Punch Shot: How can McIlroy get better in 2015?

He won four times, including two majors, in 2014. So what can world No. 1 Rory McIlroy do to improve his game in 2015? GolfChannel.com's writers weigh in.

BY REX HOGGARD

He could always tidy up his short game (he ranked 123rd in sand save percentage last season on the PGA Tour), or maybe his wedge play (he was 108th in approach shots from 50 to 75 yards).

Perhaps Rory McIlroy could further refine his schedule in order to peak in April when he will head down Magnolia Lane a green jacket away from the career Grand Slam.

One can pick apart the Northern Irishman’s game ad nauseam, but considering his play last year perhaps the only thing he should look to improve upon in 2015 is his own internal dialogue.

The world No. 1 has proven himself immune to the external pressures of media scrutiny and the inherent armchair coaching that is part and parcel of being the game’s best.

What now stands between McIlroy and continued greatness are his own expectations. Too lofty an outlook and he could become susceptible to self-doubt, too little and he runs the risk of lapsing into competitive lethargy.

Striking a balance between what he hopes to accomplish and how he intends to arrive there is crucial to his ongoing development, and, short of the ubiquitous nitpicking, is the one thing he should look to improve in 2015.


BY JASON SOBEL

Rory McIlroy plays his best golf when he’s smiling and his mind is right.

Think about it: When he came down with a sudden “toothache” two years ago, he admitted that he was just mentally exhausted. Last year, his game took a dramatic turn for the better after he’d come to terms on breaking off his engagement. He started winning major championships after claiming he stopped checking his phone and laptop.

And so entering this year, the best way for McIlroy to match or even surpass last season’s historic performance has less to do with driving accuracy or putting acumen and more to do with ensuring everything in his life is copacetic off the course.

That won’t be easy, especially with an ongoing legal battle against his former management team scheduled to go to trial soon. Not to mention that, unlike those technical aspects of his game, he has little control over outside influences that could deter his mindset.

What’s become apparent, though, is that he plays his best when his mind is at ease.


BY RANDALL MELL

Keep tuning out the noise.

It looks like Rory McIlroy does a pretty good job of that as it is for a 25-year-old, but the more big events he wins, the more history he makes, the louder the chaos around him will become.

Imagine the hoopla if he wins the Masters in April to complete the Grand Slam? There will always be distractions. Whether it’s a high or a low in his personal life, or a bad turn in business, maybe even another lawsuit someday, there will always be challenges crowding his game.

What did John Lennon write in that song? “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans?”

McIlroy isn’t going to be at his best every time he tees it up. Nobody is. The shorter he can make his swoons, the ones every player endures, and the longer he makes his time “in the zone,” the greater his fame will become.

His focus, his ability to tune out what doesn’t matter, will serve him well this coming year and beyond.


BY RYAN LAVNER

Let’s be serious: There’s not much Rory McIlroy needs to improve on the course in 2015.

He was third in driving distance. He led the PGA Tour in the strokes gained-tee to green statistic. He made the most birdies per round. He had the lowest scoring average.

Maybe you could point to his shoddy bunker play (123rd), or his short wedge shots (108th from 50-75 yards), or his mid-length putting (155th from 20-25 feet), but realistically none of those stats held him back during a two-major, four-win season that rocketed him back to world No. 1.

So what McIlroy canimprove in 2015 has nothing to do with his performance on the course. It’s what he does away from it, with the myriad distractions that come with being one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet.

Last year, he was embroiled in a court case against his former management company (the trial begins next month) and broke off his engagement to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki. The year prior, he was breaking in new equipment and providing plenty of fodder for the tabloids.

His court case is inevitable, but McIlroy would do well to eliminate some of the drama that has plagued him the past few years – for his own sanity, if nothing else. 


BY WILL GRAY

Rory McIlroy doesn’t have much room for improvement after a torrid close to 2014, but one area that could use a tune-up is consistency. Sure, when the Ulsterman is “on” he is nearly unbeatable, a gear the likes of which we rarely see. But when things went south last year, the product was often a nine-hole stretch of 40+ or a round well over par, a scoring balloon that was seemingly isolated to Fridays for parts of the spring.

McIlroy knows what it takes to win on the game’s biggest stages, but improvement will come when his bad holes, rounds and tournaments become better.

He began to turn a corner in this department last year when he salvaged multiple top-25 finishes despite those scoring outliers, but if McIlroy is going to be (justifiably) compared to Tiger Woods, he’ll need to measure himself against Woods’ incredibly high standard of excellence during those weeks when things weren’t quite firing on all cylinders.

It seems like a minor tweak, but it’s hard to offer much counsel to a man with a major trophy in each hand.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.