McIlroy prepping for Masters at Shell Houston Open

By Doug FergusonMarch 27, 2013, 10:02 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – Once the frost thawed, Rory McIlroy was back at work Wednesday morning trying to find a swing he could trust and repeat.

McIlroy hasn't looked anything like the No. 1 player in golf this year, and now he's not. That spot belongs to Tiger Woods again after winning for the third time in two months to establish himself as the favorite going into the Masters.

None of this bothers McIlroy.

He is more concerned with the path of his swing than the mathematical average of his ranking. He wants to win whenever he plays, though there is pragmatic side to the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland. He still hasn't made the cut against a full field this year.

That makes the Houston Open more than just a final tuneup for the first major of the year. It's a place to measure progress.

''I want to get back to getting into contention in tournaments and trying to win,'' McIlroy said. ''I think this is a good week to try and get into contention, have a chance with the Masters coming up. I'm just really focused on this week in Houston and trying to play well here.''


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McIlroy is part of a strong field at the Houston Open, where the tournament tries to give players a taste of what they might see in two weeks. The greens are fast and pure, with several closely mown collection areas that allow for a variety of shots around the green.

The Houston Open thought it was getting the No. 1 player in the world when McIlroy signed up to play Redstone Golf Club in January. It still has five of the top 10 players, including Steve Stricker, Brandt Snedeker, Louis Oosthuizen and Steve Stricker.

And it has Phil Mickelson, who likes Houston so much that he would rather be here than his usual schedule of playing the week before the Masters. Because the Masters is a week later than usual based on the calendar – it always ends on the second Sunday of April – the Texas Open was given the spot a week before Augusta.

That change worked out well for McIlroy, who wants to be in Augusta the weekend before the Masters.

''I thought it fit in really nicely,'' McIlroy said.

Far more important is what follows over the next few days. Under more scrutiny than he had ever faced – a new place in the game, a new equipment deal with Nike – McIlroy tripped badly coming out of the blocks. He missed the cut in Abu Dhabi. He lost in the first round of the Match Play Championship. Frustration boiled over to the point that he walked out in the second round of the Honda Classic.

Optimism came from Doral, a World Golf Championship event with no cut. McIlroy not only broke par for the first time all year, he closed with a 65 to crack the top 10. And then he took off for two more weeks, spending part of that time with tennis girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki in Key Biscayne, Fla., and hitting balls at a public course in Miami.

McIlroy was spotted hitting balls with a carry bag (decked out in Manchester United logos) next to other paying customers at Miami Municipal Golf Course. It was rare to see a player with McIlroy's credentials – still No. 1 in the world with two major championships – in such a public setting.

He didn't understand all the fuss. McIlroy still sees himself as normal.

And in his normal world, he is bound to hit the kind of rough patches he is going through now. And he looked like a regular guy Wednesday morning, sitting in a booth inside the caddie trailer having breakfast with his coach and his caddie, watching sports on TV, perfectly content with his world.

''We go through highs and lows. It's just sport and that's golf,'' McIlroy said Tuesday during his press conference. ''You're going to have patches where you play great and have patches where you struggle a little bit. I guess you've just got to take the rough ... be patient and know that you're working on right things.''

This should be a good week to figure out where he is.

Success at the Houston Open when it was the week before the Masters didn't guarantee a big week at Augusta.

Hunter Mahan, the defending champion at Redstone, tied for 12th last year. Mickelson made 18 birdies on the weekend at Houston in 2011 and followed with his worst Masters finish in 14 years. Anthony Kim won Houston and tied for third at the Masters, helped by a 65 on the last day, though he never had a serious chance to win. Paul Casey won in 2009 and didn't break par at Augusta until the final round.

For McIlroy, it's all about taking baby steps closer to where he knows he can be.

Even though he hasn't won a green jacket, Augusta National is McIlroy's kind of place. It wasn't an accident that he had a four-shot lead going into the final round in 2011. And last year, he was one shot out of the lead until he crashed on the weekend.

And while he hasn't played in two weeks, he had least has some positive memories from his most recent round.

''The things that I'm trying to work on are definitely becoming a lot more comfortable,'' McIlroy said. ''I've seen enough good signs. The weekend at Doral was great and the way I've been hitting the ball recently. I've just got to keep working on it and keep working on it and ... I definitely feel like it's going in the right direction.''

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”

Amen.


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”


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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.


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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.


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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).