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Star power at Pebble comes more from amateurs than pros

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick is one of only three players from the top 20 in the world at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. It's lacking star power by PGA Tour standards.

That's not what Fitzpatrick saw.

He played nine holes of practice Wednesday at Pebble Beach with retired Welsh soccer star Gareth Bale. And when he scanned the pairings for the three-course rotation, he realized actor and producer Jason Bateman would be in the group behind him.

Fitzpatrick wants to meet him in hopes of getting on Bateman's podcast, prompting the question of whether Bateman knows the U.S. Open champion.

“Oh, I doubt it. I severely doubt it,” Fitzpatrick said.

Back to Bale, who retired after the World Cup and loves golf so much that Jon Rahm was raving about his game during the pro-am at Torrey Pines.

Fitzpatrick and Bale first got to know each other a few years ago when Bale's management team was recruiting Fitzpatrick's younger brother.

“I ended up having a conversation with him and his manager and he jokingly said to me, ‘If you sign for my management company, I’ll not score three goals against your team,' my team being Sheffield United,” Fitzpatrick said. “Obviously, I didn't sign. I'm happy with where I'm at.”

Bale, on loan to Tottenham at the time, scored three goals against Sheffield.

“I just remember watching the game and he scored all three and I was laughing,” Fitzpatrick said. “Obviously disappointed, as well.”

Such is the nature of this tournament, held amid the incomparable scenery of the Monterey Peninsula between the NFL's conference championship games and the Super Bowl, a thing of beauty to see for those coping with the worst of winter.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen opted out of the Pro Bowl and is playing for the second straight year, hopeful of making the cut this time. His caddie for the week is one of his best friends, Kyle Allen, who started two games at quarterback late in the season for the Houston Texans.

It's easier to predict Aaron Rodgers being at Pebble Beach in early February than whether he'll be at training camp in July.

That part of the tournament — athletes, actors, singers, corporate figures who shape the economy — doesn't change. It's the PGA Tour players who seem to be in short supply this year, perhaps due to a pair of $20 million events at Phoenix and Riviera to follow.

And perhaps that's where Pebble Beach is headed.

Jordan Spieth has never missed Pebble Beach, playing it for the first time in 2013 before he had a PGA Tour card and a corporate relationship with AT&T.

“I would fight for an opportunity for this to be an elevated event in future years,” Spieth said. “I'm not sure if the format would have to change or what would have to happen. I really think the opportunity to get the top 50, 60, 70 players in the world playing Pebble Beach and that being a PGA Tour event would be as successful as when the U.S. Open’s held here. I think that trying to go to the world’s best courses, when you have the opportunity, would be advantageous.”

What gives Pebble such a rich heritage — the amateurs — could be the sticking point. The only time amateurs were not part of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am was in 2021 amid tight restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything was different that year.

There have been ruminations about Pebble once every so often having no amateurs and playing all four days at Pebble Beach — instead of including Spyglass Hill and the Shore course at Monterey Peninsula. That might feel like a U.S. Open in February.

Could it form a rotation with Phoenix and Torrey Pines? Is there a way to make it an elevated event and keep the amateurs involved?

This is part of the puzzle the PGA Tour is trying to figure out for 2024 and beyond.

Regardless of who plays, Pebble rarely lacks for memories, whether it's pure golf (Tiger Woods coming from seven shots behind with seven to play), pure entertainment (Bill Murray's antics) or pure danger.

The latter would be Spieth last year on the eighth hole, when his tee shot ran through the fairway on the cusp of a cliff with a 60-foot drop to the rocks and ocean below.

Keeping his balance, and against his caddie's advice, Spieth hit 7-iron and made par.

“I think I saved a stroke,” he said. “Does the reward outweigh the risk? Not if you think the risk was dying. ... I think now, knowing my (14-month-old) son a lot better — he was really young at the time — I may not have hit that shot.”

That might not be an option this year, anyway. While attention is on work to the eighth green that softened some ridges, the edge of the cliff now has rough thick enough to keep balls from rolling too far to the edge.

“Yeah, it's not advised,” Spieth said. “I'm glad I ended up making a 4. Because if I made a 5 it would have been one of the worse decisions I ever made. Instead it was just a bad decision.”

At least he lived to tell about it.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports





Maple Leafs happy to be on Pendrith's golf bag as Canadian partners with Arnett

TORONTO — Will Arnett and Taylor Pendrith love the Toronto Maple Leafs.

And the Maple Leafs? They love them right back.

Pendrith, a PGA Tour player from nearby Richmond Hill, Ont., debuted a new golf bag emblazoned with the Maple Leafs logo on Wednesday ahead of the first round of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Actor Will Arnett of "Arrested Development" and "BoJack Horseman" fame — who is also a noted supporter of his hometown team — will be Pendrith's partner for Thursday's first round.

"That's great. It just shows how significant the Leafs brand is across Canada, really," said Toronto centre Alex Kerfoot. "There's a few of us on the team who follow golf pretty closely.

"We saw (Pendrith) in the Presidents Cup, follow his game, know how good of a player he is, so that's cool of him to put it on his bag."

Defenceman Rasmus Sandin was also excited to have Pendrith and Arnett representing the Maple Leafs on one of the best known golf courses in the United States. Sandin said that his father, Patric, instilled a love of golf in him at an early age and that he still plays a little bit.

