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Rose, Donaldson lead by 1; McIlroy, Woods struggle

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Rose, Donaldson lead by 1; McIlroy, Woods struggle

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) With Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods struggling, fifth-ranked Justin Rose and unheralded Jamie Donaldson had 5-under 67s Thursday for a one-shot lead after the opening round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.

McIlroy, playing with new clubs following his multimillion dollar sponsorship deal with Nike, finished with a 75 and risks missing the cut. Woods shot an even-par 72.

Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark and Pablo Larrazabal of Spain finished one stroke behind the leaders.

McIllroy repeatedly missed fairways, including a shot on his 12th that hit a tree and ended up in a parking lot, leading to one of his two double bogeys. His other came when he muffed a chip in thick rough on his par-3 6th. He also putted poorly, missing a par putt on his 17th and a birdie putt on the 18th.

The top-ranked McIlroy insisted his difficulties had more to do with rusty strokes than the new equipment that he hyped only a few days ago. While he repeatedly slumped after a bad shot or frowned following a missed putt, the 2012 European Tour and U.S. PGA Tour money winner seemed resigned to adjusting to the new Nike clubs.

``When you go out and you've got new stuff, you are going to be a little anxious and hopefully you play well,'' McIlroy said. ``But I guess I can learn from it and move on and go into tomorrow and try and play a bit better. It's about playing yourself into the weekend.''

Woods, who was paired with McIlroy, finished a rollercoaster round at par after ``grinding it out.'' The 14-time major winner had four birdies and four bogeys and ended his round by three-putting his 18th for a bogey when he hit the second putt too hard.

``I'm still right there,'' said the second-ranked Woods, who was five shots behind the leaders. ``You know, if I two-putt that last hole I'm in I think 12th or 13th or something like that. There's not a lot of guys going low out there. These fairways are tiny to begin with, but there are a lot of crosswinds.''

McIlroy had two double bogeys in a round for the first time since missing the cut last year at the Memorial in May. The 75 is the highest score the two-time major champion had shot at the National course in Abu Dhabi.

Woods can thank his short game and putter for salvaging the round, saving par on several occasions and sinking several long birdie putts. He had three birdies on the last four holes of his front nine. But he lost that momentum on the back nine, when he mishit a tee shot that led to a bogey on 10, and couldn't hole a short par putt on his 11th.

``I put something up there and lost it,'' Woods said of his bogeys on the back. ``I had another chance at 3 to make another bogey in row and made a good save there. That kind of got it going a little bit. But it was tough out there. I didn't hit it that well. On top of that, this wind just magnifies it. You really have to control your ball today.''

Rose came into the tournament saying he felt he was closing the gap on world's top two players and he showed it in the first round. He had five of his six birdies on the front nine, sinking a 50-foot birdie putt on 5 and holing a bunker shot on 9 for birdie. He cooled down considerably after that as conditions worsened, saving par on 17 and then just missing a birdie putt on 18 that would have given him the lead.

``That was definitely a great start, shooting 5-under,'' Rose said. ``I knew it was going to be a tough afternoon, and certainly the wind picked up even more on the back nine. And I guess it was a good scoring day for me and obviously I could see that no one else in the afternoon had made any sort of run, so I felt very good about that score.''

Rose said it was too early to make much of his lead, even if he did outplay the biggest names in golf.

``I'd be reticent to say I've looked at what they have done and what they have scored and take it and put any value to it really,'' Rose said. ``It's the first round of the year. There's a lot of factors involved, certainly a lot of factors for Rory involved this week.

``That's not his normal preparation with what he's had to obviously encounter the last couple of weeks, I'm sure. What did Tiger shoot, 1 under? Level? That's well within the golf tournament. So for me there's really no surprises there, and from my point of view, just very, very happy with a good start.''

The 47th-ranked Donaldson also showed how to master the course's narrow fairways and overcome the windy conditions. He had six birdies - including holing a bunker shot on his 12th - to go along with a bogey.

``Solid start, played some pretty good golf out there,'' said Donaldson, who was looking for his second European Tour victory. ``Obviously 5 under is a great start. I played pretty good in most of the round but there were times when it wasn't quite on, we made some good up and downs. It was a matter of scoring well and keeping the momentum going.''

The conditions were less kind to last year's winner Robert Rock, who finished with a 76. He was joined by Europe's new Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley (76), who also is in danger of missing the cut.

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Kurt Warner believes Dwayne Haskins has the skill set to be a franchise QB

Kurt Warner believes Dwayne Haskins has the skill set to be a franchise QB

When the Redskins selected Dwayne Haskins with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the organization hoped their investment in the passer would result in Washington finding its franchise quarterback of the future.

Whether Haskins becomes that franchise quarterback is still up for debate, as the signal-caller had an up-and-down rookie season. But the Ohio State product seemed to improve by the week and ended the season playing his best football, giving fans hope for the future.

Kurt Warner, a Super Bowl-champion quarterback who had to wait several years before getting his first NFL shot, believes Haskins can eventually develop into that franchise QB for the Burgundy and Gold.

The Super Bowl-winning quarterback joined the Redskins Talk podcast on Tuesday, and spoke highly of the 22-year-old's ability.

