Bradley determined to move up in golf world

By Will GrayJanuary 29, 2015, 9:38 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Consider it golf’s version of No Man’s Land.

While storylines often bounce from aging veterans to young guns, Keegan Bradley is sort of … in between. Established, but not a veteran. Short of his peak years, but hardly a newcomer.

Bradley often is grouped with the game’s newest crop of stars, but at age 28 he is embarking on his fifth full season on the PGA Tour. Four years have passed since his breakthrough win at the PGA Championship, a victory that led to Rookie of the Year, and more than two years have gone by since his last win of any kind.

He might not fit a conventional label, but after an opening 65 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Bradley strode to the podium to confirm that he is not lacking for confidence.

“I’m in a different place now than I was even last year,” Bradley said. “I feel different just walking around, more comfortable, and I think that’s important.”

Even in his post-round habits, that comfort is clear. He handled the throngs at TPC Scottsdale as well as would be expected from a disciple of fan-friendly Phil Mickelson. After taking the early lead, he devoted as much of his news conference to discussing his round as he did to his thoughts on the upcoming Super Bowl and his beloved New England Patriots.

He has been here before, he expects to be here again, and he carries himself accordingly.

“I feel as though I belong out here,” he said. “I have friends out here now. I stay in the same hotels, I know places to go eat that I like, places to go.”

Spots out here are usually reserved for players who crack $2 million in earnings, as Bradley has in each of his first four seasons. Last year’s total, $2.82 million, was the first time he finished with less than $3 million.

He’s certainly not lacking for pocket change. The only deficit, relatively speaking, is in the trophy case.

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Bradley won twice in his rookie year, but since then he has just one victory – a come-from-behind win at the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational when Jim Furyk made double bogey on the 72nd hole. Since then, multiple 54-hole leads have come and gone, while Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker have four victories apiece.

As a result, his goals for this season are clear: create as many chances as possible to end the drought, and cash in on at least one.

“My main goal is to put myself in contention,” he said. “I want to win, most importantly, but to be there is my goal, because I feel as though the guys that are the best in the world are consistently on top of the leaderboard.”

The comment belies Bradley’s unusual status in the game. At No. 32 in the world, many would consider him already among the upper echelon, but for Bradley there’s still room to improve. On the other hand, he no longer fits the mold of a rising star.

“I’m 28. I think you’ve got to be under 25 to be a true young gun,” he said.

It’s a similar situation to the one faced by Rickie Fowler, who is viewed as a member of the Tour’s next generation of stars but at age 26 is making his seventh appearance this week at TPC Scottsdale.

“I don’t know if that’s considered to be a vet yet, or if I’m still young. I guess I’m kind of in the middle,” said Fowler, who opened with a 1-under 70. “Last year and this year I have had a couple groups where I have been the oldest player. Maybe that’s veteran territory, I don’t know.”

Like Fowler, Bradley’s rise to stardom was a quick one. In fact, it doesn’t get more extreme than winning your first major appearance, as Bradley did at the 2011 PGA.

The ascent may have been unconventional, but the result is clear: Bradley is among the Tour’s best, even if he still has plenty of years ahead of him and plenty of goals to chase.

“It’s a big adjustment to go from, you know, playing Hooters Tour to a couple years later being out here,” he said. “It’s a process. I finally feel as though I’m settling in.”

Nothing in between about that.

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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.