"That's awesome. I didn't know about it, but that's amazing," said Sandin ahead of the Maple Leafs' game against the visiting Boston Bruins. "There's a lot of different celebrities that keep an eye on us, so that's a lot of fun that (Pendrith) has a customized bag with the design on it."

Defenceman Mark Giordano also appreciated the show of support. He said that when he was with the Flames he got to play a round with former PGA Tour golfer Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., who is a big Calgary fan.

"I think that showing support across sports is pretty cool and we look at that, for sure," said Giordano.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2023.



Canada's Ben Silverman's rededication to golf takes him to Pebble Beach

When Ben Silverman arrived in his hotel room at Great Abaco, Bahamas, he set about placing sticky notes on the walls and mirrors with goals and affirmations.

"Some of them were 'be present,' 'control the controllables,' 'act the way I want to feel,' 'confidence is a choice,' 'fear is fuel,' 'turn anxiety into excitement,' and a few others," said Silverman. "Then I also found about six or seven of them, surprise notes, throughout my luggage and suitcase that my wife Morgan wrote.

"So anytime I was pulling out stuff to use, I'd find a new note from her as well."

Silverman's aphorisms are part of his ongoing program of improving the mental side of his golf game. They paid off last week when he won The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic, the second event of the Korn Ferry Tour season, in a playoff with American Cody Blick.

The native of Thornhill, Ont., won the Price Cutter Charity Championship in 2017, which led to two full seasons on the PGA Tour before returning to the second-tier Korn Ferry Tour in 2020-21.

"I realized one of the reasons why I lost my card on the PGA Tour was because once I was out there, I was pretty happy to be out there," said Silverman, "I didn't quite work as hard at my game to the same level as I did to earn my PGA Tour card. 

"It wasn't until maybe 2022, just looking back on things, did I realize what happened."

Silverman said he rededicated himself physically and mentally to his game. That meant working with trainer Ken Macdonald on his explosiveness, fast-twitch muscles, and his power off the tee. 

It also meant more time with coach Jeff Leishman, working on sequencing for gaining more speed, shot selection strategy, and different hole locations for different wind conditions.

"I've been really working hard on the mental side of things because my mind just wasn't where I wanted it to be on the golf course," said the 35-year-old Silverman. "So I'm working on my routine, and I've had a number of different things that have been helping, including talking to my wife but listening to some motivational people on their podcasts."

Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, former all-star first baseman Sean Casey, and mental performance coach Brian Cain are just some of the podcasters Silverman now listens to regularly.

Silverman's hard work paid off last week, two-putting up the slope on No. 18 at The Abaco Club on Winding Bay to beat Blick in the one-hole playoff. Silverman said winning early in the season was "amazing."

"Even if it wasn't a win, I was going into this week just thinking even a start this early in the season was incredible," said Silverman, who had a sponsor's exemption for the event. "Because I didn't get past the second stage of Q-school this fall, even though I was playing well, I didn't have any guaranteed starts to start the season. 

"It was a massive, massive opportunity because making the cut I have a chance to reshuffle and then have a season. Last year I didn't get my first start on the Korn Ferry Tour until April and that was because I Monday qualified for that one."

He'll get another massive opportunity this week.

Steve John, the CEO and tournament director of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, called Silverman the day after winning in the Bahamas, inviting the Canadian to play in the US$9 million event which tees off on Thursday.

Silverman joins fellow Canadians Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., Taylor Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., in the field.

KORN FERRY TOUR — Edmonton's Wil Bateman is the highest ranked Canadian at The Panama Championship this week. He's tied for 12th on the second-tier tour's points list. Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., and Toronto's Richard Jung are also in the field at Club de Golf de Panama in Panama City.

AUGUSTA NATIONAL WOMEN'S AMATEUR — Monet Chun of Richmond Hill, Ont., received an invite on Saturday to play in the Augusta National Women's Amateur. The prestigious event at one of golf's most historic courses is scheduled March 30-April 1. Chun won the Canadian women's amateur championship and the Big Ten Championship in 2022.
 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2023.



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Homa good at golf, good talking about it during CBS telecast

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — “Max, can you hear me?”

Lead analyst Trevor Immelman was in the broadcast booth talking to Max Homa, who had just hit his drive on the par-5 13th at Torrey Pines. Homa was listening through an earbud.

And with that, the PGA Tour and CBS embarked on a new wrinkle in their telecast Friday.

Just don’t get the idea this happened on the fly.

Homa said he had been talking about the plan with CBS and with Andy Pazder, the tour’s chief of operations. And while it may not be for everybody, Homa proved to be the perfect fit.

“I’m very excited about the idea,” Homa said after his two-shot victory. “I thought it was great for the fans to look into, push that envelope for the fans. Not just myself, but the tour — CBS, NBC, all these broadcasting streams — seem to be wanting to add something to the viewing experience.”

For years, some players have balked at the idea of wearing microphones, and the networks have boom mics on the course, anyway. On other tours, the conversation has come across as stilted.

Not every tour has the benefit of Homa, who delivers refreshing insight without really trying.

The question was how he chose to shape the shot off the tee. Homa typically plays a cut, and the par 5 moves from right to left.

“My coach and caddie let me draw one maybe once a day, maybe once a week,” Homa said. “This was not the one.”

