Fleetwood moves into contention in Dubai

Tommy Fleetwood

Second-round leaderboard
-11 Wallace (Eng); -10 Smith (Eng), Otaegui (Spa); -9 Willett (Eng), Reed (US); -8 Aphibarnrat (Tha), Burmester (SA), Fleetwood (Eng), McIlroy (NI)
Selected others:-7 Bjork (Swe), Stenson (Swe); -6 Lewis (Eng), Rahm (Spa), Pavan (Ita), Cabrera-Belo (Spa), Pieters (Bel)

Tommy Fleetwood moved into contention to retain his Race to Dubai title with a five-under second-round 67 at the DP World Tour Championship.

The Englishman, 27, who sits joint sixth in the standings, must win this weekend to overtake Race to Dubai leader Francesco Molinari.

The Open champion dropped down the field to 27th after a one-over 73 at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.

Leader Matt Wallace, who carded 65, is chasing his fourth title of the year.

Rory McIlroy shot a second-round 67 to leave him on eight under, level with Fleetwood.

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Molinari ahead of rival Fleetwood in Race to Dubai title battle

Francesco Molinari

First-round leaderboard
-6 Smith (Eng), Otaegui (Spa); -5 Willett (Eng), Rahm (Spa); -4 Molinari (Ita), Li (Chn), Wallace, (Eng), Fisher (Eng), Pieters (Bel)
Selected others: -3 Fleetwood (Eng), McIlroy (NI), Reed (US); -2 Westwood (Eng); -1 Garcia (Spa); E Poulter (Eng)

Italian Francesco Molinari remained on course to win his first Race to Dubai title after finishing the opening round of the DP World Tour Championship a shot better than rival Tommy Fleetwood.

The 36-year-old can only be denied the overall crown if Fleetwood wins the season finale and he finishes worse than tied fifth with one other person.

Molinari is two behind leaders Jordan Smith and Adrian Otaegui on four under.

England’s Danny Willett is on five under alongside Spaniard Jon Rahm.

Molinari held a share of the lead after 14 holes at Jumeirah Golf Estates, but then three-putted both the 15th and 18th.

The Italian, Fleetwood’s playing partner, said: “It’s only Thursday so there are so many things that can happen. Both of us did not hit the ball our best but we managed to scramble well and close out two decent rounds.

“I did a good job of thinking shot by shot and that’s what I need to do. I don’t think there is any benefit to thinking about what-ifs. It’s too early.”

Fleetwood, whose partnership with Molinari at the Ryder Cup was known as “Moliwood”, added: “You come into this week still with a chance of the Race to Dubai – one round down and we still have a chance. As long as our head’s above water for that, we’ll be happy and keep going.”

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy and Masters champion Patrick Reed are part of a 12-way tie on three under on a day when 46 of the 60-man field shot par or better.

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‘It’s 20 years away’ – Ryder Cup captaincy rule not swaying McIlroy’s European Tour decision

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy will not let a rule preventing him from becoming a future Ryder Cup captain influence his plans to leave the European Tour next season.

The Northern Irishman this week told BBC Sport that he may play only two events on his home circuit in 2019.

Sacrificing his European Tour membership, under current regulations, would cost him the chance of leading his continent in a future Ryder Cup.

However, he said: “It’s 20 years away. Next year I’m looking out for me.”

McIlroy’s plans to leave the Tour and miss next year’s Irish Open have been questioned by former skipper Paul McGinley and are a big blow to the European Tour. The four times major champion is their biggest name.

But he insists he wants to do what he thinks is best for his game and believes those interests are best served by basing himself on the PGA Tour in the United States.

The 29-year-old confirmed that he met European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley in South Africa last week and informed him of his plans.

“Everyone has to look out for themselves and next year I’m looking out for me,” McIlroy said. “At the same time, I don’t have to make a decision on it. I didn’t say that it was a definite. It’s up in the air. I don’t have to make a decision until May. We’ll see how it goes.”

McIlroy has indicated he is more likely to play the Scottish Open next year rather than the Irish Open a week earlier. This has prompted dismay in the Irish game and McGinley has expressed his concerns in a column for Sky Sports.

