at the 157-yard, par-3 11th hole, where he knocked a 9-iron to 25 feet and rolled in the birdie to return to 12-under. He moved to 13-under at the par-5 12th after he blasted his third shot out of a bunker and sank an eight-footer for birdie.
Sauers, who turned 40 last week, was a regular in the top-50 on the PGA Tour money list from 1986, the year he won his first title at the Bank of Boston Classic, until 1992. He also captured the 1989 Hawaiian Open and the 1990 Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic, which was an unofficial event.
His last full year on the PGA Tour was 1996. Sauers made 16 of 25 cuts that season but raked in only $123,904 to finish 148th in earnings.
'I haven't played in that many regular tour events this year or in the past lately because I lost my card and I kind of got tired with the game,' said the Georgia native, who has competed on the Buy.Com Tour since 1997 and won its 1998 South Carolina Classic.
'I wasn't happy out here, the way I was hitting it. I was hitting it in the rough, and you can't play golf out of the rough. It really got frustrating. Now I have some new irons, a new driver and I am hitting the fairways. Things are looking back up again.'
Sauers, who has finished in the top-10 in his last two starts on the Buy.Com Tour, made three previous appearances on the 2002 PGA Tour -- all in July. He tied for 48th in both the Greater Milwaukee Open and B.C. Open, then tied for 40th at the John Deere Classic.
Should he hold on and win on Sunday, Sauers would collect $630,000, nearly $200,000 more than he made in his best full season. He would also earn a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour.
'I haven't had my tour card for the last six or seven years and it's nice to come out here and have that opportunity,' Sauers said. 'I don't really want to go back to (PGA Tour Qualifying) school, so let's hope that I can put it all together tomorrow and not have to worry about that.'
Allenby, who fired a course-record 63 en route to a second-place finish at last week's WGC-NEC Invitational near Seattle, continued to go low this week with a career-best 62 in Friday's second round. Despite two early bogeys on Saturday, Allenby kept in touch with the leaders with four birdies on the back nine.
'The front nine wasn't the best of starts,' admitted Allenby, 31, who dropped shots at the second and fifth holes but managed a birdie at the third. 'I mentally turned it around on the back nine and they are the thoughts I need to take into tomorrow.'
Allenby chipped and putted from short range for birdie at the par-5 12th, then picked up another shot with a 12-footer for birdie at the 14th. He closed with birdies on the last two holes, first knocking a pitching wedge to six feet at the 17th then rolling in a 25-foot putt at the 18th.
'I was a good way to finish,' he said.
Lonard, a three-time winner on the Australasian Tour who is in the midst of a successful rookie campaign on the PGA Tour, produced a pair of eagles Saturday in a round that also included four bogeys and three birdies.
'I sort of bungled through,' Lonard said. 'I was lucky enough to make a couple eagles on the par-5s.'
The 35-year-old Aussie drained a 90-foot putt at the 584-yard seventh. He later secured a less improbable eagle when he struck a 3-wood shot to six feet at the 548-yard 12th. He is a combined 10-under on the par-5s this week.
Lonard added a 20-foot birdie putt at the 13th and a three-foot birdie at the 15th to tie Sauers for the lead at 13-under-par. He three-putted from 50 feet for bogey at the 17th, however, missing his par putt from four feet.
Lonard has yet to miss a cut in 20 starts on the 2002 PGA Tour.
'I think I'm getting closer,' said Lonard, who has three top-10 finishes and 10 others in the top-25 this season. 'The more I hang around and knock on the door, one day the door will open, and I'll swing past and get one.'
Full-field scores from the Air Canada Championship
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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

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 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.

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.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

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.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

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.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.