From there, he went on to explain his approach to going for the green on a par 5, mainly about the ideal position for the third shot.

Homa has heard chatter, like everyone else, that networks could never get someone as intense as Tiger Woods or Jon Rahm to go along. So it might not work for everyone. But it did for him, regardless of the outcome.

“It was 20 minutes. It was not invasive,” he said. “I’m hoping other players would want to do it. ... I’m sure there’s some interest in this whether I won or didn’t. Hopefully we can kind of keep pushing that or tweak it, just anything to help golf kind of gain some attraction to all the viewers hopefully a little bit younger than our typical audience.”

PEBBLE PAYBACK

Jason Dufner is in the field at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, making him the first — and so far, the only — player to make good on his pledge for getting a conflicting event release to play the Saudi International last year.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan granted some two dozen releases for the Saudi International (held the same week as Pebble), provided they agree to play Pebble Beach at least once over the next two years.

Nineteen players who sought releases now are part of LIV Golf.

According to the PGA Tour, Tony Finau, Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry, Xander Schauffele and Jhonattan Vegas each received releases provided they played Pebble once over the next two years. That means they are required to play in 2024.

Tyrrell Hatton and Lucas Herbert would be required to play in 2024 and 2025. Herbert is in the Saudi International field again this year.

Monahan said in January the same arrangement was in place for this year’s releases, which include Cameron Young and Cameron Champ. The tour has not said what penalty would apply if players did not live up to the arrangement.

NEXT UP FOR LIV

The Daily Telegraph is reporting that Sebastian Munoz of Colombia is the latest player to join Saudi-backed LIV Golf, after previously reporting Mito Pereira of Chile was joining.

Both are in the Saudi International field this week, even though neither PGA Tour member requested a conflicting event release to play (as was the case for the likes of Cameron Young and Cameron Champ).

More evidence on Pereira — he is listed in the field next week for the Asian Tour's International Series stop in Oman, electing to pass on the $20 million purse at the WM Phoenix Open.

LIV Golf has not officially announced new additions to its league, which starts next month at Mayakoba in Mexico.

HOGE'S DECISION

Tom Hoge was not on the Saudis' radar screen until he won at Pebble Beach last year for his first career title. While the offer to join LIV Golf was not what Hoge described as generational wealth, it was enough for him to consider it.

Ultimately, he chose to stay, with no regrets. Hoge now is No. 29 in the world, eligible for all the majors for the second straight year. The deciding factor was places he hadn't been and had access to through his win at Pebble.

“There were so many tournaments I’ve wanted to play in the first time,” he said, citing the Tour Championship and the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua as examples. “When I went to bed at night, I wasn't ready to give those up.”

But money is money, especially when it's guaranteed. Hoge has spent a career trying to make sure he made it to the next year, and securing a financial future was tempting.

“It was a hard decision to make, but I’m very happy with where I’m at,” Hoge said.

PAC MEMBERS

It took Adam Scott some 20 years on the PGA Tour before he agreed to join the Player Advisory Council, which advises the PGA Tour board on competition matters. And he wasn’t alone.

The full 16-member PAC includes Rickie Fowler (in his 14th year on the PGA Tour), along with four players who are among the top 15 in the world ranking — Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, Will Zalatoris, Max Homa and Sam Burns.

“I think you’ve seen kind of more players become more involved in stuff with the tour in the past year,” Scheffler said. “I think with LIV, that’s kind of an obvious deal that we had to make a few changes in order to improve our tour in a different way.

"For me, having an opportunity to be on the PAC and talk with guys across all different levels of our tour — whether it’s a guy finishing 100th on the money list or first — it’s kind of nice to be in the room and have those conversations and figure out what is collectively going to work best for all of us so that this tour can succeed.”

Scott, meanwhile, joins Maverick McNealy and Kevin Streelman on the ballot to determine who will be PAC chairman and eventually moves to the full PGA Tour board. The election ends Feb. 13.

DIVOTS

Sepp Straka spent two weeks in the Middle East with hopes of earning Ryder Cup points. But he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Straka is No. 27 in the world. ... Rory McIlroy ended 2022 as the European tour’s No. 1 player based on points. The Seve Ballesteros Award for player of the year went to Ryan Fox on a vote of the players. Fox won twice and was second in the DP World Tour Rankings to McIlroy while playing a full European tour schedule. It was a vote of the players. McIlroy came in second. He played six regular tour events. ... Marcus Byrd, who won the APGA Tour event at Torrey Pines and received the Charlie Sifford exemption for Riviera, has been given an exemption to play in the Honda Classic. ... Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open champion, plans to play a few more PGA Tour events this year. He's in the field at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Scott Brown made the cut on the Korn Ferry Tour in the Bahamas on a Monday (he was tied for 34th), withdrew and made the cut on the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines on Friday. He finished 72nd at Torrey Pines and made $17,487. That's roughly the equivalent of finishing 14th on the Korn Ferry Tour.

FINAL WORD

“Sometimes you’re just one good swing thought away from being good again.” — Max Homa.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



Column: The only rivalry in golf is about tours, not players

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Jon Rahm began his year by winning two in a row on the PGA Tour. Rory McIlroy began his year with birdies on the last two holes to win in Dubai.

This would seem to have the look of golf's latest rivalry in the making, except that it will be difficult to replace the rivalry golf already has.

It's a rivalry between tours, not players.

