Punch Shot: Spieth or McIlroy under more pressure?

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2016, 7:00 pm

World No. 1 Jordan Spieth and No. 3 Rory McIlroy are in the field for this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Spieth is fresh off a historic season while McIlroy is coming off a trying, but still successful 2015. Who is under the most pressure to succeed this year? Our writers weigh in:


As Jordan Spieth proved in his first start of 2016, an eight-stroke romp at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, pressure is what you make of it; but there is no shifting away from the reality that it’s Rory McIlroy who will be feeling the heat this year.

McIlroy is, after all, coming off a relatively disappointing season thanks entirely to a mid-summer injury that had him miss the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. During that time he was also unseated atop the Official World Golf Ranking by Spieth and has since dropped to No. 3 in the world, behind Jason Day who is ranked second.

The challenge for McIlroy will be maintaining the momentum he gained after winning the season-ending DP World Tour Championship on the European Tour. But that victory was two months ago and he won’t make his first start on the PGA Tour until late next month at the Northern Trust Open.

The biggest pressure, however, for the Northern Irishman will come in April when he sets out, again, in pursuit of his first Masters title that would complete the career Grand Slam.

Pressure is always relative, but between the two world-beaters it’s McIlroy who will be feeling it the most in 2016.


Rory McIlroy is right.

When you’ve set the bar for yourself and those chasing you so high, there’s pressure to live up to that level of excellence. When you’re great, and you’re expected to be great, there’s pressure to keep delivering greatness. There’s also more scrutiny. All of a sudden, tying for 10th a few times in a row is failure.

“It will feel completely different for Jordan,” McIlroy said last month. “If you look at the stats at how those who have had a double-major season have performed the next year ... well, it’s hard to back up. It just is. There’s so much expectation, so much attention and focus. And I think it is more self-inflicted pressure, really, as your expectations are so high.”

Yes, Spieth seemed immune winning Hyundai in an eight-shot runaway in his 2016 debut, but the challenge lies ahead, in dealing with the unrelenting scrutiny that will come when, inevitably, he isn’t great over a stretch of multiple starts. This isn’t to say Spieth won’t meet the challenges. It’s just saying there will be more pressure to do so as long as he’s carrying the No. 1 ranking. McIlroy has the same kind of pressure, still, but it will be new to Spieth.


Rory McIlroy is the player with the most to prove this year, and thus faces the most pressure. In many ways, Jordan Spieth has pushed McIlroy out of the limelight – he’s the reigning Player of the Year, the world No. 1 and the top earner in the marketplace. McIlroy has two more majors, the ultimate measuring stick, but also four more years of experience.

It’s no longer a no-brainer, that question about who would win when they’re at the top of their games, Spieth or McIlroy. The obvious answer was (and maybe still is) Rory, because he’s longer off the tee, he’s the best ball-striker on the planet and he has shown the ability to blow away fields in majors. Spieth’s talents are different, but no less effective. Just look at what happened at Kapalua – he still can demoralize opponents with his persistence, short game and putting. He also seems to play at that higher level more consistently.

Starting this week in Abu Dhabi, McIlroy has the opportunity to beat Spieth and remind everyone – his peers, the fans, probably even himself – who is golf’s alpha dog. 


Rory McIlroy was on top of the golf world at Valhalla in 2014. He went on to win four times in 2015 ... and suddenly he's third in the rankings.

As for 2016, Jordan Spieth has already won once this year - convincingly, by eight shots - and is evidencing no signs of slowing down.

If McIlroy is going to reclaim his No. 1 ranking, he is going to have to leapfrog both Spieth and Jason Day, who had a massive breakthrough of his own last season.

Throw in the added pressure of trying to win not just the Masters but the career Grand Slam, and McIlroy is facing more pressure at every turn, both to assert himself in the hunt for world No. 1 and in the quest to cement his place in history. Every year he doesn't win the Masters, that monkey on his back will get a little bigger and little heavier. Just ask Phil Mickelson.

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Watch: Daly makes birdie from 18-foot-deep bunker

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 11:14 pm

John Daly on Friday somehow got up and down for birdie from the deepest bunker on the PGA Tour.

The sand to the left of the green on the 16th hole at the Stadium Course at PGA West sits 18 feet below the surface of the green.

That proved no problem for Daly, who cleared the lip three times taller than he is and then rolled in a 26-footer.

He faired just slightly better than former Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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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.