'Bubble boys' take different approaches to pressure

By Will GrayOctober 3, 2015, 11:14 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – There remains one last trophy to hand out this season.

Someone is leaving TPC Sawgrass with the hardware after winning the Web.com Tour Championship, that much we know. There will be a ceremony with plenty of pictures and smiles, not to mention the six-figure check.

But the true tournament, the battle that will decide career paths for the next 12 months, will be fought below the surface.

The infamous bubble, the slippery surface where cards are clinched and dreams are dashed, will be where the real tension is Sunday on Dye’s Valley Course. A select few will catapault onto the PGA Tour in two weeks’ time. A vast majority, however, will be relegated to another season on the developmental circuit, left only with a winter to rue what might have been.

A year ago, the bubble was the furthest thing from Derek Fathauer’s mind. He was cruising to victory at the season finale, a win that clinched the top spot on the Web.com Tour Finals money list and brought with it fully exempt status.

After an unsuccessful PGA Tour campaign, Fathauer is back at TPC Sawgrass and in a far different position. The defending champion entered this week at No. 33 in earnings, with cards going only to the top 25, but after a third-round 67 he is projected up to No. 22.

Fathauer knew that nerves would be in play this week with his card at stake, so he brought in his twin brother, Daryl, to caddie and add a bit of levity. The last-minute switch has paid dividends thus far.

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“I needed to lighten it up, kind of free it up a little bit,” said Fathauer, who is tied for 17th at 5 under. “It was getting too intense for me.”

The 29-year-old knows that the pressure he felt entering the week will only be ratcheted up during the final round, especially in his precarious position. His Saturday dinner plans will include some tacos and a little tequila to “kind of kill my brain a little bit.”

“I would like to say I handle the pressure pretty well,” Fathauer said. “If I keep it simple, I should be fine. If I start kind of thinking ahead of myself is when I get into trouble.”

Unlike Fathauer, Kevin Tway has plenty of bubble experience. After a strong start to his Web.com season, Tway stalled out this summer and entered the final regular-season event at No. 26 on the season-long money list. He finished T-45, but failed to land a PGA Tour card.

Tway earned less than $7,000 during the first three Finals events, but now has vaulted from No. 62 to provisionally No. 23 on the Finals money list after a third-round 67, earning himself another chance at redemption.

“[The pressure] is probably worse off the course than on the course,” Tway said. “You play a lot of what-if games and sit in your hotel room coming up with scenarios, which doesn’t help anything.”

Tway’s final-round game plan? Keep the ball in the fairway, and keep his mouth full.

“Tomorrow just the same as usual, maybe try to eat a little bit more,” he said. “I tend to get sassy if I don’t eat a lot.”

Billy Hurley III started this week at No. 26 in earnings, right on the edge of a return to the PGA Tour. After rounds of 71-69-69, Hurley is tied for 49th and has fallen back a spot to No. 27 in the projections.

After an emotional summer that included the suicide of his father, Hurley has one last chance to turn things around and earn a trip back to the big leagues.

“I’m sure I’ll feel pressure tomorrow. I’d be lying if I said I was going to be completely loose,” Hurley said. “But at the end of the day, I do feel pretty peaceful about whatever happens, and I do feel good about my game.”

Luke Guthrie entered the last event of Finals without a postseason cent to his name, and after an opening 71 he appeared in danger of missing the cut. But he battled back to advance to the weekend, then added an old ally for the third round.

Guthrie swapped putters, opting for the one he used in 2012 when he won twice on the Web.com Tour. The change paid off immediately, as he carded a 5-under 65, the day’s low round. At 7 under, he is tied for seventh and has moved up to No. 32 in the latest projections.

Guthrie birdied his final hole at the Wyndham Championship to crack the top 150 of the FedEx Cup standings, securing conditional status in the process, and he plans to take an aggressive approach in the final round.

“For way too long, I’ve been playing golf not to make a mistake, and almost waiting for it,” Guthrie said. “I just need to go play great, go try to make birdies and don’t protect anything. Attack the course, don’t let the course attack you.”

Even PGA Tour winners aren’t immune to the pressures of Finals. Robert Garrigus appeared ready to clinch his card last week in Columbus, building a three-shot lead with eight holes to go. But the veteran imploded from there, shooting a back-nine 41 and entered this week at No. 33 in earnings.

Garrigus said the marathon effect of the four-week series is different than the sprint of Q-School, but he remains confident that his experience will pay off in the season’s final round.

“I know I can play golf with the best players in the world. I’ve done it before, I’ve been top 30 in the world before,” Garrigus said. “So I know it’s there. You just have to focus and keep everything on the down-low pretty much until you’re done.”

The mantra out here is that “every shot matters,” and nowhere is that more true than at the season finale. Status will be earned, lives will change and roads will diverge – sometimes based on the outcome of a single shot.

This is as nerve-wracking as it gets, and it will have nothing to do with who walks off with the trophy.

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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 three runner-up finishes 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.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''