McDowell, Bradley looking for spark in Mexico

By Will GrayNovember 11, 2015, 10:36 pm

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Graeme McDowell has seen this patch of coastline before.

It was in 2007 that McDowell first played the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, accepting a sponsor invitation to play in the inaugural edition. At 27 years old, he was without status on the PGA Tour and simply looking for a spark.

It didn’t come that week – he tied for 63rd – but things have gone well for the Ulsterman since then. That is, until this year.

Coming off his worst season in recent memory, McDowell now returns to Mayakoba, hoping to take a page out of Andy Dufresne’s playbook and discover some hope on a Mexican beach.

While it’s not exactly Zihuatenejo, Mayakoba does represent McDowell’s first PGA Tour start since the PGA Championship. A missed cut at Whistling Straits meant he missed the FedEx Cup Playoffs entirely, creating an unexpected offseason in the heart of the summer.

McDowell has now gone more than a year without a top-10 finish on Tour, and after starting the year at No. 15 in the world, his ranking has plummeted to No. 85.

Under normal circumstances, McDowell would spend the coming fortnight competing in the European Tour’s Final Series in China and Dubai. Instead, it’s Mexico and Georgia as he looks to get ahead in the FedEx Cup race after playing from behind all last season.

“I’ve got to put this year behind me and start moving forward,” McDowell said. “I’ve got to get some numbers under my belt, I’ve got to start playing a little bit. That was probably my main motivation.”

McDowell’s exemptions for winning the 2010 U.S. Open and 2013 RBC Heritage run out at the end of the season, meaning he plays without the luxury of long-term job security for the first time since his breakthrough win at Pebble Beach.

A resident of Florida, McDowell typically doesn’t start his domestic schedule until the Honda Classic in March. But that plan didn’t pan out last season, and he opted to scrap it when faced with the realization that he is not yet qualified for the WGC-Cadillac Championship, WGC-Cadillac Match Play or the Masters.

“I need to play more golf courses where I feel like if I play well, I will contend,” he said. “Events like Mayakoba, McGladrey and into the new year, L.A., Honda, Tampa, stuff like that. That’s what got me to the position to win a major championship, and that’s where I’ve got to go back to basics and start playing more golf, competing and winning tournaments again and get my confidence back.”

Like McDowell, Keegan Bradley was a surprise addition this week. Bradley credited his appearance to both the beauty of this week’s venue and the persuasiveness of some of his peers, but he too is motivated to erase the taste of a disappointing season.

While Bradley advanced to the BMW Championship, he notched only one top-10 finish after the Masters. He failed to make the Presidents Cup squad, instead watching the U.S. victory from home after making a team event the previous three straight years.

Bradley attributed his lack of results to “a lot of weird stuff,” but blamed much of his struggles on putting. With the anchoring ban looming, Bradley has spent this year developing a new stroke on the greens.

There is still work to be done, however, as Bradley’s Tour rank in strokes gained putting fell from 47th during the 2013-14, his final season of anchoring, to 126th this past season.

“I’ve got to give myself a good amount of time with this putter switch, because it’s a pretty drastic change for me,” Bradley said. “I’m feeling better and better with it, it’s just a matter of making the putts now obviously. But if you put a belly putter in somebody’s hands that has never used it, it would take an adjustment as well. So it’s an adjustment.”

While McDowell is making his first start of the new campaign, Bradley already has two tournaments under his belt – albeit with underwhelming results. He missed the cut in Las Vegas and finished T-47 among the 78-man field in Malaysia.

But Bradley continues to play the numbers game, believing that more starts will yield more chances to contend and, ultimately, a spot in the winner’s circle.

It’s that last part that has proved especially tricky for Bradley, who earned three wins including a major during his first two full years on Tour. But the last three seasons have yielded nothing in the hardware department, as Bradley’s last win remains the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Championship.

“I’m sick of not winning,” he said. “If anything, it’s holding me back even more because I want to win so bad. I’m trying to just let it happen, but if I do win, I think it’s going to be a big help for me. Just, I can take a deep breath almost, and let it happen a little more.”

Despite recent results, Bradley believes that he has the game to win any week, including this one. Such is the long-term confidence that can be gained from hoisting a major trophy.

McDowell knows that high as well, and he hopes that the path to rediscovering it starts this week on a coastal layout he has walked before.

“I certainly wouldn’t compare it to where I am right now, but I’m probably in a similar situation eight years on if you like, with a major championship under my belt and multiple tournament wins around the world,” he said. “But there’s no doubt that I’m in a slightly rebuilding, back-to-basics type mode, and this could signal the start of the beginning of something again.”

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.