McIlroy rides bogey-free 68 to top of WGC leaderboard

By Associated PressMarch 5, 2016, 11:14 pm

DORAL, Fla. - Rory McIlroy came into the Cadillac Championship insisting that everything about his game is solid right now, and that his ability to contend rested solely on his mental game.

His mind must be right, because he played a mistake-free third round at Doral on Saturday.

McIlroy made four birdies and no bogeys in the third round on the Blue Monster, his 4-under 68 getting him to 12 under for the week and three shots ahead of Adam Scott and defending champion Dustin Johnson with 18 holes left in the first World Golf Championships event of the season.

"I just played a really solid round of golf," McIlroy said.

If he wins Sunday, McIlroy would go over $30 million in career PGA Tour earnings, and could get handed the trophy by the course owner himself. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said he will attend Sunday's final round, though it's unclear how visible he will be or how much of the day he'll spend at Doral.

"I think it's Rory's to lose, really," said Danny Willett, who shot 72 and is in a group five shots off the pace. "We're going to have to go out there and play clever and play aggressive when we can, and hopefully we can knock a few birdies off and post a good number."

McIlroy has made nine birdies and nine bogeys or worse in two rounds last week at the Honda Classic, which is why his preparation for Doral could start two days early with a missed cut there.


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At Doral, he hasn't been flawless, but close enough. McIlroy's last bogey was on the second hole in his second round.

In 34 holes since, it's been 11 birdies and 23 pars, fueling his climb atop the leaderboard. He took the lead with a birdie at the par-4 fifth, one of only eight made on that hole Saturday. And he escaped brushes with the sand on each of his last two holes, keeping his mistake-free streak intact.

"I've seen Rory play some great golf," Scott said. "I think he's going to be very satisfied with that round. Looked like he was under total control."

McIlroy's tee ball at the par-4 17th found a bunker - with the wind picking up a bit - so he simply knocked his second onto the green and two-putted from 45 feet. And his approach from the middle of the fairway on 18 landed in a greenside bunker, but he knocked in a testy 6-footer for par to cap the round.

"My first bogey-free round of the year," McIlroy said. "To do it in a round like this is very pleasing."

Johnson gave himself a chance to end his day with a great par, then missed a 4-footer. After spraying his tee shot way right, Johnson punched out and then knocked a wedge close. But he missed the par try and fell to 9 under for the tournament, 1 under for the round.

Johnson rallied from five shots back in the final round to win last year at Doral. This time, his deficit is only three.

"Anything's possible," Johnson said. "With this golf course, there's trouble on just about every hole, so I just need to go out and keep playing like I'm playing. I feel like I'm playing really well. Today I missed a couple short putts and didn't really hole any putts and still shot 1 under on a tough day. So I'm pleased with that."

Willett, Bubba Watson (71) and Phil Mickelson (70) are tied for fourth, five shots off the lead. World No. 1 Jordan Spieth struggled again, his round of 73 leaving him at 2 under for the week and tied for 17th place.

Spieth played with Justin Thomas, who followed up a 66 on Friday with a 78 on Saturday.

"A rough day for us both," Thomas said.

DIVOTS: A pair of Spaniards, Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello, had the low rounds Saturday, each shooting 67. They're both at 5 under for the week, tied for seventh place and seven shots back of McIlroy. ... India's Anirban Lahiri, who has never finished better than 28th in four previous WGC stroke-play events, is tied for seventh at 5 under. He shot 71 on Saturday. "This is the third day in a row that we've had a different wind. So honestly, I have no idea what to expect tomorrow," Lahiri said. ... Five players shot 80, including first-round co-leader Marcus Fraser who is now 20 shots off the lead.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.