“It’s very disappointing,” said the victorious 2014 Ryder Cup captain. “I’ve been racking my brains wondering how that can be.

“Obviously Rory sees it in other ways and has got his own rationale for that, although I’m finding it hard to understand,” added McGinley, who will succeed McIlroy as the Irish Open’s tournament host at next year’s event in Lahinch.

McIlroy was unrepentant when confronted with McGinley’s comments. “Again, everyone looks out for themselves,” he said.

“McGinley is on The European Tour board. He’s involved and he has to protect what he has, and I get it.

“Again, look, everyone has to do what’s best for them, and for me next year, I’m trying to do what’s best for me to help get back to the best player in the world and try to win majors again.

“I’d cause all the stirs in the world if I go back to winning majors.”

European Tour players are required to play at least four events on the circuit outside the majors and World Golf Championships. McIlroy says he would rejoin the Tour in 2020 to ensure he is eligible to play the next Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

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It’s very disappointing’ – McGinley baffled by McIlroy Tour plans

Rory McIlroy during this year's Irish Open at Ballyliffin

Former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley says he is baffled by the prospect of Rory McIlroy playing just two European Tour events next season.

World number seven McIlroy must play four European Tour tournaments outside the majors and World Golf Championship events to retain Tour membership.

McIlroy has only two on his schedule and may miss the Irish Open, which he has hosted for the last four years.

“It’s very disappointing,” said McGinley in his Sky Sports column.

“I’ve been racking my brains wondering how that can be.

“Obviously Rory sees it in other ways and has got his own rationale for that, although I’m finding it hard to understand,” added McGinley, who will succeed the 29-year-old as the Irish Open’s tournament host at next year’s event in Lahinch.

“Of the 12 players that represented Europe in the Ryder Cup this year, Rory is the only one who is going to do that and the others have all signed up to play the minimum of four events outside of the majors and WGCs.

“We’ve already reduced the number of events players have to play on the European Tour from five down to four, just to make it easy for the guys, like Rory, who are playing a worldwide schedule.

“It is right at the very minimum at the moment and the European Tour don’t feel that four is huge task to meet.”

If McIlroy does give up his membership in 2019 he would be able to rejoin the European Tour in order to be eligible for the 2020 Ryder Cup, although a regulation introduced in January 2017 would prevent him being a captain or vice-captain in the biennial contest.

However, Europe’s winning skipper in 2014 does not believe the future captaincy issue is a big consideration for McIlroy.

“I don’t think Rory is worried about what is going to happen in 20 years, which is what he would be looking at if he was going to become Ryder Cup captain or vice-captain.

“At this moment, he is worried about his golf and focused on what he’s doing in the next 12 months.”

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McIlroy could play only two European Tour events in 2019

Rory McIlroy playing at the Nedbank Challenge

Rory McIlroy could largely turn his back on the European Tour next year in a bid to add to his four major titles.

The Northern Irishman is considering the move as it is not a Ryder Cup year – but the decision could jeopardise his chances of ever being Europe’s captain.

The 29-year-old has only committed to play two European Tour events next year and would need to compete in four to satisfy membership requirements.

McIlroy may adopt the schedule in a bid to win his first major since 2014.

The former world number one will miss the Middle East swing of tournaments at the start of 2019 but is expected to play the European Masters in Switzerland and will probably play in Scotland rather than Ireland immediately before next July’s Open Championship.

Asked by BBC Sport whether he planned to retain his European Tour membership, McIlroy said: “I don’t know. Right now I’ve got two events on my schedule in Europe.

“I don’t have to commit to that until next year so I’m starting my year off in the States. That’ll be the big focus of mine up until the end of August and then, obviously, we will assess from there.

“I’ve got a couple of pure European Tour events on my schedule up to the end of August. I guess my big thing is I want to play against the strongest fields week in, week out, and for the most part of the season that is in America.

“And if I want to continue to contend in the majors and continue my journey back towards the top of the game, that’s what I want to do.”

If McIlroy does not maintain his membership it would be a big blow to the European Tour.

