Golf's powers, golf's focus with Abu Dhabi

By Rex HoggardJanuary 25, 2012, 3:29 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – In order, European Tour officials marched world Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 into the press center on Wednesday for a media meet and greet at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

That the PGA Tour won’t be able to trot out a similar mathematical “Murderer’s Row” until the last week of February at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is everything one needs to know about where the power base is in professional golf right now.

This truth is neither alarmist nor reactionary, simply the way of the global golf world and, at least from a purely competitive point of view, a sway of the pendulum that is long overdue.

Europeans now hold two of the four major championships (Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy), four of the top 5 spots in the world ranking, the Ryder Cup and a first-of-its-kind transatlantic money title sweep (Luke Donald).

There are cycles and there are cyclones; that’s up to history to decide. What’s not up for debate is the European Tour’s climb in stature from ‘C’ list to center stage.

Camp Ponte Vedra Beach and the Torrey Pines faithful may file this as an inconvenient truth, but Abu Dhabi, and its sister heavyweight Dubai, have become the de facto start of the golf season.

The old Bob Hope Classic used to hold that title, then it transitioned to Doral and most recently Torrey Pines, site of this week’s PGA Tour stop. And this goes well beyond Tiger Woods’ desert cameo and an appearance fee that is reported to pay the world No. 25 between $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

The truth is in the numbers, with six of the top 10, 11 of the top 25 and 19 of the top 50 assembled in Abu Dhabi. By comparison, this week’s Farmers Insurance Open has a single player inside the top 10 (Dustin Johnson) and the Tour’s season kickoff at Kapalua had two in the top 10.

“They have developed a tournament every year and turned it into probably the premiere event in the swing with the field and the ranking points and everything that comes along with it,” McIlroy said.

In a sport increasingly dominated by world ranking math, McIlroy’s point is well taken. Last year, the Abu Dhabi winner received 56 ranking points. The highest point total for a winner this year on Tour is 44 at last week’s Humana Challenge.

If the PGA Tour and its star-driven marquee is the undisputed heavyweight in the room, the European circuit has gained reigning amateur status in recent years thanks to deep-pocketed sponsors like HSBC and the tour’s indifference toward appearance fees, an evil the PGA Tour has long eschewed.

But if Abu Dhabi is the unofficial beginning of the season in some circles it is only a prologue to the PGA Tour’s unchallenged significance as winter turns to spring and major championships, not money, become the primary focus.

“In all fairness between probably April and after the PGA (in August), most of the golfing world is focused on the U.S.,” Lee Westwood said. “But the rest of the world is where golf is big time. The focus of everybody’s attention seems to be in Asia and the Middle East for six months.”

Be it the sign of the times or simply an economic reality, stops in the Middle East like Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as well as Asia, have come by their spot at the big table honestly.

The European Tour’s desert swing began 15 years ago and has grown to three stops in addition to the season-ending Dubai World Championship, while the circuit also will make six trips to Asia this season to round out an ever-expanding global portfolio.

It is a territorial grab that has the PGA Tour scrambling to make up for lost time with soon-to-be official stops in China and Malaysia.

“Everybody understands there’s Asia. Everybody understands there’s the Middle East,” said Westwood’s manager Chubby Chandler, a European staple who has been coming to Dubai since his playing days. “Even the Americans, and I’m not saying that disparagingly, but they didn’t really pay any attention to it and that’s why we snuck up on the outside.”

But playing global catch up won’t help the PGA Tour reclaim its place as the de facto beginning of the golf season, that much was clear as Donald, Westwood, McIlroy and Martin Kaymer – Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4, respectively, in the world – made their way through the media center, heavyweights that make Abu Dhabi the undisputed champion and the unofficial start of 2012.

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Garcia bounced in Austin: 'On to Augusta'

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 6:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – For the 16th time in his career, Sergio Garcia’s week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play ended earlier then he would have hoped, but this time he has plenty of distractions to ease the sting.

Garcia lost his Saturday morning match to Kyle Stanley, 3 and 1, marking the 15th time in his Match Play career he’s failed to advance to Sunday, but at least he has plenty to keep him busy with a newborn at home and his return to the Masters looming in two weeks.

“On to Augusta,” said Garcia, who is not playing next week’s Houston Open. “It's exciting. Obviously when we get there, it's going to be interesting to see how we feel and everything. But it is definitely exciting.”

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Garcia defeated Justin Rose in a playoff to win last year’s Masters, his first major triumph, so his return to Augusta National will be unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

His duties as defending champion will include hosting Tuesday’s Champions Dinner. No word on Garcia’s menu for the event, but various sources have confirmed it will be something “Spanish.”