That much was clear in Dubai when there was as much attention on McIlroy leading as the players who were chasing him.

That starts with Patrick Reed, a thorn in McIlroy's side dating to that energy-draining Ryder Cup singles match at Hazeltine in 2016 that Reed won. Not to be forgotten is when they played in the final group of the 2018 Masters. Reed led by three and went on to win his lone major as McIlroy faded to a 74.

But at various times Monday during the final round in Dubai, a chunk of LIV's roster was lined up behind McIlroy — Reed, Ian Poulter, Richard Bland, even Bernd Wiesberger made a push to get on the fringe of contention.

McIlroy's star power is enough to carry any tournament. Reed plays the role of villain exceedingly well, and that made it even juicier. But no one was watching that production without thinking it was the establishment against the Saudi-funded newcomer.

It was like that at the U.S. Open last summer at Brookline, quiet chatter about which LIV player would have the best finish (Dustin Johnson tied for 24th).

Any other year, watching such talent as Rahm and McIlroy win early would prompt the tired phrase, “The Masters can't get here soon enough.” This year is no different, only the anticipation goes beyond who's playing well to who's playing where.

Is that such a bad thing?

Players with LIV Golf are outsiders in the established world of golf. And it will be that way at the other three majors, though the Masters most likely will have the most LIV players (16) in the field.

The networks won’t want to talk about it. Everyone else will be thinking it.

The presumption is LIV players are no longer as motivated with so much money already in the bank, that they won't be as sharp by competing over 54 holes with no cut against the same roster of players, many of them past their prime. What better place to prove otherwise, particularly since it will happen so infrequently?

The European tour next week goes before an arbitration panel in London that effectively will determine if LIV players can keep showing up. Then again, the European tour schedule is such that it likely won't attract a strong field until the month leading up to the British Open.

LIV players are not allowed on the PGA Tour. That court case isn't likely to be decided for at least another year.

McIlroy has been the loudest voice, at times sounding petty, such as when he subtly pointed out upon winning the Canadian Open that his victory moved him past LIV leader Greg Norman in career PGA Tour titles.

But he has put himself out there, and he has backed it up. Not only did McIlroy end last season as the FedEx Cup champion and eventually returned to No. 1 in the world, he delivered the goods on Monday in Dubai to beat a nemesis after an extraordinary week.

Yes, this was personal.

“I had to work really hard to forget about who was up there,” McIlroy said.

McIlroy had not competed in two months and said he was most proud of winning without his best stuff. Even so, the presence of Reed — it had to be Reed — made it look at times as though he had more to lose than to gain.

The week started ominously when Reed approached McIlroy on the range and got blanked, leading the American to casually flick a LIV tee in McIlroy's direction and later call him an “immature little child.”

McIlroy, long a supporter of the toughness with which Reed plays, had reason to ignore him. He wasn't happy about being served a subpoena on Christmas Eve, even though that was from a lawsuit with which Reed was not involved. The subpoena was part of a lawsuit filed by Larry Klayman against the PGA Tour and European tour. Call it guilt by association, for Reed hired Klayman to file two defamation lawsuits against the media.

They were sent off at roughly the same time on opposite sides of Emirates Golf Club for the opening two rounds, but they were never too far apart on the leaderboard. And if not for McIlroy making a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th to win, he would have faced Reed in a sudden-death playoff.

That would have dwarfed a Brooks Koepka-Bryson DeChambeau pairing back when golf only thought it had a nasty rivalry.

Of course, there was another side story in Dubai.

Henrik Stenson wound up in the same group as Luke Donald in the third round. Both were appointed Ryder Cup captain for Europe last year. Donald will be leading his team at Marco Simone in September. Stenson will be coming off a LIV event at Rich Harvest Farms in the Chicago suburbs, which once hosted a Solheim Cup.

Donald said it was just like any other round, and that's probably true. That doesn't mean the chatter will go away during the four majors. No one will one to talk about it. That doesn't mean they aren't thinking about it.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



McIlroy overcomes Reed, wins Dubai Desert Classic by 1 shot

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Rory McIlroy watched his 15-foot birdie putt roll into the cup, clenched his fist and let out a roar to celebrate a victory that felt bigger and sweeter than most.

Because of the guy he beat as much as the big title he won.

The top-ranked McIlroy overcame a final-round charge from Patrick Reed to win the Dubai Desert Classic for the third time Monday after a tense duel between players who were involved in a pre-tournament spat.

McIlroy finished birdie-birdie to shoot 4-under 68 and win by a stroke from Reed, who shot 65.

“Mentally, today was probably one of the toughest rounds I have ever had to play because it would be really easy to let your emotions get in the way,” McIlroy said. “I just had to really focus on myself and forget who was up there on the leaderboard.”

McIlroy and Reed traded verbal blows Wednesday after an interaction — of sorts — at the practice range on Tuesday that saw McIlroy snub Reed, who had gone over to wish the Northern Irishman a happy new year.

Reed walked away before lightly tossing a tee — featuring a logo of his 4 Aces team in the LIV Golf league — in the direction of McIlroy, one of the most vocal critics of the Saudi-run breakaway series.

Reed said it was “unfortunate” that McIlroy didn’t shake his hand and was quoted as describing McIlroy as “an immature little child.”