He is one of the circuit’s biggest stars and would be ineligible for next year’s Race to Dubai, an accolade he has won three times in the last six seasons.

“Right now that’s all up in the air,” McIlroy added. “But if it were to be that I don’t fulfil my membership next year it is not a Ryder Cup year so it is not the end of the world.

“I’m always going to want to play the Ryder Cup so if that does happen, so be it, and I try to make the Ryder Cup team the year after.

“It is a big shift but I think it is good for a lot of reasons.”

Next year’s schedule has undergone big changes on both sides of the Atlantic with the US PGA Championship, traditionally the year’s final major, moves from August to May with the Players Championship reverting to March.

This means the FedEx Cup play-offs will take place a month earlier in August and the European Tour’s showcase BMW PGA Championship will be played at Wentworth in September rather than May.

“The way the schedule has worked for next year it is going to be different for a lot of guys,” McIlroy said.

“I think everything is going to be so condensed between March and August so that’s why I’m going to be taking quite a big off season to get myself ready.”

After this week’s season finale DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, McIlroy will play only once in the next 13 weeks.

“To have that break and impose an off season on myself, I can then go at it hard in March, all the way through to basically the end of the season,” he added.

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‘I’m a bit emotional’ – Westwood wins Nedbank Challenge

Lee Westwood

Final leaderboard
-15 Westwood (Eng); -12 Garcia (Spa); -11 Oosthuizen (SA); -8 Fisher (Eng); -7 Li (Chn), Wallace (Eng)
Selected others: -1 McIlroy (NI); E Johnson (Eng), Fitzpatrick (Eng); +1 Lowry (Ire), Harrington (Ire); +4 Willett (Eng)

England’s Lee Westwood shot a stunning eight-under-par 64 to win the Nedbank Challenge – his first victory on the European Tour for four years.

The former world number one took the outright lead from Louis Oosthuizen with a birdie at 17, completing the back nine in 31 to finish on 15 under.

The South African’s challenge faded as he finished third on 11 under behind Spain’s overnight leader Sergio Garcia.

“I’m a bit emotional to be honest,” said a tearful Westwood, 45.

He told Sky Sports: “You’re never sure whether you’re going to be able to do it again.

“Until now my emotions felt really under control all day, which is what I’ve been working hard on. I was just trying to hit fairways, stick to my game-plan and hit it in the right places.

“I’ve got a bit of a process I’m going through with my golf swing, I’m starting to see better shots; the seven iron into 17 is probably one of the best shots I’ve ever hit and it all just worked.”

Westwood, who carded six birdies and an eagle on the second hole in his round, celebrated with caddie and girlfriend Helen Storey after holing a putt on the 18th.

The win was Westwood’s 24th on the European Tour and his third at the Nedbank.

Oosthuizen carded a 69, with a damaging bogey on the 15th and then finishing with double bogey on the 18th.

Garcia hit a 70 as his two-shot lead from round three disappeared.

England’s Ross Fisher (70) was fourth on eight under, a shot ahead of compatriot Matt Wallace (67).

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy (71) finished in a tie for 21st on one under.

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Nedbank Challenge: Sergio Garcia leads by two as Ross Fisher shoots round of the day

Sergio Garcia

Third round leaderboard
-10 Garcia (Spa); -8 Oosthuizen (SA); -7 Detry (Bel), Westwood (Eng), Korhonen (Fin); -6 Fisher (Eng)
Selected others: -2 Wallace (Eng), Lowry (Ire); -1 Fitzpatrick (Eng), Johnson (Eng); +1 McIlroy (NI); +5 Willett (Eng)

Spain’s Sergio Garcia leads the Nedbank Golf Challenge by two shots, while England’s Ross Fisher carded the best score of the third round in Sun City.

Former Masters champion Garcia, 38, is on 10 under after his one-under par 71, with South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen remaining on eight under after his 72.

A 69 saw England’s former world number one Lee Westwood move into a three-way tie for third place on seven under.

Fisher eagled the 10th in his five-under 67 and is fourth on six under.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who needs a top-two finish to stay in with a chance of winning the Race to Dubai, is 10 shots off the pace on level par, after a one-over 73.

