Scotland’s Locke says first pro win was ‘monkey off back’

Sam Locke watching his ball having played an iron shot

Sam Locke hopes his first tournament victory since turning pro has got “the monkey off my back” as the 21-year-old Scot battles to live up to the promise of his 2018 Open silver medal.

He has made a whirlwind start to his second season as a professional, albeit in the lower reaches of the pro game.

Having tied second in last week’s Penina Classic in the Portugal Pro Tour, he won this week’s Palmares Open.

“I knew it would come in the end, I just had to be patient,” he said.

“I think to win at any level you have got to learn how to win. It is not easy, so it is really important to have done that and hopefully now I can keep working hard and push on and strive for more.”

Winning by four strokes from England’s Ryan Evans on Portugal’s local tour is a long way from the blaze of publicity that surrounded Locke when finishing top amateur at the Open Championship at Carnoustie and then on entering the paid ranks.

He won a first-stage event in last season’s European Tour Qualifying School, but on last season’s third-tier PGA EuroPro Tour, he failed to make the season-ending Tour Championship in Spain.

But Locke is happy to shoulder the burden of expectation that came with his Open success.

“Winning the silver medal, that is going to happen,” he told BBC Scotland. “People are going to think ‘well, this guy has done this, so he is going to go on and do this that and the other’, which I feel I can still do.

“You know what people expect. But, at the end of the day, I know where I want to get to and, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.

“It is now down to me to keep working and learning and pushing on and I believe it will come. It is just a matter of time. I am still young, sometimes I forget that and I think I should be doing a bit better, but I have been playing quite nice stuff and thankfully now I have got the win.”

Locke hopes to make a similar impact when he heads later this month to compete on the Mena Tour, covering the Middle East and North Africa, as he aims for promotion to Europe’s second tier.

“You are striving to be the best player in the world,” he added. “There is no reason why that can’t happen, but just now I am just focusing on what is in front of me, the next few tournaments.

“I definitely want to at least have a Challenge Tour card by the end of this year, so that is my goal. Thankfully, I have got the win at the start, which is good for my confidence.”

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Abu Dhabi Championship: Lee Westwood wins by two shots

Lee Westwood

Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship – final leaderboard
-19 L Westwood (Eng); -17 M Fitzpatrick (Eng), T Fleetwood (Eng), V Perez (Fra); -15 L Oosthuizen; -14 R Fisher (Eng), S Norris (RSA)

Lee Westwood won the Abu Dhabi Championship to become the first player to win in four different decades on the European Tour.

Westwood finished on 19 under par, two shots ahead of Tommy Fleetwood, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Victor Perez.

The 46-year-old shot a five-under-par 67 at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club to win the event for the first time.

The Englishman’s 44th professional win means he has won European titles in the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s.

More to follow.

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Abu Dhabi Championship: Lee Westwood shoots 65 to take lead after third round

Lee Westwood

Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, day three leaderboard
-14 L Westwood (Eng); -13 F Laporta (Ita), B Wiesberger (Aut); -12 M Fitzpatrick (Eng); S Garcia (Spa), K Kitayama (US), -10 R Cabrera Bello (Spa), T Detry (Bel)
Selected others: -9 R Fisher (Eng), L Oosthuizen (SA), J Senior (Eng); -8 T Fleetwood, J Singh Brar, A Sullivan (all Eng); -7 R Ramsay (Sco)

Lee Westwood shot a seven-under-par 65 to lead by one stroke after three rounds of the Abu Dhabi Championship.

The Englishman hit six birdies, an eagle and a bogey to move to 14 under, with overnight leader Francesco Laporta and Bernd Wiesberger on 13 under.

Italy’s Laporta carded a 69, while Austria’s Wiesberger matched Westwood’s 65.

“It was fun. I’m playing well and driving the ball well,” said 46-year-old Westwood.

“I’m not going to lie, I didn’t play a lot of golf coming into it, didn’t know what to expect. To be in the lead with one round to go, it’s a real positive.

