McIlroy, Woods light up the desert in Dubai

By Rex HoggardJanuary 30, 2014, 11:18 am

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Sometime between last year’s chaos and Thursday’s chef-d'oeuvre the planets aligned, the cosmic cylinders tumbled into place and sanity prevailed.

For context, flash back some 12 months to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and the season opener for Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. So much promise. So much anticipation.

The Ulsterman had just been ushered in as Nike Golf’s newest world beater and appeared poised to finally go head-to-head with golf’s alpha male in a meaningful way. At the time, McIlroy was No. 1 in the world and Woods was in full rebound mode following a three-win season in 2012.

The letdown was palpable. McIlroy signed for a pair of 75s and watched the rest of the tournament from his couch, while Woods was tagged for an illegal drop on Friday and was on the next flight back Stateside.

That difficult day seemed a lifetime away on Thursday when Woods and McIlroy set out early at the Dubai Desert Classic. Woods birdied his first hole – the dynamic duo started on the 10th – McIlroy poured in three consecutive birdies starting at the 12th hole and the two briefly shared the lead when Woods birdied the 15th hole.

McIlroy would pull away from Woods, and everyone else, with a closing-nine of 31 for a two-stroke lead, but if the world No. 1 wasn’t happy with his opening 68 he wasn’t letting on.

“Overall it was a pretty good score. Maybe could have gotten two more out of it,” Woods said. “After going 0-for-12 on birdies on the par 5s last week (at the Farmers Insurance Open), it was actually nice to make one on the first hole, right out of the gate.”

Considering how much Woods struggled to put his driver in the fairway on a warm and sunny day, his 4-under-par card was a testament to a short game that was showing no signs of early-season rust.

Woods connected with just two fairways out of the eight times he hit driver, but that was about the only thing Thursday’s round had in common with his Saturday outing at Torrey Pines, when he signed for a 79 and missed his first 54-hole cut on the PGA Tour.

Twenty-five putts and a healthy dose of game management added up to his 68 and a tie for fifth as he made his way to the practice tee for an extracurricular session.

“It’s my old pattern again. With my last coach it was a push block,” said Woods, who played from the desert left of the fairway three times through his first seven holes.

“We tried to get out of that and go to a cut. It’s harder to aim right knowing that I’ve got to cut it. Last year all my misses were in the left rough. But they were all straight balls. It was dead straight because I aimed it there. Trying to aim down the right side of the fairway is a little harder.”

If Woods’ opening round was of the “about what it should have been” variety, McIlroy’s 9-under 63 was a work of art. He never came close to making a bogey, drove the ball with confident abandon (12 of 14 fairways) and rolled in an eagle putt at the third hole to move two clear.

Last year in Abu Dhabi he was signing for 75s. On Thursday he was considering what it would take to shoot 59.

“When I eagled (No.) 3 and that got me to 8 under par, I guess I had six holes left and needed five birdies for the magical number,” he smiled. “I didn’t birdie the par 3 (fourth) so then I wanted to shoot 62. I shot 62 last week in a casual round. So I wanted to try and shoot two 62s in one week.”

McIlroy’s comeback has been almost as distinct as his collapse. He finished tied for fifth in Dubai late last year at the DP World Tour Championship, won the Australian Open in a shootout with Adam Scott to close the season and began 2014 in Abu Dhabi with a runner-up showing.

For both players, Day 1 in Dubai was a dramatic contrast to last year’s troubles down the road in Abu Dhabi. By comparison, Thursday seemed effortless. But there are few in the game who know better than Woods and McIlroy that’s not the case.

“I don’t think it’s ever easy,” McIlroy said. “It can feel easier than it has been in the past, but you still have to work hard. It may feel easy and these scores may look somewhat routine out there, but there’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes.”

Maybe the only real difference between last year’s early exit and Thursday’s rounds is that Abu Dhabi just looked like work.

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Ryu wins Meijer Classic by 2 shots

By Associated PressJune 17, 2018, 9:46 pm

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - So Yeon Ryu won the Meijer LPGA Classic on Sunday for her first victory of the season and sixth overall, closing with a 5-under 67 for a two-stroke margin.

The 29-year-old South Korean player birdied the par-5 16th and par-4 17th and parred the par-4 18th to finish at 21-under 267 at Blythefield Country Club.

