'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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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

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

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.