Hence McIlroy’s sense of satisfaction after making the title-clinching putt on the par-5 18th — a hole where he has encountered big problems over the past year.

“This is probably sweeter than it should be,” McIlroy said.

McIlroy started a year with a win for the first time in his career — he has come close numerous times in nearby Abu Dhabi, where he has typically chosen to play his year-opening tournament — and backed up victories at the Dubai Desert Classic in 2009 and 2015.

He decided to take extra time off around Christmas because, in his words, he was “mentally drained” by effectively being an anti-LIV spokesman last year.

He couldn’t escape those issues during his time off, either. McIlroy said he was served a subpoena on Christmas Eve from Larry Klayman — an attorney who has filed a lawsuit against the PGA Tour and European tour for suspending players who have signed with LIV Golf. Reed is not involved in that lawsuit. Klayman also represents Reed in lawsuits filed against a number of media outlets.

A final-day duel between McIlroy and Reed looked unlikely, with McIlroy starting Monday with a three-shot lead — and four ahead of American. However, he was overtaken on the back nine by Reed, who picked up seven shots in his first 13 holes while McIlroy was playing safety-first golf.

Reed bogeyed No. 16, could only make par at the drivable 17th after hitting his tee shot into a small bush but birdied No. 18 to put pressure on McIlroy, who had two-putted for birdie at No. 17 to move back into a share of the lead.

McIlroy's drive on No. 18 dribbled into the rough beside the water to the right of the fairway — he watched it all the way, clearly fearing the worst — and he decided to lay up. His third shot from 92 yards was close enough and, as Reed watched from the scorer's hut, McIlroy made the putt.

McIlroy finished on 19 under overall. He wound up winning with his B game and was particularly proud how he held up down the last, having hit shots into the water in front of the green on Sunday and also in the final round last year, costing him the title.

“It was a battle all day — honestly, it's been a battle all week,” McIlroy. "I feel as if I haven’t had my best all week but just managed my game so well and played really smart. Even that second shot at the last. I probably could have got to the green but with what happened yesterday and last year, I tried to give myself a wedge and get it up and down for the win.

“Ecstatic that I gave myself the opportunity the first week back out. I managed my game well."

Reed was attempting to become the first LIV Golf player to win an event on the European tour. Players from the Saudi-run series that changed the face of golf in 2022 are still able to play on the tour ahead of the imminent ruling of a British arbiter, who is reviewing whether the tour has the right to issue bans to those members who joined LIV without clearance.

Initial bans were lifted last year by the arbiter, pending a full legal review.

Ian Poulter, another LIV golfer, joined Reed in attempting to hunt down McIlroy but his challenge ended after making double-bogey at the last. He shot 70 and was tied for sixth, six shot off the lead.

Lucas Herbert of Australia shot 66 and placed third, three strokes behind McIlroy.

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McIlroy leads by 3 in Dubai; Reed's drive gets stuck in tree

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Rory McIlroy delivered an exhibition of short iron play to shoot 7-under 65 in his third round and build a three-stroke lead at the Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday.

The top-ranked McIlroy made eight birdies at Emirates Golf Club — four in a row from No. 1, three straight from No. 13, and another at No. 17 — and none of the birdie putts were from more than 7 feet.

“I drove the ball better today, which put me in better positions to attack and make birdies,” said the Northern Irishman, making his first start of 2023. “It's nearly there, not quite there, but I’m making the most of the good shots that I’m hitting and putting well. I’m just playing really efficient golf right now.”

McIlroy did, though, give the chasers some hope by making bogey at the par-5 No. 18, for his only dropped shot of the round, after hitting a fairway wood from around 250 yards into the water in front of the green. After missing a par putt from 8 feet, McIlroy had a look of disappointment across his face as he walked off the green, despite holding a commanding lead.

The four-time major champion made the same mistake on the 18th hole in his final round in last year’s tournament to finish a shot behind the leaders, when a birdie would have won him the title.

“I love this golf course, this tournament. I have won here a couple of times ... but I don't think I've won on my first start (of a year)," he said. "I've given myself an opportunity to try to do something I’ve never done before.”

McIlroy was on 15 under overall, with English players Callum Shinkwin (67) and No. 484-ranked Dan Bradbury (68) tied for second place.

As the players on the leaderboard went down the stretch, there looked to be a strong chance of McIlroy and Patrick Reed being together in the last group in Monday’s final round. That would have been must-watch viewing after they made headlines with a pre-tournament spat.

Reed, however, made bogey at the drivable par-4 17th when his tee shot got stuck up a palm tree after the American attempted to cut the corner on a dog-leg right. Reed wound up shooting 69 and was in a seven-man group tied for fourth place on 11 under, four shots behind McIlroy.

“You know what, I hit that tee shot, I didn’t even see those palms,” Reed said. “I felt like it was on a good line, just left of the green and I guess I just need to be a little more right or a little higher.”

Reed and a rules official used binoculars to identify the player's ball in the tree. That allowed Reed to take a penalty drop near the base of the tree instead of having to return to the tee.

“I would have gone back to the tee if I wasn’t 100%," Reed told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. “I got lucky that we were able to look through the binoculars and you have to make sure it’s your ball, and how I mark my golf balls is I always put an arrow on the end of my line.

“And you could definitely see and identify the line with the arrow on the end, and the rules official, luckily, was there to reconfirm and check it to make sure it was mine as well.”