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Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Sweet 16

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

Here is how things played out in the Round of 16 on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The week began with 64 players taking on Austin Country Club,but the field is dwindling. Click here for Day 3 match results:

Match 97: Bubba Watson (35) def. Brian Harman (18), 2 and 1. Watson was 1 down going to the eighth hole, but he won four of the next five holes to turn around this battle of lefties. A 12-foot putt for eagle at the 12th dropped, giving him a 3 up lead coming home. It was Watson’s second eagle of the day. He looks as if he’s still riding the confidence from that Genesis Open victory last month. Watson will advance to play Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals.

Match 98: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Charles Howell III (59), 1 up. Aphibarnrat won in a late comeback, winning the final two holes. He holed a 9-foot putt for birdie at the 17th to square the match and won with an 8-foot birdie at the last. He had not led all day, not until that last birdie putt dropped. The 28-year-old Thai improved to 4-0 on this world stage after sweeping his group in the round-robin play. A four-time European Tour winner, Aphibarnrat is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He will meet Bubba Watson in the quarterfinals.

Match 99: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Sergio Garcia (7), 3 and 1. Stanley birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to go 3 up, and then he held off Garcia’s run at him, eliminating the world No. 10 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. With the victory, Stanley has a chance at a nice Texas two-step, a chance to eliminate the two highest ranked players left in the field, the only players left among the top 10 in the world ranking. But, there’s hard work to do in the quarterfinals, where Stanley will meet world No. 2 Justin Thomas.

Match 100: Justin Thomas (2) def. Si Woo Kim (50), 6 and 5. Thomas remains on fire in this format, steamrolling Kim a day after completing a round-robin sweep of his group by blowing away Francesco Molinari, 7 and 5. The Kim match felt like it was over shortly after it started, with Thomas making the turn 5 up. Thomas will advance to play Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals.

Match 101: Cameron Smith (46) def. Tyrell Hatton (12), 2 and 1. Smith found himself behind early, falling 2 down after Hatton opened with back-to-back birdies, but Smith quickly rallied to win one of the best matches of the day. He birdied four of the next five holes to go 1 up. Hatton lost despite making seven birdies on the round. He lost despite making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to the red-hot Smith, who made eight birdies. Smith will meet Alex Noren in the quarterfinals.

Match 102: Alex Noren (13) def. Patrick Reed (19), 5 and 3. In this Fire vs. Ice match, Ice won, with Noren making easy work of Reed. Really, though, Reed never got a flame going, and Noren wasn’t going to help him the way Jordan Spieth did a day before. Reed was 2-over on his card before finally making his first and only birdie of the day at the 13th. Somewhere, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn must have been smiling, watching Noren easily take down the formidable American match-play dynamo. Noren will meet Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

Match 103: Ian Poulter (58) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 2 and 1. Poulter’s match-play mojo is going strong again, with the Englishman summoning the intensity that has made him so formidable in the Ryder Cup over the years. He was on fire Saturday, making eight birdies over the first 15 holes, if you count the concession he received hitting a wedge to 18 inches at the 13th hole. Poulter put a special putter in the bag this week, using the same flat stick that helped him lead the Euros to their historic comeback victory against the Americans at Medinah in 2012. Though Oosthuizen made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he still couldn’t make it close. Poulter will meet Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals.

Match 104: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Matt Kuchar (16), 1 up. Kuchar applied all kinds of pressure on Kisner on the back nine, but he couldn’t get Kisner to fold in the best match of the day. Kuchar was 2 down with four to go but managed to pull all square going to the last. After missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, Kuchar watched Kisner sink a 12-footer for his birdie to win. Kisner will meet Ian Poulter in the quarterfinals.

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JT advances to quarters, closing in on No. 1 ranking

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Justin Thomas continued his impressive run at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and finds himself another step closer to overtaking Dustin Johnson in the World Golf Ranking.

Thomas rolled past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the first knockout stage and will face Kyle Stanley in the Elite Eight. He must advance to Sunday’s championship match to overtake Johnson as the new world No. 1.

“It wasn't anything crazy or special. Just played solid golf tee to green. And it was forcing him to make a lot of putts,” said Thomas, who has played 61 holes this week, won 24, lost six and hasn’t trailed in four matches.

Stanley, who needed a playoff victory over Paul Casey on Friday to advance to the weekend, defeated Sergio Garcia, 3 and 1.

Bubba Watson also continued his solid play, rallying from an early deficit to beat Brian Harman, 2 and 1. He will play Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who defeated Charles Howell III, closing with back-to-back birdies for a 1-up victory.

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But as impressive as Thomas has been, Sweden’s Alex Noren has quietly continued to impress, going undefeated in pool play and closing out Patrick Reed on the 15th hole for a 5-and-3 victory.

“He's such a tough competitor,” said Noren, who will face Australian Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals. “I managed to hole a few birdie putts. When we both had good chances, he just missed and I managed to make those.”

Former Match Play champion Ian Poulter also advanced with a 2-and-1 victory over Louis Oosthuizen. He will play Kevin Kisner, who converted a 10-foot putt at the 18th hole to defeat Matt Kuchar, 1 up.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”