“I’m just going to go out there and play as well as I can and, if it’s good enough, then great.

“I know I’m talented enough to win the tournament, it’s just a case of applying myself.”

England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick is on 12 under after a 69, with Spain’s Sergio Garcia one shot further back.

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Abu Dhabi Championship: Francesco Laporta takes lead after strong finish to day two

Francesco Laporta playing at the Abu Dhabi Championship

Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, day two leaderboard
-10 F Laporta (Ita); -9 M Fitzpatrick (Eng), R Cabrera Bello (Spa); -8 S Garcia (Spa), Li Haotong (Chn), R Paratore (Ita); -7 L Westwood (Eng), L Oosthuizen (SA), K Kitayama, P Cantlay (both US), A Arnaus (Spa)
Selected others:-6 D Law (Sco), B Wiesberger (Aut); -4 J Singh Brar, A Sullivan (both Eng), R Ramsay (Sco); -3 B Koepka (US), T Fleetwood, O Fisher, R Fisher, A Chesters, J Senior (all Eng), D Drysdale (Sco)

Italy’s Francesco Laporta finished his second round with five straight birdies to take a one-shot lead at the Abu Dhabi Championship.

England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick stayed bogey-free through 36 holes with a 67 to get to nine under, but Laporta stormed home in 30 in his round of 63.

Rafael Cabrera Bello is also on nine under, but Brooks Koepka slipped from two to seven shots off the lead.

The world number one is two inside the cut after two double-bogeys in a 75.

The American, 29, had opened with a 66 in his first competitive round after three months out with a knee injury.

Italy’s Renato Paratore led overnight with Shaun Norris of South Africa and is now two shots off the lead after shooting par but Norris is on three under with Koepka after a round of 77.

Fitzpatrick, 25, had the first winless season of his professional career in 2019, finishing second five times, and is in contention for his first win since defending the European Masters in September 2018.

“For the first week of the year, to have no bogeys, I couldn’t ask for a better start really,” he said. “I just played really disciplined golf and it’s worked out well so far.”

Laporta added: “Every time I was putting for birdie, I made it. When I had the opportunities, I took them. It was a great day.”

English amateur Josh Hill, 15, beat Koepka in a practice match earlier this week and is six over after following his first round of 74 with a 76.

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Koepka tied third in Abu Dhabi after first round in three months

Brooks Koepka

Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, day one leaderboard
-8 S Norris (SA), R Paratore (Ita); -6 B Koepka (US), J Scrivener (Aus); -5 K Kitayama (US), Li Haotong (Chn), S Garcia (Spa), R Cabrera Bello (Spa), Z Murray (Aus), Z Lombard (SA)
Selected others: -4 M Fitzpatrick (Eng); -3 L Westwood, R Rock, R Bland, A Johnston, A Sullivan (all Eng); -2 D Law, D Drysdale (both Sco), J Singh Brar, M Southgate, R Fisher, D Howell (all Eng), S Lowry (Ire)

World number one Brooks Koepka is tied third at the Abu Dhabi Championship after his first competitive round of golf in three months following injury.

The 29-year-old American shot a bogey free round of 66 and is two shots behind leaders Shaun Norris of South Africa and Italy’s Renato Paratore.

Koepka, a four-time Major winner, had stem cell treatment on his left knee at the end of August but aggravated the problem when he fell over in October.

“It’s good to be back,” said Koepka.

“I missed the competition obviously and I played really solid. I missed a few putts early on, but drove the ball well and controlled distances really well – that’s what you have to do out here.”

Asked about his knee, Koepka told Sky Sports: “It feels fine. It was a little sore last night. That’s expected. This is the first week I’ve walked 18 holes and I’ve done it three times already. It’s a little tired.”

Koepka, whose injury meant he had to withdraw from the United States team for December’s Presidents Cup, produced a bogey-free round of six under.

Both Norris and Paratore hit nine birdies, but bogeyed the par-three seventh.

Norris, 37, said: “It will be a dream come true to win a European Tour tournament. I’m sticking to my guns. Stick to the same game plan and just go out there and have fun.”