The group on 11 under included France's Victor Perez (66), the winner last week at the equally prestigious Abu Dhabi Championship.

Spanish player Adri Arnaus briefly held the lead on 13 under after eight holes of his round, but he fell away after bogeying No. 9 and making double-bogey at the par-5 13th. Arnaus was also one of those on 11 under.

The tournament is finishing on Monday after bad weather cut short play on the opening two days.

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Max Homa comes from 5 back to win Farmers Open by 2 strokes

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Max Homa did what his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers couldn't do in October — win in San Diego.

The L.A.-area native came from five shots off the lead to win the Farmers Insurance Open by two strokes over Keegan Bradley on Saturday at Torrey Pines, where Jon Rahm imploded early and missed a shot at winning his third straight start and moving to No. 1 in the world.

Homa reeled in Sam Ryder, who was trying for a wire-to-wire win, and then held off Bradley and Collin Morikawa for his sixth PGA Tour victory and fourth in his home state. He took the Genesis at Riviera in 2021 and has won the Fortinet Championship in Nampa in consecutive years.

Homa closed with a 6-under 66 to finish at 13-under 275. He made a 4-foot birdie putt on No. 18 and pumped his right fist before greeting wife Lacey and infant son Cam just off the green.

Homa was born in Burbank and lives in Valencia just north of L.A. He played collegiately at Cal. He's a fan of the Lakers and Dodgers, who lost to the Padres in the NL Division Series, with the clincher coming in San Diego. Homa said he heard plenty of smack talk from Padres fans this week but didn’t respond, although he said his caddie, Joe Greiner, did.

“It's nice to win up and down the state of California and, you know, carry that L.A. logo on my head and in my heart, me and Joe,” Homa said. “I don’t talk back to anybody in the crowd about the Dodgers-Padres thing, but Joe does. So I enjoy listening to him talking trash back to them.”

While many people know Homa as perhaps the funniest tour guy on Twitter, “I'm a pretty darn good golfer,” he said. "The results help you kind of build that foundation. I mean, I like to say dumb things and make dumb jokes and observe weird stuff and tweet about it. You know, kid, I guess.

“But when I work, when I practice and I play tournaments, this is what I love. I love what today was. It was incredible. So I don’t think anything’s changed too much. The confidence is becoming more steady.”

Bradley also shot a 66 on the South Course. Morikawa shot 69 and finished at 10 under. Ryder shot 75, his worst round of the week, and tied for fourth with Sahith Theegala (70) and Sungjae Im (70) at 9 under.

Rahm shot a 74, his worst round of the week, and tied for seventh at 8 under with Jason Day (68), a two-time Farmers winner. Rahm got his first PGA Tour win here in 2017 and then won the U.S. Open in 2021 at the municipal course that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Rahm won The American Express at PGA West last weekend and at the Sentry Tournament of Champions three weekends ago at Kapalua.

Homa, playing in the group ahead of Ryder, Rahm and Tony Finau, took the lead at 12 under by curling in a 16-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th after a 226-yard tee shot. Ryder, who wore magenta joggers, had a double-bogey 6 on the 15th to drop to 10 under.

Homa played the front nine in 4 under and drove the ball well enough to stay out of trouble, allowing his iron game to shine.

“You don’t need to be in the short grass all the time but you need to be in it to make birdies,” Homa said. “My iron game game has always kind of been my staple, I guess, what I’m most proud of in my game and it lends itself to that at this golf course.”

Ryder, who eagled his first hole of the tournament, was in a three-way tie for first after the opening round and had sole possession of the lead after the second and third rounds. At 33, he's still looking for his first tour win.

“Yeah, there was definitely a lot of new pressure, but it was fun,” Ryder said. “I was trying to just enjoy it. Like you know, it was a good experience for me and I think it’s only going to feed me."

After making an impressive run up the leaderboard on Friday to move into sole possession of second place, two shots behind Ryder, Rahm bogeyed No. 1 and missed a birdie putt by inches on No. 4 before his round fell apart on the par-4 No. 5.

Rahm drove into a fairway bunker and then flew the green into the thick rough. It took him three shots to chop his way out of the rough and by the time he sank a nine-foot putt, he had tumbled into a tie for fifth.

“I got a lot of bad breaks today,” Rahm said. “I can guarantee you one thing, if you’re in the fairway, you don’t get bad breaks. Just have to play better.”

DIVOTS: San Diegan Phil Mickelson, a defector to the LIV Tour, took a shot at Ryder's pants when he tweeted: “The Tour doesn’t allow shorts but does allow this weeks leader to wear joggers with ankle socks? Showing 4 inches of ankle? I’m no fashion guy, never will be, but there are some things I won’t ever understand.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



McIlroy, Reed tied behind leaders at Dubai Desert Classic

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Top-ranked Rory McIlroy and rival Patrick Reed were two shots off the lead at the halfway point of the Dubai Desert Classic on Saturday.

Richard Bland, Thomas Pieters and amateur Michael Thorbjornsen all reached 10-under overall at Emirates Golf Club for a share of the lead after two rounds of the weather-impacted tournament, which will conclude Monday.

Thorbjornsen, who is No. 2 in the world amateur rankings, shot an 8-under 64. He started on the 10th and birdied five of his first six holes before chipping for an eagle at the par-5 18th. He added a bogey and two more birdies.

