Punch Shot: Phil's or Rory's performance more encouraging?

By Randall Mell, Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2014, 4:20 pm

Sure, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy walked away from Abu Dhabi winless, but they showed plenty of guts and glory in their season debuts. Our GolfChannel.com writers debate: Whose performance was more encouraging?

By RANDALL MELL

Or, in other words, whose knuckle-headed play was less discouraging?

Rory McIlroy needed a quick start to 2014 more than Phil Mickelson did. So, coming close Sunday at Abu Dhabi translates into a more encouraging start.

Given the kind of years they were coming off, McIlroy needed affirmation more than Mickelson needed it. McIlroy gets the bigger boost with both players tying for second in what felt like a loss for all of us with Pablo Larrazabal playing knuckle-head free golf in the final round. If Larrazabal could have thrown in his own mental gaffe Sunday, maybe we get to see a McIlroy-Mickelson playoff. All credit to Larrazabal, but a McIlroy-Mickelson playoff would have felt like a big-bang start to ’14.

While there is some frustration for McIlroy over his two-shot penalty in failing to take full relief on Saturday, and for Mickelson with his double hit out of a bush on Sunday, there’s a lot to build on for both players knowing their games are already in good places.

McIlroy’s confidence is coming back. Mickelson’s never really seems to leave him. So give McIlroy the slight edge for the more encouraging start, another big step in the right direction.


By JASON SOBEL

Rory McIlroy is a momentum type of player. When he’s hot, he’s hot – and when he’s not, well … you know the rest. He can go for months looking extraordinary, then quickly turn extra ordinary.

Granted, that same description could be written for Phil Mickelson, but with two more decades of experience, the unsinkable lefty is more accustomed to these highs and lows. He’s already gotten his sea legs under him.

By comparison, McIlroy can still feel a little seasick when his boat keeps rocking back and forth so vigorously. Last year was a perfect example. He started with an MC in Abu Dhabi, followed with a first-round L at the Match Play, then hit the alphabet soup trifecta with a WD at the Honda. Had such a start happened for Mickelson, we would have collectively rolled our eyes and declared, “Oh, that’s just Phil being Phil!” Rory’s failures instead made international headlines.

All of which brings us to his runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi this week. Remember, he’s a momentum player. Even coming off an Aussie Open win last month, McIlroy needed this result more than Mickelson. He needed a good start, not only for his own confidence, but to keep the “begrudgers” - as he calls them – safely at arm’s length.

That doesn’t mean the second-place finish will launch McIlroy to bigger and better successes over the next 12 months, nor does it mean the result won’t vault Mickelson toward prosperity, either. But if this week was more encouraging for one of them over the other, that honor certainly goes to the guy who’s still trying to get his sea legs under him from all these highs and lows.


By RYAN LAVNER

Phil Mickelson’s runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi showed me that his head is in the right place as he enters arguably the most important year of his career.

After all, where was his motivation this week? He was 8,500 miles from home. He was collecting an appearance fee. He hadn’t played in two months.

But Lefty showed plenty of fight and played brilliantly in stretches, and he should be brimming with confidence as he returns to the West Coast. Yes, he’s scaling back late in the season and gearing up for Pinehurst. But if Abu Dhabi was any indication, he’s committed to making 2014 more than just a one-major success. 


By REX HOGGARD

In this case, a tie really isn’t a tie.

Although Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson finished their weeks at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship all square at 13 under par, one stroke behind the champion, it is the Northern Irishman who took away the moral victory.

Remember, at this time last year it was McIlroy who was starting an inexplicable slide, missing the cut in Abu Dhabi with rounds of 75 on his way to the most difficult year of his young career.

Mickelson’s third-round rally after opening cards of 73-70 was impressive, maybe even historic. Lefty’s third-round 63 was his lowest round in a season debut since 2004 at the Humana Challenge, which is much more scoring friendly than the Abu Dhabi layout.

But it was McIlroy who will take the most from his 2014 debut. Following a season of inconsistent play the Ulsterman was downright machine-like in Abu Dhabi by comparison, carding rounds of 70-67-70-68.

McIlroy’s runner-up showing was his best finish on the European Tour since winning the DP World Tour Championship in 2012 and the best sign to date that he has emerged from last year’s troubles.

The leaderboard says McIlroy and Mickelson tied in Abu Dhabi, but considering how far the 24-year-old has come over the past year he easily takes the moral victory.

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.