McIlroy: I didn't deserve to win

By Ryan LavnerMarch 3, 2014, 12:40 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – It was nearly dark by the time Rory McIlroy finished his media obligations and marched across the putting green, past the PGA National clubhouse and into the vacant parking lot.

His fiancée, Caroline Wozniacki, kept pace, comforting him with a few soft pats on the back. McIlroy looked skyward, removed his white hat and ran his fingers through his dark curly hair.

Once again, he was frustrated as he left the Honda Classic.

Frustrated by blowing a three-shot lead during the final round.

Frustrated by missing a 12-foot eagle putt on 18 in regulation.

Frustrated by squandering an opportunity to win a PGA Tour event for the first time in 18 months and put his miserable 2013 season to rest.

Honda Classic: Articles, videos and photos

Video: McIlroy on ups and downs down stretch

Mostly, though, he was frustrated because, he said, “I didn’t play well enough to deserve to win today.”

Staked to a two-shot lead and seeking redemption for last year’s mid-round walk-off, McIlroy slumped to a 4-over 74 and counted himself fortunate to even reach the four-man playoff. His par on the first extra hole wasn’t enough to top Russell Henley, a fellow 24-year-old who earned his second PGA Tour victory.

Confident and in control all week, McIlroy stayed aggressive with his driver but hit only 10 greens Sunday, his fewest all week. In an 11-hole stretch (Nos. 7-17), he lost five shots to par. He finished at 8-under 272.

“It was a perfect opportunity to win,” he said. “No one was really coming at me.”

McIlroy pressed too much when he kicked away the title in Dubai.

This time, he simply didn’t perform when it mattered most.

The Honda was still his to win when he entered the second leg of the Bear Trap. But on the 16th hole, he hit his tee ball into the left fairway bunker and attempted to play a 6-iron shot that would ride the wind and drift left. He didn’t pull it off, catching the shot fat. Splash. He went on to make double bogey and tumbled out of the solo lead.

McIlroy then dropped another shot on the watery 17th, when he tugged his tee shot into the greenside bunker and was unable to convert the 8-foot par putt.

Of course, those blunders were nearly rendered a mere footnote, after his macho 5-wood approach from 236 yards on 18. His shot landed soft and settled 12 feet from the cup, and he pumped both fists, screaming, “Come on!” as the crowd roared its approval. His walk-off bid slid by on the low side.

In the playoff, he tried to play a cut 5-wood from an awkward yardage and flew the ball into the back greenside bunker. The lie wasn’t ideal and neither was his shot, which skidded across the green and into the first cut of rough. His birdie chip came up woefully short.

“I had my chances,” he said. “It’s tough to take at the minute, but I’ll sleep it off tonight and get back at it.”

Indeed, there was little time to dwell on Sunday’s clunker with the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral looming this week.

McIlroy has to be considered the favorite, even after this setback, after recording his second runner-up finish in his last three stroke-play events and eighth top 10 since October.

“I haven’t been able to walk through that door,” he said, “but I feel like the more times I knock on that door, I’ll eventually step through it.”

Getty Images

Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

Getty Images

DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

Getty Images

Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

Getty Images

Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.