Two-time champion Garcia is eyeing a second win in a row after winning the Valderrama Masters. He has nine wins from his previous 14 54-hole leads on the European Tour.

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Nedbank Challenge: Sergio Garcia leads Louis Oosthuizen by one in Sun City

Louis Oosthuizen posted an eagle and five birdies in his second round

Nedbank Challenge – second-round leaderboard
-9 S Garcia (Spa); -8 L Oosthuizen (SA); -6 M Korhonen (Fin); -4 D Frittelli (SA), A Rai (Eng), L Westwood (Eng), S Lowry (Eng) Selected others: -3 M Wallace (Eng); -2 A Johnston (Eng), M Fitzpatrick (Eng); -1 R McIlroy (NI), R Fisher (Eng), A Sullivan

South African Louis Oosthuizen produced a strong back nine to card a five-under-par 67 and trail leader Sergio Garcia by one shot after round two of the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City.

Garcia, 38, shot a first-round 64 but found the going tougher on Friday as he posted a 71 to reach nine under par at the Gary Player Country Club.

Garcia is eyeing a second win in a row after winning the Valderrama Masters.

Rory McIlroy fired a 71 and is tied for 19th place on one under par.

Oosthuizen is seeking a first win at a tournament he has long coveted, with Finland’s Mikko Korhonen (70) three shots back in third position.

Oosthuizen looked to be struggling after a double bogey on the eighth saw him turn at one under-par for the round.

But an eagle on the 10th and birdies on 14 and 15 elevated the 2010 Open champion up the leaderboard on a difficult day for scoring with a swirling breeze.

“I’m pretty happy with the round,” Oosthuizen told reporters.

“After eight I had a good run at a few holes. I feel like I’m playing nicely, I’m just trying to hit the fairways and the irons feel pretty good.

“You have to play the wind as you feel it because it is so inconsistent. It’s a golf course that you need to be patient around.”

Sergio Garcia

At one stage Garcia led by five shots as he opened his round with birdies on the first two holes, but four bogeys, including the 18th, spoiled his day and allowed others to close in around him.

Garcia is aiming for a third victory in Sun City after previous triumphs in 2001 and 2003.

Ross Fisher (72) looked like he would be one of those before dropping an astonishing eight shots on his final four holes.

Fisher had eagled the second and picked up six more birdies to reduce Garcia’s lead to two shots.

But after driving into the trees on the 15th, the Englishman took six shots to reach the green and then three-putted for a nine. He bogeyed the final three holes as well.

He was by no means the only player to struggle on the 15th though as 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel (78) needed nine shots to complete the hole.

Rory McIlroy

World number six McIlroy saw his faint hopes of overhauling Francesco Molinari to win the Race to Dubai fade.

Eighth-placed McIlroy is almost £1.75m behind Molinari and needs to win at least one of the remaining two events to overhaul the Italian, who enjoys a lead of just under £1m from Ryder Cup partner and defending champion Tommy Fleetwood.

“I haven’t been giving myself good positions off the tee to give me chances with irons and get close enough to have a good look at birdies,” said McIlroy.

“I need to tidy up may game off the tee. If you do that you give yourself a chance.”

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Nedbank Challenge: Sergio Garcia four ahead after opening 64 at Sun City

Sergio Garcia shows his delight after carding his eighth birdie of the day on 17

Nedbank Challenge – first-round leaderboard
-8 S Garcia (Spa); -4 C Schwartzel (SA), M Korhonen (Fin), M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) ; Selected -3 A Sullivan (Eng), M Wallace (Eng), L Oosthuizen (SA); -1 L Westwood (Eng), S Lowry (Ire), R Fisher (Eng), M Fitzpatrick (Eng); Level R McIlroy (NI); +1 P Harrington (Ire)

Sergio Garcia fired an eight-under-par 64 to take a four-shot advantage after day one at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa.

The Spaniard, 38, didn’t drop a shot as he made an impressive start to his bid for a second straight win after his Valderrama Masters triumph.

Garcia is four clear of another former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel plus Mikko Korhonen and Mike Lorenzo-Vera.

Rory McIlroy dropped three late shots to finish on level par.

