Golf: An eventful week in Hawaii centered around two strikes – one real and one (thankfully) mistaken – while Rory McIlroy received some rather surprising medical news.
By Jeff Shain, PSN managing editor
- If the Sony Open’s final-round telecast felt like it was missing something – yeah, it was. A strike by camera and audio personnel left Golf Channel producing a stripped-down telecast that left even its on-site announcers without anyone to mix the sound. Commentary was provided from the channel’s Orlando studios, and the production made frequent use of overhead blimp shots to follow ball flight. Members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees walked off the job Sunday, following some nine months of fruitless negotiations between the union and Golf Channel. This week’s slate also could be affected.
- PGA Tour players, caddies and the rest of Hawaii were sent scrambling for cover early Saturday when a text alert was broadcast saying a ballistic missile was headed for the islands. It was 38 tense minutes before a followup came saying, oops, the first directive was sent out in error. By that time, John Peterson was in a hotel bathtub under mattresses with his wife and baby. Chez Reavie said he saw people running on the street below his hotel and considered there really was nowhere to go. Matt Every decided open space was the safest option – so he went to a golf course.
- Rory McIlroy disclosed that he has a heart irregularity – a thickened left ventricle stemming from a virus he caught two years ago in China. The good news is that it only requires monitoring at this stage, though fan dismay over the original news prompted him to go on social media to say it’s “not that big of a deal.” Even better news: The rib problem that hampered McIlroy for most of 2017 is now healed. The Ulsterman will make his 2018 debut this week in Abu Dhabi.
- Blayne Barber and his caddie will remain in Hawaii for several more days after the bagman suffered a serious head injury in a fall Friday evening. Cory Gilmer was at dinner with friends when he collapsed and struck his head. Gilmer was taken to a neurological intensive care unit in Honolulu and remained in critical condition through the weekend, with Barber telling his Twitter followers that his friend was “mostly unconscious” with swelling and bleeding in his brain.
- Gerina Piller’s 2018 season was one-and-done. The two-time U.S. Solheim Cup participant tied for 30th as a late entry to the Diamond Resorts Invitational pro/celebrity event – competing while 5 ½ months pregnant. She’ll now step away to focus on motherhood, sitting out the entire LPGA season with plans on returning for the 2019 season opener. Breadwinning duties now fall entirely to husband Martin Piller, back on the PGA Tour a season on the Web.com Tour.
PGA TOUR: CareerBuilder Challenge
Site: PGA West (TPC Stadium), La Quinta, Calif.
- Defending champion: Hudson Swafford claimed his first PGA Tour victory, overtaking Adam Hadwin and Bud Cauley with three birdies in his final four holes. Hadwin’s Saturday 59 put him in front heading to the last round, but dropped back after making just two birdies in the final day’s first 15 holes.
- Last week: Patton Kizzire became the PGA Tour’s first multiple winner this season, outlasting James Hahn in a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. It was the circuit’s longest playoff since 2012, after Hahn’s closing 62 put him in the hunt as Sunday’s final groups wavered down the stretch. Kizzire also captured the OHL Classic before the holiday break.
- Tour talk: Phil Mickelson gets his post-holiday slate underway in his traditional spot, still seeking to end a winless drought now reaching 4 ½ years. … Jon Rahm has top-2 finishes in his past two starts bridging the holidays. His runner-up at Kapalua was preceded by a win in the European Tour finale. … Corey Pavin, 58, is set for his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.
- TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Sunday, 3-7 p.m. ET).
- Etc.: First Look from PGATour.com; CareerBuilder Challenge primer from Pro Golf Weekly.
EUROPEAN TOUR: Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Site: Abu Dhabi GC, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
- Defending champion: England’s Tommy Fleetwood captured just his second Euro Tour victory, using a 5-under-par 67 to overtake countryman Tyrrell Hatton and hold off Dustin Johnson’s late charge. A chip-in eagle and four birdies propelled Fleetwood, who endured a 3 ½-year drought after winning the Johnnie Walker Championship in 2013. Hatton fell off badly on the final day, carding a 75.
- Last week: Team Europe stormed back in Sunday singles to retain possession of the EurAsia Cup, winning 8 ½ of 12 points on the final day against a plucky Asian side. Thomas Pieters scored the decisive point in a see-saw match vs. Byeong Hun An. … England’s Chris Paisley scored his first European Tour win at the South African Open, holding off a South African chase pack on their home soil.
- Tour talk: Fleetwood begins defense of his Race to Dubai crown where it began a year ago, accompanied by Johnson and McIlroy in a high-wattage grouping for Rounds 1 and 2. … The marquee on the other side of the tee times is strong, too, reuniting Olympic medalists Justin Rose (gold), Henrik Stenson (silver) and Matt Kuchar (bronze). … McIlroy owns seven top-10 finishes in eight Abu Dhabi starts.
- TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 3-8 a.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 3:30-8 a.m.).
PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS: Mitsubishi Electric Championship
Site: Hualalai GC, Kona, Hawaii
- Defending champion: Bernhard Langer notched his 30th Champions win when high winds forced the event to be dialed back to 36 holes, as final-round scoring soared near 80 and next-day forecasts were no better. Langer shot 64-65 in ideal conditions over the first two days, one stroke better than Fred Couples.
- Tour talk: Langer is one of nine World Golf Hall of Fame members set to tee it up for the circuit’s traditional season opener. Colin Montgomerie, Fred Couples, Vijay Singh, Hale Irwin and Tom Watson add to the list. … Kevin Sutherland makes his first start as the reigning Charles Schwab Cup champion, having controversially ended Langer’s reign by winning the 2017 playoff finale.
- TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Saturday, 7-10 p.m.).
WEB.COM TOUR: Bahamas Great Abaco Classic
Site: The Abaco Club on Winding Bay, Great Abaco, Bahamas
- Defending champion: Andrew Landry pulled away over the final half-dozen holes for victory, using a 5-under-par 67 to finish three strokes clear of Jimmy Gunn. The former Arkansas standout eagled twice on the way to his second Web.com Tour win, joining the 2015 event in Colombia.
- Last week: Korean pro Sungjae Im won the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic opener for his first professional victory, using a 7-under-par 65 to pull away on the final day. Im went bogey-free over his final 22 holes, emerging four shots clear of Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz after the duo entered the final round tied.
- Tour talk: As with its Bahamas twin, the Great Abaco Classic is played under an uncharacteristic early-week format, teeing off on Sunday and concluding the following Wednesday. The tour then takes a week off to recalibrate before teeing off in Panama. … Im’s victory came in his first Web.com Tour start. He notched 11 top-10 finishes last year in Japan and South Korea, including a pair of seconds.
- TV: Golf Channel (Sunday, noon-2 p.m.; Monday-Wednesday, 2-5 p.m.).
LPGA TOUR: Idle
First up: Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic, Jan. 25-28, Paradise Island, Bahamas.
- Tour talk: Brooke Henderson took low honors among the LPGA quartet at the Diamond Resorts Invitational, cracking the top 10 overall with rounds of 66-67-68. That equated to 80 points in the modified Stableford system, good for seventh. … Morgan Pressel’s annual “Morgan & Friends” fundraiser to combat breast cancer topped $1 million for the first time, raising the foundation’s 11-year total to $7.5 million. Pressel lost her mother, Kathy, to the disease as the golfer was a fast-rising amateur.