2014 Newsmaker No. 1: Rory McIlroy

By Jason SobelDecember 20, 2014, 2:30 pm

It’s a touchy thing, this business of turning athletes’ personal affairs into breaking news. Just because they own some extraordinary talent, do they deserve to live their lives in a petri dish under our collective microscopic lens? And yet by the same measure, aren’t the transgressions of public figures in some ways ripe for scrutiny?

I don’t think there’s a definitive answer to either of these questions, with varying lines of blurriness based on the specific scenario, but here’s my own rule of thumb: Let the private stuff remain private – until it starts interfering with the reason they’ve accrued this fame in the first place. Then it’s fair game.

All of which leads us to Rory McIlroy. On May 21, the golfer once nicknamed Boy Wonder announced he’d broken off a highly publicized engagement with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki just after sending out the wedding invitations. Reports emerged that he did so with a quick phone call that she initially believed was a joke, and so the scandalous nature of the whole thing led to some very obvious international headlines.

2014 Newsmakers: 2. Ryder Cup | 3. Tiger4. Social Media | 5. Bishop | 6. Wie7. Reed8. R&A9. Bubba | 10. DJ | Honorable mentions

It was real life ripped from the script of a soap opera – the camera-ready couple coming together in the spotlight, then coming apart under that same glare. It became a major story in the tabloids, but similarly turned into big news in the golf world, for much less salacious reasons.

Prior to the breakup, McIlroy had competed in nine worldwide events and while he’d fared predictably well – two runners-up, a sixth place, a seventh, two eighths and a ninth – he had yet to win a tournament. Four days after his announcement, though, he was improbably holding aloft the BMW PGA Championship trophy, the look on his face more startled than elated.

While he downplayed the cause-and-effect of his personal life on his professional career, it marked a clear turning point in a year when he made plenty of news off the golf course and even more news on it, winning two major championships and four overall titles and once again ascending to No. 1 on the world ranking.

So much news, in fact, that it earned McIlroy the distinction of being Golf Channel’s No. 1 Newsmaker for 2014.

Maybe we should have seen it coming. Three years ago, when he won the U.S. Open for his first career major, one major national publication proclaimed it “Golf’s New Era.” When he prevailed at the next year’s PGA Championship, others echoed that sentiment.

Entering this year, though, his game had been in a funk. Playing with Nike clubs for the first time last year, he won just one event. And prior to making that fateful May phone call, he had dropped outside the world’s top 10 – unfamiliar territory for a player around whom the supposed new era was forming.

Whether it was newfound personal freedom that led to his latest ascent or just the curious coincidence of everything in his game clicking from a technical standpoint at the same time, McIlroy soon proved why there had already been so many declarations of his eminence.

Two months after winning the BMW PGA, he played like a rockstar at the former home of the Beatles, clearly the headliner on Royal Liverpool’s grand stage. Who could have seen it coming? Well, if not the millions who had witnessed his previous two major triumphs, then at least his own father, Gerry, who along with two friends had placed a hefty wager on his son a decade earlier that paid off to the tune of more than $300,000.

One month later and thousands of miles away, McIlroy finished off another major victory, winning in the dark at Valhalla to join the likes of only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in the modern era as players with four majors by the age of 25.

And so the comparisons came quickly and often, mostly in relation to the latter and his lifelong pursuit of the former. McIlroy was asked about Woods’ ongoing efforts to break Nicklaus’ career major record during the time between winning the Open and winning the PGA, when he took a little side trip to win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He was asked about Woods’ long-term goals; he was asked how his might differ.

“I know how many majors the greats of the game have won,” he answered. “But I never wanted to compare myself. If I go on to win whatever number it is, then that's great. At least at the end of my career, there's not going to be a disappointment. ‘Oh, I wanted to get to 15, but I only got 12, bummer.’ … I'd love to end my career with 12 majors, but I don't want it to be a disappointment.”

Therein lies the remaining aspect of what made McIlroy the game’s biggest newsmaker this year. It wasn’t just his performance. It certainly wasn’t just his personal life. But when you sprinkle in these thoughtful, charismatic soundbites – comments unlike so many of his peers, because they ooze with reflection and deliberation rather than the usual homogenized rhetoric – it provokes greater headlines, vaulting him further into the ever-evolving news cycle.

Golf’s new era, the one spearheaded by McIlroy, might not have begun three years ago with his first major, or two years ago with his second. It’s undeniable now, though, after two more major titles and an unambiguous journey to atop the world ranking once again, that the game has progressed to the next stage.

And for that, more than any other reason, McIlroy was clearly the No. 1 Newsmaker of 2014.

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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.

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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.


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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.