The Northern Ireland’s disappointing finish included a double bogey at the 17th as his faint hopes of overhauling Race to Dubai leader Francesco Molinari suffered a blow.

Eighth-placed McIlroy is almost £1.75m behind Molinari and needs to win at least one of the remaining two events to overhaul the Italian, who enjoys a lead of just under £1m from Ryder Cup partner and defending champion Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy, 29, was within touching distance of Garcia as a birdie on 13 moved him to three under.

Rory McIlroy's faint hopes of catching Race to Dubai leader Francesco Molinari suffered another blow in Sun City

However, he dropped a shot at the long 14th before worse followed on the penultimate hole as an errant drive and poor bunker shot led to his double-bogey six.

Garcia is aiming for a third victory in Sun City after previous triumphs in 2001 and 2003.

It was the Spaniard’s lowest opening round score of the season by two shots and matched the biggest first-round lead on the tour in 2018.

“I made some good putts here and there. It was one of those rounds where things happened nicely to me,” said the European Ryder Cup star.

“I played pretty smart, even though I probably wasn’t swinging unbelievably. I kept it under control and guessed some of the winds right, which is always difficult here.”

Home player Schwartzel only dropped one shot in his 68 which was matched by Frenchman Lorenzo-Vera and Finn Korhonen.

English duo Andy Sullivan and Matt Wallace are in a six-strong group on three under which includes South Africa’s 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.

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Stephanie Meadow: From cornfield galleries to LPGA Tour return

Stephanie Meadow

“It has gone full circle,” beams Stephanie Meadow as she reflects on how her fortunes have changed over the course of the past two years.

The Northern Ireland golfer is ready to make her return to the LPGA Tour after overcoming injury and a loss of form.

A serious back injury cost her a playing card for 2018 but she recovered by qualifying from the second tier Symetra Tour with a sixth-place finish.

“This year was a lot about swallowing my pride,” said Meadow.

“I was lucky enough to have some amazing sponsors to still back me while I wasn’t on the LPGA Tour and give me that support and allow me to play my way back up and I did it!”

The Jordanstown woman marked her professional debut with a third-place finish at the 2014 US Women’s Open and went on to represent Ireland at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro but a loss of form and a stress fracture in her lower back meant that she struggled to match those achievements in 2017.

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Cornfields for galleries

A year on the Symetra Tour, which included a victory at the IOA Championship in April and seven other top 10 finishes, has helped to rekindle her passion for the game.

“It’s definitely different. First of all we went to the middle of nowhere – small towns in Kentucky and Kansas – and cornfields were pretty much our audiences,” the 26-year-old added.

“It teaches you that you really love golf because if you don’t love it when you’re out there then you probably don’t really like it and I still wanted to compete and the girls out there are actually really good, the top half of the tour is very solid, so it was a great competition and a great preparation for next year.

“I really feel like I know who I am as a golfer now and I’m very confident that when I get to the LPGA Tour and I just stick with that and not be torn in different directions then I’ll do just fine.”

Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire at the 2012 Curtis Cup

Top 40 is the target

Since securing her return to the LPGA Tour in October, Meadow has taken a complete break from playing to recharge her batteries and during her time off she has returned home to help foster the next generation of Northern Ireland golfers.

A morning spent at the Rockport School’s golf academy has filled her with enthusiasm for the future and she hopes she will be able to return during the season for the debut of the new-look Northern Ireland Open on the Ladies European Tour.

“Irish and Northern Irish people love to watch golf and they support no matter what the weather,” she added.

“Maybe it’s just perspective and they just go out and grind it out, but I’m sure it will be really well supported and I’d love to be a part of it.”

Her more immediate focus will be on her performances in the United States and ensuring that she cements her place on the tour next year: “My target is top 40 on the money list.

“I think it’s doable, if I play as well as this year I know I can definitely do it, I’ve been out there before so I know what to expect and now I’ve just got to knuckle down, work hard and get it done.

“I’m definitely more appreciative of everything that is going to come along with being on the LPGA, nice places and great golf courses and being able to come back here and play in the British Open and the Scottish Open is always something that has meant a lot to me.”

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