“I enjoy playing professional golf a lot and I’m still an amateur,” the Stanford University junior said, “but just the golf courses that we play, the crowd out there, it’s what I’m dreaming of ever since I was five or six years old.”

Pieters recorded seven birdies on the back nine to close out his 67.

Bland posted his second straight round of 67 and has made just one bogey at the halfway mark.

Marcus Kinhult, Connor Syme and Adri Arnaus were all one shot back of the leaders.

McIlroy and Reed made headlines with some pre-tournament friction between them on the practice range, but they'll play in different groups in Sunday’s third round.

Like Reed, McIlroy shot a 70 on Saturday. The Northern Irishman mixed a birdie and a bogey with an eagle at the par-5 13th.

“I only hit two fairways today,” McIlroy said. “When you can’t hit fairways around here, and the rough is quite thick, it’s very hard to have any control of your ball and get it close into par fours. Yeah, just a little rusty. Need to go do a little work.”

Alongside Reed and McIlroy at 8 under were Matt Wallace, Dan Bradbury, Ian Poulter, Bernd Wiesberger, Lucas Herbert and Angel Hidalgo.

The competition will conclude on Monday because of delays over the past two days caused by wet weather then fading light.

Reed, a former Masters champion who is one of the high-profile players to have joined the Saudi-backed LIV Golf breakaway league, had three birdies and a bogey.

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Rahm 2 back of Ryder at Torrey in bid for 3rd straight win

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Jon Rahm made an impressive charge up the leaderboard on his favorite course with a 6-under 66 on Friday, which is now moving day at Torrey Pines, to pull within two shots of leader Sam Ryder after the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rahm, ranked No. 3 in the world, is 18 holes away from potentially winning his third straight start and taking over at No. 1 for the first time since March 20. He began Friday at 4 under and tied for 14th, and moved into sole possession of second place after an eagle on the par-5 ninth hole that capped his second stretch of playing four holes in 5 under in two days.

While Rahm heated up on a gorgeous, calm day on the municipal course overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Ryder parred his last 12 holes for a 72, missing a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th. Ryder was at 12-under 204 through 54 holes while Rahm was 10 under.

Tony Finau, 12 shots back when he started his third round on the back nine, turned in 4-under 32 and then holed his approach from 138 yards on the par-4 first hole for an eagle. He shot an 8-under 64, the best round of the week on the South Course, to move into third place, four shots back.

Sungjae Im eagled No. 18 for a 67 and was five shots back along with Collin Morikawa (70), Max Homa (71) and Sahith Theegala (71).

Adam Hadwin (70) of Abbotsford, B.C., was tied for 32nd at 2 under and Taylor Pendrith (72) of Richmond Hill, Ont., was tied for 49th at even par.

The tournament has been played from Wednesday to Saturday the past two years to avoid having the final round go against the NFL's conference championship games. 

It's been an adventuresome three days for Rahm at Torrey Pines, where he earned his first PGA Tour victory in 2017 and then won the U.S. Open in 2021 for his first major.

Rahm said Torrey Pines has been his favorite venue since “before I ever did anything, really. This is a wonderful golf course. It obviously suits my strengths and I think because I like it so much I’ve done very well here.”

Rahm was tied for 116th after playing the opening round at 1-over 73 on the South Course. He was one off the cut line with five holes left in his second round on the North Course in Santa Ana winds on Thursday before making an eagle and three straight birdies. He has played his last 23 holes in 11 under.

The Spanish star played the front nine on the South Course, which hosts the final two rounds, in 5-under 31 on Friday thanks to three straight birdies and then the eagle on 9.

He said his second shot on the ninth, a draw from 289 yards, “was contender for best shot of the year for me already. I was just hoping to catch it on the center of the green, but I mean, I tattooed that 5-wood and ended up having 10 feet for eagle, which you don’t really expect on that back pin, but I ended up putting myself in a great situation and made the putt.

“I’m a very aggressive player by nature, so nothing really changes,” said Rahm, who won the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua three weekends ago and The American Express in the Coachella Valley last weekend. “I kind of stay true to who I am and the difference between that and the next four holes was just making better swings at the right time.”

Rahm is contending for his 10th PGA Tour victory. Ryder, 33, is seeking his first. 

“I’m pretty calm, honestly,” Rahm said. “Yeah, there’s pressure for obvious things, but I’ve won my last two tournaments, so I have no reason not to believe that I can do it one more time. I’ve been swinging it beautifully all week and it just keeps getting better and better so hopefully tomorrow I can do what needs to be done.”

Ryder shared the lead with two others after the first round and was up by three strokes after 36 holes.

“Today it’s just a different level of pressure,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I had to go try and make something happen or press, you know, so I didn’t panic when I made a bogey on 2 and I kind of just adjusted to the round and kind of got a feel for where I was at with my swing and my game. Starting the day with a lead, ending the day with a lead, pretty satisfied."

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports 



McIlroy and Reed both 6-under after 1st round in Dubai

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed produced big first-round finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic on Friday in what could lead to an intriguing showdown as the competition heads to a Monday conclusion.

LIV Golf series players Richard Bland and Ian Poulter were tied atop the leaderboard at 8-under overall when second-round play was suspended Friday because of fading light. It was the second straight day of disrupted play at Emirates Golf Club.