Two-time winner Tommy Fleetwood is seven shots off the lead after an opening 71, while 15-year-old English amateur Josh Hill – who beat Koepka in a practice match earlier this week – returned a two-over-par 74 and is tied 97th.

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‘I asked him for a little match on the last eight’ – Teenager Hill gets better of Koepka in practice

Josh Hill

England’s teenage golf sensation Josh Hill can boast a victory – of sorts, at least – over world number one Brooks Koepka as he heads into the biggest fortnight of his young career.

The 15-year-old, who became the youngest winner of an official world-ranking event last October, is preparing to make his European Tour debut in this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

And he warmed up for the tournament, which starts on Thursday, by playing a practice round with Koepka.

They played at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club and the American Ryder Cup star was impressed by the Dubai-based youngster.

“I know if I’d been in his situation I would have been as nervous as hell,” the world’s top-ranked player told BBC Sport.

“I was impressed with him, I really was – his attitude, the way he goes about things, the questions he asked. He’s a good player and if he keeps progressing like he should he’s got all the potential in the world.

“Whatever his goals may be, hopefully he reaches them,” Koepka added.

‘I asked him for a little match and, yeah, I beat him’

The practice round was arranged because Koepka is coached by Claude Harmon, who is attached to the Dubai training centre used by Hill.

The teenage amateur, who shot a final-round 62 to win the Al Ain Open last October, made the most of the opportunity.

“It was a great experience playing with him, obviously the best player in the world,” Hill told me.

“Learning from him and watching him hit the ball was a great experience and hopefully I can take some of that learning curve into this week.

“I asked him for a little match on the last eight holes and, yeah, I beat him. Obviously we weren’t going full out, but it’s always nice to say you’ve beaten the world number one.”

Hill, who was born in Surrey, splits his time between Dubai and Devon and is currently being taught online to prepare for his GCSEs in June.

But golf is his top priority for the next fortnight because his growing reputation has earned him starts here in Abu Dhabi and at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic.

He is delighted to have spent time on the course with the world’s best player.

“First of all I was obviously nervous, but he’s such a nice guy there’s nothing to be nervous about,” Hill said.

“I asked him how he practises throughout the week to get some advice for that. I thought he would do a lot more random stuff but he said he just knocks ball on the range and that’s how you get better, so it was quite interesting.”

Playing alongside the elite of the European Tour will be a significant step up from the Middle East-based Mena Tour where the youngster has been competing.

But Hill is refusing to cap his ambitions for the coming couple of weeks.

“You can’t aim low, you can’t just aim to make the cut,” he said. “You’ve got to aim high.

“I mean a top 10 would be nice but to be honest I’ve just got to go out there and play golf and see where that leaves me.”

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Smith dedicates Sony Open win to fellow Australians

Cameron Smith made a birdie on the 18th hole to force a play-off at the Sony Open

Sony Open final leaderboard
-11: C Smith (Aus)*, B Steele; -10: W Simpson; -9: R Palmer, K Kisner, G McDowell (NI)
*Denotes play-off winner

Australian Cameron Smith claimed the PGA Tour’s Sony Open and said he hoped his play-off win would allow people in his country to “smile for a moment or two” during the bushfire crisis.

Smith, 26, won the first play-off hole at Hawaii’s Waialae Country Club to beat American Brendan Steele.

Smith’s uncle Warren has lost his home in the bushfires in Australia.

“Australia is doing it tough right now and the focus is probably not on my golf, for good reason,” said Smith.

“But hopefully it gave a few people reason to smile for a moment or two.

“Uncle Warren drove back to his place the other day and what he found was quite devastating. I saw the photos and the only thing he had left was a little shed that him and his son built a few months back.

“We’re a tight-knit family and it hit everyone pretty hard. It’s good to do something good, and hopefully puts a smile on their face.”

Smith fired a a two-under-par 68 – including a crucial birdie putt on the final hole – to share the mark of 11-under for the tournament with Steele.

