McIlroy maturing on and off course

By Bailey MosierMay 6, 2012, 1:30 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When Rory McIlroy earned his maiden PGA Tour victory at Quail Hollow in 2010 at the age of 20, he was but a boy.

Today, two years later and one day after turning 23, McIlroy is still a boy. But with each passing year, each fairway he finds, each sub-par round he posts and each lesson he learns, McIlroy continues to blossom into a man. A man who is both talented and vulnerable. Proud and humble.

After opening with 70-68, McIlroy fired a third-round 66 that vaulted him within two shots of the lead through 54 holes at the Wells Fargo Championship. His round included eight birdies and only two bogeys; one after he failed to get up and down at the par-3 sixth and the second when he missed a 4-foot putt at the par-4 16th.

His bogey at 16 came after a monstrous – and very manly – 377-yard drive. His approach took dead aim at the pin and came to rest 15 feet away. His birdie attempt hit the hole and rolled 4 feet past. The 4-footer coming back for par lipped out. Tap-in for bogey. Talent and vulnerability.

McIlroy sits two back of Webb Simpson headed into Sunday’s final round but finds himself closer than where he was on the eve of the final round in 2010. Two years ago, he trailed the 54-hole leader by four. McIlroy posted a 62 that Sunday that included birdies on his final three holes en route to a four-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson.

McIlroy hopes he doesn’t have to work that hard again this year.

“Hopefully I won’t have to finish with three 3s to win tomorrow,” McIlroy said. “I’ve had some great experiences on this course. Hopefully I can make a few more tomorrow.”

To say McIlroy fancies Quail Hollow is an understatement. His final-round 62 in 2010 still stands as the course record. Saturday’s round wasn’t quite as low, but included eight fairways, 16 greens and 27 putts.

“I really like this style course,” McIlroy said. “Tree-lined golf courses that really appeal to me, and (I’m) just happy to be back here.”

Despite the records he’s set, despite his commanding win at the U.S. Open and despite his ping-pong match with Luke Donald for the golf world’s highest perch, McIlroy says he lacks an intimidation factor held by some of the game’s other greatest players, such as that which Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els possess.

“Maybe that comes with time,” McIlroy said. “ I don’t think I’m quite at that stature yet, but hopefully one day.”

Proud and humble.

Winning again at Quail Hollow will be no small task. Simpson, Ryan Moore and Rickie Fowler are among the names at the top of the leaderboard. But if McIlroy can continue the week’s trend, he feels pretty good about his chances.

“I felt Thursday wasn’t great, Friday was a little better and today I saw more positive signs out there.” McIlroy said. “I feel like I’ve got a lot to build on for tomorrow.”

Also weighing on his mind is the opportunity to regain the No. 1 ranking from Luke Donald. McIlroy needs only a top-7 finish this week to again ascend to the top.

With so much to consider, so many expectations to fulfill, any distraction would be welcomed. A warm welcoming from his family, all the better.

McIlroy turned 23 yesterday and was surprised by his parents who flew in from Florida to help their son celebrate his special day. McIlroy assures us the merriment was kept to a minimum.

“I walked in for dinner and they were sitting there,” McIlroy said. “(We had a) low-key dinner and now they’re going to hang around the weekend. It’s nice to have them here.”

It’s McIlroy’s birthday week and his chance at another Wells Fargo title, but he wants to give his parents something in return.

“Hopefully I can give (my parents) a present tomorrow.”

Alas … a boy becoming a man.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.