What will Rory do for an encore to epic season?

By Doug FergusonNovember 28, 2012, 1:10 am

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – A little more than three months ago, Tiger Woods was on his way back to the top of golf with only time in his way.

He already had won three times on the PGA Tour, moving past Jack Nicklaus in career victories. He still had not won a major, though there were indications he was closing in. He had a share of the 36-hole lead at the U.S. Open before throwing away his chances with a sloppy weekend. He was in the second-to-last group going into the final round of the British Open and tied for third. And when he showed up at the PGA Championship on Saturday morning, he again was tied for the lead halfway through the final major.

Rory McIlroy? He had reached No. 1 on three occasions, never longer than three weeks at a time. He only had one win, and that was in March at the Honda Classic.

That now seems so long ago.

The rest of the weekend at Kiawah Island belonged to McIlroy.

So did the rest of the year. And maybe the future.

McIlroy finished off a long, wild and exhilarating season last week when he birdied the last five holes to win the European Tour's final event in Dubai and head home with all the spoils.

He won five times this year, the most of anyone around the world. He captured the money titles on the European and PGA tours. He won the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour. He won the PGA of America Player of the Year and is a lock to win every other honor that measures the best in golf.

The questions going into 2013 should sound familiar.

It's not whether he will in a major but how many? It's not about who's No. 1, but how much more can he separate himself from everyone else?

That's what used to be asked about Woods. Now those questions are directed toward McIlroy.

''I think he'll be around for a long time,'' Luke Donald said.

Suddenly, a lot more than just time is standing in the way of Woods getting back to the top. There's this 23-year-old from Northern Ireland who looks as if he's just getting warmed up.

Is he the next Tiger? Not yet. Maybe not ever. McIlroy had a banner year by winning five times around the world, including a major. That used to be a normal season for Woods. McIlroy missed five cuts this year. It took Woods 13 years on the PGA Tour before he missed his fifth cut.

McIlroy has all the tools of greatness and a refreshing outlook. One of the understated qualities about Woods is that for the richest guy in golf, he worked as if he didn't have two nickels to rub together. McIlroy is coming off an amazing season and only wants to get better.

''I had a few goals starting off this year,'' he said in Dubai. ''Obviously, I wanted to win a major. I think I wanted to win four times around the world – five. The Race to Dubai – I won. I guess getting to world No. 1, which I achieved earlier in the year. But I guess every goal that I set for myself at the start of 2012, I've achieved this year. So it doesn't really get much better than that.''

What's next?

''I guess the same,'' McIlroy said. ''To be focused on the majors, try to win more of those. I've won one in '11, one in '12. It would be nice to keep that run going next year.''

If he were to win a major next year, McIlroy would join Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as the only players since 1960 to win a major championship in three successive years.

''I feel like I can improve in different areas of the game still,'' McIlroy said. ''I guess that's the challenge and the fun of practice is trying to get better all the time.''

Sound familiar?

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was learning to win without his best stuff, another trait that defines Woods' greatness. McIlroy at least was savvy enough not to say that he won with his ''C'' game. Woods stopped grading himself after catching grief for saying that in Dallas in 1997.

It's tempting to compare McIlroy with Woods because of their talent and because Woods is the standard for this generation and perhaps many more to come.

That would make 2013 a chance for McIlroy to pull away from his peers, as Woods once did.

The 1999 season was similar to this year when it came to a potential rivalry. Going into the final major of that season, Woods was No. 2 in the world behind David Duval. Woods had won three times that year, second in Tour victories to Duval. Woods wound up winning the PGA Championship at Medinah, and then he closed out the season by winning four straight tournaments – Firestone, Disney, the Tour Championship and a World Golf Championship in Spain.

Duval was a forgotten figure by the end of the season.

Woods found another gear – closer to warp speed – in 2000 by winning 10 times around the world, including three straight majors. There hasn't been another season like that since then, and there might not be. But imagine how McIlroy will be looked upon if he were to win multiple majors next year. If he wins both money titles again. If he builds such a gap at No. 1 in the world ranking that players can only hope he decides to change his swing.

Perhaps the more intriguing aspect is how Woods responds.

Woods can measure progress this year not only by three wins but by playing his biggest schedule since 2009. The World Challenge, which he has won five times as the tournament host, is his 24th week of competition (including the Ryder Cup and the exhibition in Turkey).

And as much as Woods likes McIlroy as a person – who doesn't? – and talks about the importance of at least being in the conversation when it comes to the best in golf, he has never faced a challenge like this. Vijay Singh had a better season than McIlroy in 2004 when the Fijian won nine times, but he was in his early 40s then.

''I think anything other guys do motivates Tiger,'' Steve Stricker said. ''He's so competitive, and he's been in that position over the years where he's been No. 1 in the world and him not being there has surely got to be motivation for him.''

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.