Two strokes behind Anna Nordqvist and Lee-Anne Pace entering the round, Ryu had six birdies and a bogey in the final round.

Full-field scores from the Meijer LPGA Classic

Caroline Masson was second after a 68. Lydia Ko shot a 67 to finish third at 18 under.

Nordqvist and Pace each shot 73 - after each had a 64 on Saturday - to tie for fourth at 17 under with Jacqui Concolino (66), Azahara Munoz (68) and Angela Stanford (70).

U.S. Women's Open winner Ariya Jutanugarn shot a tournament-record 62. She birdied five of the first seven holes, eagled No. 8 and added three more birdies to finish 12th at 15 under.

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Fleetwood fires 63, waits to see if score is enough

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 8:52 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Tommy Fleetwood became the sixth player to shoot 63 at the U.S. Open, and just the second to do it in the final round. Now he waits.

Fleetwood teed off almost 2 ½ hours before – and six strokes behind – the leaders at Shinnecock Hills on Sunday, but stormed into the hunt thanks to four consecutive birdies starting at the 12th hole. The Englishman’s round was even more impressive considering he didn’t birdie either of the layout’s par 5s.

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Fleetwood finished at 2 over par – after missing a 9-foot putt for birdie and 62 at the 18th – which was tied for second place and one stroke off the lead held by Brooks Koepka when he completed his round.

After speaking with the media, Fleetwood went to the locker room to await a possible playoff, which was changed this year from an 18-hole overtime to just two holes of aggregate play.

“We'll go and relax a little bit and just see,” said Fleetwood, who rolled in 159 feet of birdies putts. “Only time will tell what's going to happen today at the course. If it was like yesterday, I'd feel a little more comfortable than now.”

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Fowler follows 84 with 65, praises Shinnecock setup

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 5:44 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – As promised, the USGA dialed back Shinnecock Hills for Sunday’s final round, watering the greens overnight and deferring to more user-friendly hole locations.

The evidence of this was on the leaderboard, with four early finishers having shot under-par rounds, including Rickie Fowler, who closed with a round-of-the-week 65. There were just three under-par cards on Saturday.

“That's the golf course I enjoy playing. Obviously, pin placements were a lot safer,” said Fowler, who had just one bogey on Sunday and opened his day with a 4-under 31 on his opening nine. “The pins today will definitely allow for the greens to firm up and get fast, and we'll see how much they dry out. It was definitely more receptive this morning than yesterday, that's for sure.”

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It was a 19-stroke turnaround for Fowler, who ballooned to a third-round 84 on Day 3 during what most contend were the week’s toughest conditions. Fowler had put himself into contention going into the weekend thanks to a second-round 69, but struggled on Saturday afternoon like much of the field.

Fowler said the setup was vastly different to what players faced on Saturday and that even if the winds increase for the afternoon tee times the course will remain playable, unlike Round 3 when many players said the USGA “lost” the golf course.

“They did a good job of staying safe,” Fowler said, “because if it does dry out, it will still be very playable.”

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Phil celebrates par on 13, ducks media after round

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2018, 5:35 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Phil Mickelson didn’t have another meltdown at the U.S. Open.

Back on the 13th green Sunday – less than 24 hours after taking a two-shot penalty for hitting a moving ball and recording a sextuple-bogey 10 – Mickelson poured in a 10-footer and raised his arms in mock triumph, as if he’d finally won that elusive major title.

Not quite.

He’d simply made par.

“It looked like he won the Masters,” said playing partner Rickie Fowler. “He didn’t jump, but he had a little celebration there.”

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The par save and the final-round 69 were one of the lone bright spots during what was an adventurous week for Lefty, even by his unpredictable standards. Mickelson’s shocking swat was still the talk of this Open, especially after USGA executive director Mike Davis revealed Saturday night that Mickelson had called him to ask for more clarification on the rule he said that he knew he’d broken.

Despite some calls for him to withdraw from the tournament, Mickelson displayed his usual cheerful demeanor inside the ropes with Fowler.

“He joked about it right as we went down the first hole,” Fowler said.

Fowler said that he didn’t know “if I would have had the wits like Phil to run after it” on 13, but added that it never should have come to that in the first place.

“He could have saved himself a shot by just letting it go and taking unplayable, but then that would still look pretty funny too,” he said. “The course shouldn’t play that way.”

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”