McIlroy ready to get back to work at St. Andrews

By Doug FergusonOctober 1, 2014, 1:13 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The photo went viral on Twitter, Rory McIlroy wearing a mini-kilt and red wig and nothing else as Europe celebrated another Ryder Cup victory.

Just don't ask him for details.

''Honestly? Honestly ... I don't remember,'' McIlroy said on Wednesday. ''The timeline gets a bit fuzzy about midnight.''

Far more vivid was his play at Gleneagles, which the British Open and PGA champion referred to his best of the year. McIlroy started 3-3-3-3-3-2 in dismantling Rickie Fowler, part of an early surge that kept the Americans from any thoughts of a comeback.

McIlroy contributed one point on the final day, and two other points over the course of the Ryder Cup. More than points, however, the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland established himself as a team leader at such a tender age.

He was coming off back-to-back major titles, with a World Golf Championship in between. He is the undisputed No. 1 player in golf.

''I felt like it was my time ... to step up and be one of the leaders of the team, especially after the season I've had, and being the world No. 1,'' McIlroy said. ''I needed to go out there and set an example and lead by example, and just happy I was able to do that on Sunday.''

That wasn't the case during the early days of Tiger Woods.

Woods lost to former factory worker Costantino Rocca at Valderrama. It wasn't until his fifth Ryder Cup that Woods won more matches than he lost. He has played on only one winning team in seven appearances.

That doesn't take away from Woods' status as the best player of his generation, arguably ever.

But it mattered to McIlroy.

''My record in the Ryder Cup is important to me,'' McIlroy said. ''The three Ryder Cups, I haven't been beaten in the singles. I'd love to keep that record going throughout my career. And I slightly improved my record at the Ryder Cup this year (6-4-4). At the age of 25, to have won three Ryder Cups and four majors is something I'm very proud of – eight years younger than anyone else.''

He was referring to Tom Watson, a month past his 34th birthday when he won a third Ryder Cup to go along with eight majors. Then again, Jack Nicklaus was 29 and already had the career Grand Slam before he could even play in his first Ryder Cup.

His record outside the Ryder Cup is pretty good, too, and that's where McIlroy returns his focus over the next couple of months.

Boy Wonder could use a break, though there are few spots better to play golf than the Dunhill Links Championship, which starts on Thursday over a three-course rotation of St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. McIlroy will be playing with his father, Gerry.

Three other Europeans from the winning team are playing – Victor Dubuisson, Stephen Gallacher and Martin Kaymer.

McIlroy already captured the PGA Tour money title and he can wrap up the Race to Dubai with a victory this week. If not, he has three more events left on the European Tour schedule before defending his title in the Australian Open. He wants to finish strong, though nothing can take away from this year.

There also is a quick detour to Bermuda for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf.

''I'm going to go out with the main objective just to enjoy the last couple of months of the season – still practice pretty hard and work hard, but at the same time, it's been a long season. There's been a lot of intense tournaments, and it's the point of the season where I'm letting it wind down a little bit.''

It was the Dunhill Links that effectively kicked off his career.

McIlroy was 18 when he finished third at the tournament on a sponsor's exemption, allowing him to earn his European Tour card without going to qualifying school. He also posted a record-tying 63 on the Old Course at St. Andrews in the opening round of the 2010 British Open (followed by an 80 the next day).

With two rounds on the Old Course, assuming he makes the cut, it will be an early look ahead of the Open next year.

''I always said I felt like St. Andrews was my best chance to win an Open Championship. Obviously, I proved myself wrong this year,'' McIlroy said of his wire-to-wire win at Royal Liverpool. ''It would be great to come back and defend it here.''

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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.