Woods off to a solid start in WGC-Bridgestone

By Will GrayJuly 31, 2014, 11:44 pm

AKRON, Ohio – Entering this week, Tiger Woods knew he had to perform.

He found himself in an unfamiliar position, needing to reel off a pair of high finishes this week and next to even make the FedEx Cup playoffs.

He was also making his third start since back surgery, and needed to continue his progress toward regaining the form that earned him five PGA Tour titles last year.

And with the Ryder Cup on the horizon, Woods needed to “show him something.” The “him” being U.S. captain Tom Watson, the “something” being a nebulous level of skill that might be enough to justify selecting Woods as a captain’s pick in four weeks.

During the first round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Woods got a preliminary check across most of those boxes. Whether he has done enough to write them in pen, though, remains to be seen.

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On a course where he has won eight times and where he triumphed by seven shots a year ago, Woods opened with a 2-under 68 that left him tied for ninth after the opening round, four shots behind Australia’s Marc Leishman.

Coming off a 69th-place showing at the Open Championship – and on a day when only 27 of the 76 players broke par at Firestone Country Club – it was reason to celebrate.

“Overall, I was very pleased with today,” Woods said. “I hit a lot of good shots. I dropped shots at three holes out there today, got it right back on the very next hole. That was nice to have three good bounce-backs.”

Woods spoke Wednesday of his comfort level around Firestone’s South Course, and that familiarity paid dividends during his opening round.

Tee shots were finding the fairway. Iron approaches were often on target and, perhaps more importantly, almost always pin-high.

Granted, the round was not without hiccups. Woods opened with a sloppy three-putt from 8 feet for bogey on the opening hole, then forfeited momentum on the par-4 ninth. Following a run of three birdies in four holes, his tee shot drifted into the trees on the right. After his second shot caught a tree limb and nearly dropped back at his feet, he walked off with a double bogey.

On a layout where he effortlessly carded a 61 a year ago, Woods expended plenty of energy during his opening round, a back-and-forth effort that featured only two pars across his first 10 holes.

But Woods’ ability to flag down pin after pin – he had birdie putts from inside 10 feet on six of those opening 10 holes – was a welcome change from the erratic shots often seen at Royal Liverpool.

“I’m starting to get in the flow of things,” he said. “I’m starting to get the feel back in my hands, and get the ball, my trajectory, under control. I’m starting to (hit) the ball the correct numbers again.”


This is, after all, just the opening round, and for Woods only the first of an eight-round audition that will play out over the next 10 days. The exact form he must display to merit a Ryder Cup selection is essentially a moving target.

Is it a single-round performance? A tournament result? A run of birdies that might prove beneficial in match play?

Only one man knows the answer to those questions, and it’s not the T.W. who strolled the fairways Thursday.

So with his name near the top of the leaderboard, Woods is in position to quiet many of the doubters. Four rounds of 2-under 68 will go a long way toward doing that, and could be enough for him to book his ticket to Scotland in September.

But it’s also a similar position to the one he occupied after the opening round at Hoylake, a 3-under 69 that he followed with three straight over-par rounds to fade from contention.

As far as starts go, this was a good one, but Woods' ability to demonstrate some consistency will be the next step on his comeback trail.

“I feel like I’ve made some progress,” he said. “This is only my seventh round back. So it’s just going to take a little time.”

“Little” is the only increment of time Woods has left if he wants to have any chance to extend his season beyond Valhalla. One round is in the books, but there is still much golf to be played.

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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.