Big Challenge for Stenson Molinari

By Tom AbbottFebruary 6, 2007, 5:00 pm
Editors Note: Tom Abbott is the host of Golf Central UK. He will be filing a bi-weekly column on thegolfchannel.com with news, opinions and his inside knowledge of the European Tour.
 
Stenson King of the Desert Swing
Henrik Stenson
Henrik Stenson has moved inside the top 10 on the Official World Golf Ranking. (WireImage)
Henrik Stenson became the first Swedish player to win the Dubai Desert Classic last week, beating Ernie Els by a shot at the Emirates Golf Club. Im not sure what it is about the Middle East, but it seems to bring out the best in Stensons golf. Last year, he went second, first, seventh through the stretch; this season: eighth, seventh, first. Cast your minds back to this time last year and youll remember that Stenson was all the rage in world golf; some were even predicting him to be the first rookie to win the Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller. However, he struggled to maintain his form and didnt churn out the results midway through the year, only managing to win one more event at the BMW International Open. The big question for Stenson is whether he will change that trend and built on this period instead of letting it become the highlight of his season. One quick side note: Stenson acts as a golf ambassador for the Emirate of Dubai, so they really couldnt ask for a better winner.
 
Peoples Favorite of the Week: Ross Fisher
I played a bit of golf with Ross Fisher when we were juniors back home in Surrey, England. At the time I was playing county golf for Surrey, which is probably not much bigger than the city limits of most major American cities, the team boasted a roster which included, Paul Casey, James Heath, Kieran Staunton, Ross Fisher, Sam Osborne and Zane Scotland - all of whom went on to play on the European Tour. Although Casey stands head and shoulders above the rest at present, Fisher is fast becoming a star. Even back in his junior days The Fish was a huge hitter. Obviously, long driving is just a small part of becoming a top class professional, but Fisher has no doubt raised all parts of his game to be able to compete with the big boys. Last season, Fishers main goal in the early season was to make the BMW Championship at Wentworth, his home course. He did indeed play the event and afterwards his results began to dwindle; it was almost as if the steam had gone out of his year. This season, Fisher and his agent Mark Booker have been able to sit down and plan a much better schedule seeing him play fewer events in an effort to keep the momentum going throughout the year.
 
Hidden Gems
The PGA Merchandise Show took place in Orlando recently, attracting a number of friends from abroad, among whom was Michael ODonnell, the Director of Golf at the Terre Blanche Golf Club just outside Cannes in France. I had the pleasure of visiting the course, which includes a five-star Four Seasons Hotel, last autumn and I must tell you its absolutely magic, with two lay-outs, the Chateaux and the Riou. The former is the tougher, longer lay-out, which although not insight of the coast, affords spectacular views of the Provincial countryside - and when I visited, it was in fabulous shape.
 
I fully expect the course to attract some sort of professional tournament in the not too distant future, and my advice for those of you in Europe would be to take a weekend gateway and live the lap of luxury. For those readers further a field, make a trip to play golf in France; the country offers many hidden gems. I remember playing the French Amateur at Chantilly some years ago, and wondering how a venue that exquisite had disappeared from the French Open rota. Chantilly first hosted its National Open in 1913 and has since played host a further nine times, with Robert De Vicenzo and Nick Faldo on the list of winners. The week I played the Amateur, I was lucky enough to stay at the home of one of the members and my bedroom looked out over the Chateaux, which was illuminated at night. Id leave the shutters open and fall asleep looking at this majestic castle; it was spectacular.
 
Big Challenge for Former U.S. Amateur Champ
Congratulations to Eduardo Molinari, who overcame Gustavo Mendoza at the Columbia Masters on Sunday in a two-hole play-off. Molinari, who youll remember as the 2005 U.S. Amateur champion, has struggled to find his footing in professional golf following his invites to the Open Championship, U.S. Open and the Masters Tournament. He played the Columbia Masters on a sponsor's invite having failed to obtain any status from last years European Tour Qualifying School. Now hell be able to set his schedule on the Challenge Tour this season and no doubt will obtain a handful of starts on the main tour as a sponsor's invite. Molinari collected just over 21,000 euros for his victory last week. As long as he keeps decent form this season and finishes in the top 10 a handful of more times before year's end, he should obtain one of the valuable 20 spots on the main tour that are on offer this year to Challenge Tour graduates.
 
Another Jacklin
Tony Jacklin was spotted at the Columbia Masters last week, but the 1969 Open Champion wasnt playing. Instead, he was carrying the bag of 15-year-old son Sean who was given a sponsor's invite into the tournament. Jacklin senior was a champion of the Bogota Open during his career and still holds the 72-hole scoring record at the club. Despite having dad on the bag, Sean Jacklin struggled in his Challenge Tour debut carding rounds of 86 and 87 to miss the cut.
 
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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.