McIlroy and Reed, another LIV golfer, were in the news after some pre-tournament friction between two of golf’s most high-profile players, and both completed their rounds at 6-under 66 in brief appearances on opposite ends of the course Friday.

Angel Hidalgo was one shot behind the leaders and Louis de Jager was at 6 under with McIlroy and Reed, who will start their second rounds Saturday.

Bland started his second round with three straight birdies and Poulter covered his first three holes in 1 under before play was suspended.

The competition will conclude on Monday, organizers said. Play had been suspended Thursday because of fading light following earlier delays from overnight rain that left the course unplayable.

Poulter and Ludvig Aberg, a Swede who is the world’s No. 1 amateur, shot 65s to share the lead after one round.

The top-ranked McIlroy, who had started on the 10th on Thursday, went birdie-eagle-birdie to complete his 66 after only seven shots on Friday. Reed eagled the par-5 18th.

McIlroy holed out from a fairway bunker on the par-4 8th for an unlikely eagle. The Northern Irishman described his play Thursday — when he was 2 under after playing 15 holes — as “very sloppy.”

“I would have been happy with anything around 70 the way I played, and then to come in and shoot 66 is quite the bonus," the two-time winner said after the first round.

Reed, a former Masters champion, had completed 16 holes Thursday at 4 under and resumed with a par before a closing eagle, holing from 15 feet.

“To come out this week and feel like I was able to put everything together and to have my mind right on game planning and course management was definitely a plus," the American said.

The pre-tournament buildup focused on discord between McIlroy and Reed, who is one of the high-profile players to have joined the exodus to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf breakaway league. McIlroy, a vocal critic of LIV, ignored Reed on Tuesday at the practice range.

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Ryder extends Farmers lead to 3, Rahm gets hot on windy day

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Sam Ryder extended his lead to three shots in the Farmers Insurance Open with a 4-under 68 in challenging wind in the second round Thursday on Torrey Pines' South Course while Jon Rahm had an eagle and three straight birdies late in his 5-under 67 on the easier North Course to get under the cut line. 

Ryder survived both the Santa Ana wind and the tougher South Course with just one bogey to reach 12-under 132 and take a three-stroke lead over Brendan Steele, who shot a 70 on the South Course. Tano Goya was two more shots back after a 67 on the North Course.

The Santa Ana wind blowing out of the desert and down the mountains raked the course most of the day, with gusts up to 30 mph. It sent leaves, branches and even a tumbleweed onto greens, and cardboard trash cans tumbling down hillsides. 

“Yesterday was very easy, today was very hard,” said Rahm, who took his first tour win here in 2017 and then won the 2021 U.S. Open on the blufftop municipal course overlooking the Pacific Ocean. “It’s never easy out here on either one of the courses, especially the South, and when you get poa annua bumpy greens with this wind, it can be a bit of a nightmare, so glad I made a few.”

Canadians Adam Hadwin and Taylor Pendrith made the cut at even-par 144. Hadwin, from Abbotsford, B.C., shot a 74 while Pendrith, from Richmond Hill, Ont., had a 75. 

Adam Svensson (72) of Surrey, B.C., missed the cut at 2-over 146. Michael Gligic (74) of Burlington, Ont., also missed out at 7-over 151.  

Rahm, ranked No. 3 in the world and looking to win for the third time three starts this year, rebounded from an opening 73 on the South Course by getting hot on his back nine. He eagled the par-5 fifth and then had three straight birdies. He had another eagle chance on the par-4 seventh but his long putt caught the left edge and skidded about a foot away. 

After his frustrating opening round, “anything in the 60s would have been amazing,” Rahm said. “What I shot today, man, I’m going to be skipping out of the golf course today because it’s a great round of golf.”

Rahm, who won The American Express last weekend, started on the back nine and opened with consecutive birdies but bogeyed his third and ninth holes. He was even going into the par-5 fifth, when he started his run with an eagle.

“Holes five through nine, with or without wind is where you can take advantage of the course,” the Spanish star said. “Luckily, I’ve been hitting it really good. There’s no difference between those holes or any other five, four holes you can pick throughout the round, it's just kind of guessed with the wind right in all of them. I think maybe I was a little more aggressive after that second shot on 6 and got in the mentality of making birdies instead of being a little tentative, which is easy to do when it’s blowing as hard as it was blowing today.”

Rahm, who went from tied for 116th on Wednesday to tied for 14th, said the cut line never came to mind.

“I was playing with the mindset of catching up to the leaders as much as possible, that’s it.”

Ryder, a 33-year-old who has never won on the PGA Tour, opened some distance after sharing the first-round lead with Aaron Rai and Brent Grant. Grant was in a group of six at 6 under.

“Yeah, it feels great. The thing I’ve been kind of telling myself is to just try and embrace it,” Ryder said. "It’s not a position that I’ve been in a lot, you know, so just trying to enjoy it. It’s kind of why we play, so just trying to look around and enjoy the moment.

“And I’m just doing everything pretty solid. It starts off the tee for me, I’m driving it well. My iron play is really good, so I feel like if I put it in the fairway, I can attack. And I don’t think I really missed many shots today. I missed a couple fairways, but the irons have been really good."

Will Zalatoris, ranked No. 7 in the world, missed the cut after shooting 5-over 77 on the South Course. 

The final two rounds will be on the South Course.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



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