Punch Shot: Who will challenge Rory for No. 1?

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 8, 2014, 2:00 pm

Rory McIlroy has a firm grasp on the No. 1 ranking, but who is the best bet to challenge him for the top spot in 2015? GolfChannel.com writers weigh in.


Rory McIlroy probably isn’t losing the No. 1 ranking anytime soon. But if he does, that honor will go to another player who’s held the top spot before: Adam Scott.

Currently No. 3 in the world, Scott is one of the only players whose ball-striking abilities can rival those of McIlroy at times. He’s a proven winner and the pressure of trying to overtake that No. 1 spot shouldn’t be too bothersome considering he’s already held the position.

Then there’s the anxiety factor. Scott knows that this will be his final year of being able to anchor his putter. While some fellow anchorers might start making the transition ahead of time, it appears Scott will continue this putting stroke for as long as he’s allowed. Playing on borrowed time should be enough to light a fire under the normally laid-back Aussie.

It will be tough for anyone to catch McIlroy – damned near impossible if the current No. 1 keeps playing the way he did for the last six months – but if anyone is equipped to do it, that player is Scott.


It won’t just be one player. Not on today’s PGA Tour.

Adam Scott will make a run at Rory in his final year with the long wand.

Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler will only get better.

Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia will pick off a few titles.

Tiger Woods will … well … who knows what he’s going to do, but would it surprise you at all if he wins multiple events?

The point is, the thing working against Rory as the game’s next dominant player is the fact that the rest of the PGA Tour is really good, too. If McIlroy doesn’t show up with his best stuff, you can bet that one of the other top-30 players in the world will beat him.

The Tour is stronger and deeper than it’s ever been. That’s not ideal for the development of a massive star, but it makes the product infinitely better.


Mathematically it would be Henrik Stenson who has the best chance of knocking Rory McIlroy off the world golf ranking perch.

The Swede is currently ranked second, some 2.88 average points behind the Northern Irishman and the way McIlroy finished 2014, with back-to-back majors and a World Golf Championship high card, it may as well be 2.88 million ranking points.

Yet to put McIlroy’s lead in context, consider that in June 2008, following his last major victory, Tiger Woods’ lead in the ranking was 11.06 average points. Although it took time - more than two years - and persistence, that insurmountable lead eventually evaporated.

Persistence has become Stenson’s calling card. He began 2014 third in the ranking, played his best golf in the most important events (including ties for fourth at the U.S. Open, third at the PGA Championship and seventh at the European Tour’s flagship BMW PGA) and closed the year with a series of strong finishes.

Stenson also has an advantage over the likes of Adam Scott (No. 3) and McIlroy because he plays a lot, currently averaging the maximum divisor (52 events).

In short, Stenson is a workhorse with a flare for the dramatic and if anyone can catch McIlroy it will be the Iceman.


It’s Adam Scott.

At his best, he can match McIlroy’s power and his shot making when McIlroy’s also at his best. Scott can drive it deep and straight with McIlroy. He can make a load of birdies with McIlroy. He can match McIlroy’s overall gifts in ways other players can’t. Of course, the key for Scott is delivering his best more often, more consistently. The key is closing out more ferociously, more often. It’s elevating his game one last step.

Yes, it’s that way for a lot of the game’s top challengers, but they don’t all have the depth of Scott’s skills, abilities that rival McIlroy’s.

At 34, Scott is more consistently good than he has ever been. That puts him at the doorstep of something great this year.

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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.