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Day's familiar smile back on display at Conway

By Will GraySeptember 15, 2017, 10:02 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Even now, with his game once again clicking and a smile back on his face, Jason Day sometimes shakes his head in disbelief when recalling the performance he authored at Conway Farms Golf Club two years ago.

To hear him talk of his wire-to-wire victory at the 2015 BMW Championship that took him to No. 1 in the world is to listen to someone describing an out-of-body experience. His confidence was at an all-time high, and the shots he regularly pulled off – like taking driver on the narrow third hole – now seem unfathomable, even to him.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get back there,” Day said. “Even if I did hit an errant shot, it didn’t matter. I’d go in there with a good attitude. [It] always seemed like I had a better lie and better bounces. And when you have kind of this year, my attitude hasn’t been as great as it should have been on the golf course.”

Ask any pro, or even your typical weekend hacker, and you’ll hear a familiar refrain: when the game is clicking, it feels like the birdies will never stop. But when it turns cold, the notion of a turnaround borders on impossible.

It’s certainly been a lean year for Day, one that started with him as the world’s top-ranked golfer and saw him show up to this week’s event without a spot in the Tour Championship assured. It’s been a humbling journey that included time off as his mother battled cancer, and more recently included the decision to part ways with longtime caddie Col Swatton.

The various ups and downs, both on and off the course, have taken their toll.

“I lost a little confidence in myself and my game, and the ability to go out and get the win,” Day said.

But Friday under sunny skies at Conway Farms, the toothy grin returned after a hole-in-one on No. 17, and Day’s easygoing nature was back in full swing. He carded a 6-under 65 that vaulted him into a tie for second place behind Marc Leishman.


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While the change at caddie this week offers an easy explanation for his sudden resurgence, Day believes the root cause is an internal one.

“At the start of the year, I felt like I was kind of fighting an uphill battle with myself, trying to force things too much,” he said. “I feel like I’m just kind of relaxed out there right now. Even after the hole-in-one, I wasn’t even amped. I felt like my heart would be pounding more, but I kind of went about my business. That tells me my mind is in the right spot.”

Day lost a playoff to Billy Horschel at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, and that proved to be a rare highlight in an otherwise underwhelming campaign. After holding the top seed to begin the 2016 playoffs, the Aussie entered this week No. 28, in danger of missing East Lake for the first time since 2012.

But Day need only look back to last year for a source of inspiration, as Rory McIlroy flipped a mediocre season on its head with a pair of postseason wins that netted the FedExCup title. It’s a goal that’s not especially far-fetched for Day after two more rounds of dominance at Conway Farms, where he tied for fourth in 2013 and bent the course to his will two years ago.

Sixteen months removed from his most recent worldwide win at the 2016 Players Championship, Day appreciates how much a single victory can alter the perception of an entire season.

“I think at the least you need to win at least once to have a successful year,” Day said. “If you won, that means you’ve done something good to keep things going. I mean, it’s not weighing heavy on my mind. I just know that I kind of need to focus on what I have done. I know that I can do it.”

Day has always been a player who leans heavily on mental prep and visualization, but this week he has found success in taking his foot off the gas. It’s an ebb and flow for players at the top level, all of whom vacillate throughout the year while trying to find the sparse middle ground that yields both ample focus and a sufficiently loose approach.

“You definitely can’t play this game I would say for a long period of time stressed out, or not being relaxed, just because of how much we do play, how much pressure there can be,” said Rickie Fowler, who sits alongside Day at 13 under through two rounds. “The more you can be mentally relaxed or rested, it takes a lot of stress and kind of pressure off of your game.”

The heights of 2015 may continue to prove elusive for Day. But with the birdies once again falling at Conway Farms, they still serve as a reminder of just how much talent he possesses – and how quickly the smile can return once the game starts trending in the right direction.

Relaxed and imbued with an extra jolt of confidence, Day has adjusted his goals from simply making the 30-man field at East Lake to leaving this week with a trophy that could put a much-needed positive spin on an otherwise trying season.

“Priorities change as the years go on,” Day said. “Seeing the last two days, I know I still have it in myself to be able to hit the correct shots and go out there and try and win.”

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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.