McIlroy cards 1-under 69, holds 54-hole Honda lead

By Doug FergusonMarch 1, 2014, 10:51 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy did just enough to keep the lead Saturday in the Honda Classic with a 1-under 69, giving him a two-shot lead and a chance to win on the PGA Tour for the first time in 18 months.

McIlroy avoided a big number early in his round with a superb shot off the pine straw to escape with bogey, and he gave himself a slightly bigger cushion late as the wind picked up at PGA National. He hit 5-iron over the water and into the wind to 10 feet for birdie on the 16th hole. He narrowly missed two more to close out his round.

McIlroy was at 12-under 198, two shots ahead of Russell Henley.

Henley, who has not been in serious contention since winning his debut as a PGA Tour member last year in the Sony Open, made a late surge with two great shots. He holed out from 150 yards for eagle on the 14th, and made a 50-foot birdie putt from just off the 17th green. He shot a 68.

Russell Knox of Scotland had a 68 and was another shot behind.

Tiger Woods moved up 49 spots on the leaderboard after a 65 so early in the morning that he finished two hours before McIlroy started. Woods wound up in a tie for 17th, though he was still seven shots behind. Woods has never won on the PGA Tour when trailing by more than five shots going into the final round, though he once came from eight shots behind to win on the European Tour in 1998.


Honda Classic: Articles, videos and photos


''Today was a positive day,'' Woods said after his lowest score in 10 rounds this year. ''Hit the ball well and made some putts and got myself back in the hunt.''

But there were 16 players ahead of him, and one big name at the top.

McIlroy, coming off the worst season of his young career, began to turn the corner late last year and finally won at the Australian Open. Twice this year in stroke-play tournaments, he had chances to win going into the final round, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

This is his best opportunity yet.

''It's all about not making mistakes,'' McIlroy said. ''It's about limiting the damage. You're going to make a few bogeys out there. If you limit those, hit fairways and greens, that's what I'm going to try to do tomorrow.''

He gave a supreme example of that on the par-3 seventh hole.

McIlroy opened with two birdies in three holes and was motoring along until pulling his approach on No. 6 and chipping poorly to make bogey. On the next hole, he pulled his tee shot well left of the green. The ball wound up under a palmetto bush, and McIlroy had to take a penalty drop.

Playing off the pine straw to an elevated green, he pitched it beautifully into the slope and past the pin by about 8 feet, and then holed that for a bogey.

That was his last mistake until missing the green to the right from the middle of the 14th fairway and missing a 6-foot putt.

Henley has only two top 10s in 32 starts on the PGA Tour since he won the Sony Open last year. He's trailing by two shots, and also is well behind on experience in the last group. But he loves the idea he at least has a chance.

''I'm trying not to pay attention to what Rory is doing,'' Henley said. ''Obviously, he's playing great and he's been in this situation a little bit more than me. But I still have a lot of confidence and I'm just going to try to play my game and not worry about what he's doing too much.''

It would be a remarkable turnaround for McIlroy, who a year ago was so frustrated with his game and high expectations that he walked off the course after 26 holes, a mistake he vowed to never repeat.

''There's still 18 holes to go,'' said McIlroy, the 2012 winner at PGA National. ''But I'm feeling comfortable with where I am.''

Even so, McIlroy has proven to be tough to catch. Ever since he blew a four-shot lead at the Masters three years ago, he has converted every 54-hole lead into a win.

DIVOTS: Brendon de Jonge, who started the third round one shot behind McIlroy, shot a 76. ... The 54-hole cut was made to exactly 70 players. Among those who failed to make it to Sunday were Mark Calcavecchia (73) and William McGirt (78). ...Knox is the only player among the top eight who has never won on the PGA Tour.

Getty Images

DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

Getty Images

Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

Getty Images

Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”



Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.



Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

Getty Images

CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream


Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.


Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.


Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.


Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.


Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.


Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.


Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)