"The skillset, without question, is there," Warner said. "We saw that in college, we saw that in moments last year."

Warner explained that one of the things he looks for in young passers is their week-to-week improvement. That's something Haskins did very well towards the end of the 2019 season.

"To me, that's what greatness is all about," Warner said. "It's not about coming into the league and being a finished product. It's about working and getting better all the time."

In his final two games, Haskins threw for 394 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions on 72 percent completion rate. He was on his way to the best game of his brief career in Week 16 against the Giants before an ankle injury ended his afternoon in the third quarter.

"What I saw with Dwayne this year, he did improve game by game," Warner said. "As he got more comfortable with the NFL, as he got more comfortable with the system, he played better and better and made them more competitive each and every time out."

The 2020 offseason is crucial for Haskins. It's his first full offseason in the NFL, and seems poised to make a jump in Year 2. 

Haskins dealt with a lot in 2019, rookie or not. Five weeks into the season, his head coach was fired. He wasn't named the starter until Week 9, only due to injury to Case Keenum. Entering his second season, Haskins has a new head coach, new offensive coordinator, and new position coach.

There's little carryover from a season ago. Very few organizations that constantly change in the NFL are successful. 

"For young quarterbacks or players in general, you want to be able to find something you’re comfortable with and grow in," Warner said. "Hopefully this is the only move they make during Dwayne's career and he can get comfortable in that offense and hopefully one day be playing in the Super Bowl as well."

Warner knows plenty about waiting to get his opportunity; he didn't get his first shot in the NFL until he was 28. But he was put into an offense nicknamed 'The Greatest Show on Turf" that featured plenty of weapons -- Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt -- which allowed the inexperienced Warner to thrive.

In his first season as the Rams starter, Warner threw for a league-high 41 touchdown passes on an 8.2 percent touchdown rate, with just 13 interceptions. His 109.2 quarterback rating was the NFL's best that season. The Rams went on to win the Super Bowl, defeating Tennessee.

"I think the other component is finding the right situation, the right system for you," Warner said. When I got back into the NFL with the Rams, I was 28 years old when I got my first start. I was able to have a lot of success early because I found myself in the right system. The offense did what I did well. It played to my strengths."

Washington doesn't have the weapons that Warner's Rams did, but the Redskins have several young assets -- Terry McLaurin, Derrius Guice and Steven Sims -- that have shown promise. Getting Haskins in the right system, one that caters to his strengths, will be crucial in the development of the young passer.

"I believe that is key for players, especially at the quarterback position. You've got to find a system," Warner said. "In this case in Washington, they need to build a system around what Dwayne Haskins does well. That's how you thrive. That's how you get to and win Super Bowls."

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'Still unbelievable': Ex-Redskins Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller reflect on Super Bowl journey

'Still unbelievable': Ex-Redskins Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller reflect on Super Bowl journey

Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller spent a combined six seasons with the Redskins, yet neither corner won a playoff game during their tenures there.

Therefore, you can excuse them if they're having a hard time expressing what it's like now being in the Super Bowl together with the Chiefs.

"It's still unbelievable," Breeland told JP Finlay at SB LIV's Media Night on Monday. "I can't even find the words to fathom how I feel about this opportunity."

In fact, the last time Breeland and Finlay chatted, the former was literally asking the latter where to purchase tickets for the NFL's biggest spectacle. He shouldn't have much trouble getting inside of the stadium this time around, though.

"I ended up not even going to that game," he said. "I told myself I wasn't going to the Super Bowl until I got a chance to play in it. Couple of years later, it came true."

Breeland's path to the Chiefs was quite bumpy. After playing for the Redskins for four years and departing after 2017, he inked a well-earned three-year deal with the Panthers. However, he cut his foot during a trip to the Dominican Republic, causing him to fail his physical with Carolina and voiding his contract.

Breeland eventually joined the Packers halfway through 2018, and then he signed with the Chiefs this past offseason. His compensation with Kansas City doesn't come close to what he could've had with Carolina, but a Super Bowl appearance plus his two interceptions and two fumble recoveries in 2019 could help him cash in when free agency begins in a few months.

Fuller, meanwhile, took a much more direct route to the now-AFC champions. The Burgundy and Gold's 2016 draft selection was a part of the shocking Alex Smith trade and he's now concluding his second campaign with his second pro team.

The fact that the pair is reunited again and one win away from reaching the top of the sport isn't lost on Fuller, especially after some of the struggles they experienced with the Redskins. 

"It's been fun," he said. "After we won the AFC Championship game, me and [Breeland] were just kind of sitting on the bench looking at each other, knowing how far we came."

The key to K.C.'s rise, according to Breeland, has been their unity. The almost 28-year-old didn't directly call out Washington for lacking a similar closeness, but his comments don't exactly require much parsing to realize the comparison he's making.

So, while he and Fuller are obviously looking ahead to the 49ers, the following comment from Breeland's brief reflection on his past is telling about what the Redskins need to fix on their end.

"Throughout crunch time, everybody pulls together," Breeland explained. "I've been on different sidelines when things go bad, a lot of people start bickering and pull apart from each other. Those were the times that [this team] got closer and pulled together the most."

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