Tuesday 20 March 2018

McDowell in the hunt but Tiger slumps

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy wait to tee off at the fourth hole. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy wait to tee off at the fourth hole. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Brian Keogh

Injuries, illness and the ravages of time are the golfer's mortal enemies.

But they didn't stop early Genesis Open leader Patrick Cantlay or Darren Clarke, Neil O'Briain or South Africa's James Du Preez as they excelled on opposite sides of the world.

As Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Tiger Woods were battling with varying degrees of success to get back to their best in the Genesis Open, former UCLA star Cantlay (25) used his local knowledge to shoot 69 and claim the clubhouse lead at Riviera Country Club on seven-under-par.

Cantlay contemplated a career outside the game when a stress fracture in his lower back showed no sign of healing and he saw his caddie and friend, Chris Roth, killed by a hit-and-run driver in front of his eyes two years ago.

"It still bothers me every day. It changes the way that you see things for a while," Cantlay, a PGA Tour-winner earlier this season, said earlier this month. "Maybe not forever, you get numb to it. For a while, I couldn't care less about everything."

Despite the emotional scars, his golf remains strong and at seven under par, he had an early two-shot lead over Tony Finau, who shot 71, with Bubba Watson three back after a 70 in his bid for a third win at Riviera in five years.

The left-hander has also had his share of troubles over the past two years, slithering from second three years ago to 117th in the world this week.

Putting woes and an illness that caused him to shed 20 lbs last year have held Watson back but despite dropping three shots in his five holes, a 70 left him poised to challenge for a third win at Riviera since 2014.

"My body is where I want it to be," Watson said last night. "I got down to real low weight - give or take, 165 (lbs) because of sickness.

"So back where I want to be ... now I just need the putts to drop."

As McDowell made a run at Cantlay and McIlroy battled more putting woes, Woods announced he's adding next week's Honda Classic to his schedule as he counts down to the Masters.


It was McDowell, however, who made the biggest impression with three birdies to open his round and three in four holes after the turn for an impressive five-under par round of 66 to lie alongside Cantley in the clubhouse lead.

McIlroy, too, showed glimpses of form after turning in par with three birdies in five holes to get back in red figures, however, Woods endured a horrible back nine to miss the cut.

The 14-time Major champion was fighting to make the weekend after a birdie at the 10th brought him to onto the projected cut mark of two over par.

However, a combination of errant tee shots and poor putting cost him four bogeys in the next six holes and a chance at two more competitive weekend rounds.

Shane Lowry, too, is free to make plans for his Saturday as he endured similar issues through holes 11 to 15.

Starting on the 10th, the Offalyman birdied his first hole of the day to get to one under par before a run of five consecutive bogeys sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.

It was a different story for Clarke, however, who fired a flawless, five-under 67 to share ninth place in the NBO Oman Open, six shots behind France's Matthieu Pavon.

It's the first time he's made back to back cut on the European Tour since 2016 but Gavin Moynihan finished birdie-bogey to miss the level par cut by one after a 74.

There were no such problems for Pavon (25), who made eight birdies in 11 holes in a 65 to lead by two shots on 11-under par from England's Matthew Southgate just three weeks after he was disqualified for signing for a wrong score in the Dubai Desert Classic.

Team Ireland Golf grant recipient O'Briain (31) has plenty of bad memories of 2017 after a niggling hip injury and a broken rib allowed to make just five cuts from 14 starts.

But he put that behind him in the Sunshine Tour's Dimension Data Pro-Am, carding a four-under 68 on the Outeniqua Course at Fancourt to share fifth place, just two strokes behind leader Anthony Michael on eight-under par.

Forgetting ill health is tougher for South Africa amateur Du Preez (22), who claimed his first win since undergoing surgery for ankylosing spondylitis when he cruised to a three-stroke victory in the African Amateur Stroke Play in Johannesburg,

Dundalk's Caolan Rafferty tied for sixth as Du Preez closed with a one-under 71 at Glendower Golf Club to win by three strokes on 14-under par from compatriot Christo Lamprecht Jnr.

"It's a form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine and it's basically a life sentence," Du Preez said of his physical problem. "It was hard at first to accept this news, but I've made peace with it."

Rafferty also shot 71 to finish seven behind in a tie for sixth with Castle's Alex Gleeson tied 12th on one-under after a 76, Kilkenny's Mark Power 14th after a 69 and Tramore's Robin Dawson 20th after a 76.

Mallow's James Sugrue shot 74 to finish 31st with Naas' Jonathan Yates 36th after a 71 and Massereene's Tiarnan McLarnon 64th after an 84.

  • Genesis Open, Live, Sky Sports Golf, 7.0pm
  • Oman Golf Classic, Live, Sky Sports Golf, 6.30am

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