On the first play-off hole Steele, who had led all day, was wayward off the tee, allowing Smith the chance to two-putt for par and victory.

The Australian had never won a PGA Tour event on his own before, having previously only shared a win with Sweden’s Jonas Blixt in the team stroke-play format at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in 2017.

Smith and a host of other golfers at the event donated a portion of their prize money to the relief effort for the Australian fires.

At least 28 people have been killed by the fires and 15.6 million acres of bush, forest and parks across Australia has burned.

Elsewhere on Sunday, South Africa’s Branden Grace shot a final-day 62 to deny compatriot Louis Oosthuizen back-to-back victories in the South African Open in Johannesburg.

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Lowry second in Hong Kong as Grace wins South African Open

Shane Lowry

Open champion Shane Lowry enjoyed his best performance since victory at Royal Portrush as the Irishman finished runner-up at the Hong Kong Open.

Lowry shot a six-under 64 to end 13 under, four behind Wade Ormsby, who won for a second time in three years.

The Australian, 39, led from start to finish at the rearranged event, which was moved from its date in December due to the civil unrest in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Branden Grace fired a nine-under 62 to win the South African Open.

It was Grace’s ninth European Tour win, but his first since November 2017.

He finished on 21 under, three clear of overnight leader and fellow South African Louis Oosthuizen, whose last-round 68, included a hole-in-one.

Grace also claimed one of the three qualifying spots available to non-exempt players for The Open at Royal St George’s in July, along with England’s Marcus Armitage, who finished third, and Jaco Ahlers of South Africa.

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Tiger Woods: PGA Tour record could be set at Farmers Insurance Open

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods will bid for a record-breaking 83rd PGA Tour win at the Farmers Insurance Open on 23 January.

The 44-year-old equalled Sam Snead’s mark of 82 – set in 1965 – at the Zozo Championship in Japan in October.

The Farmers Insurance Open will be played at Torrey Pines, where Woods has eight wins, including the 2008 US Open.

Woods will be joined by a strong field including Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele.

Since equalling Snead’s record, Woods has competed in two unofficial events in December. He finished fourth in the 18-man Hero World Challenge before posting a 3-0 record as a playing captain for the victorious US side at the Presidents Cup.

Woods met Snead when he was five and the pair played holes together on a course near Los Angeles.

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Tournament of Champions: Justin Thomas wins Hawaii play-off

Justin Thomas

Final leaderboard
-14 Thomas (US), Reed (US), Schauffele (US); -11 Cantlay (US); -10 Fowler (US), Niemann (Chi); -9 D Johnson (US), Morikawa (US), Woodland (US); -8 J Rahm (Spa)
Selected others: -2 Casey (Eng), -1 McDowell (NI)
Full leaderboard

Justin Thomas said he “got very lucky” after beating Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele in a play-off to win the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.

The 26-year-old American won his 12th US PGA Tour title despite bogeying two of the last three holes in regulation.

He birdied the third extra hole to beat Reed after defending champion Schauffele was eliminated on the first play-off hole.

The trio had finished 72 holes with 14 under par totals of 278.

The tournament only features players who won on the PGA Tour last year and Thomas, the 2017 champion, enjoyed a two-shot lead with three to play, but dropped one at the 16th and then had a bogey six at the par-five 18th in a four-under-par 69.

Playing partner Schauffele, the world number eight, reached the final green in two, but missed a seven-foot birdie putt for victory, carding a three-under 70.

Reed, ranked 11, was already in the clubhouse on 14 under after capping a bogey-free seven-under 66 with a 20-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole.

The 2018 US Masters champion had putts to win on each of the first two play-off holes but was unable to get efforts from 30 feet and 12 feet to drop.

“For some reason I was supposed to win this week. I got very, very lucky,” said Thomas.

“I truly felt like through 15 holes it was one of the best rounds I ever played.”

He started the day one stroke off Schauffele’s lead before a run of six birdies in eight holes.

“He was hitting ridiculous shots, making good putts in the wind, and he deserved the lead he got,” said Schauffele.

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