A great year, but McIlroy isn't finished

By Jason SobelAugust 20, 2014, 7:54 pm

PARAMUS, N.J. – Welp - so much for the Rory McIlroy Era.

This so-called superstar hasn’t won a damned thing in a week and a half. Hasn’t broken par in a competitive round. Hasn’t even made a single birdie.

In today’s “What have you done for me lately?” society – “the tyranny of now,” as it’s been called – we not only expect more from a player like McIlroy, we demand it. And quite frankly, he hasn’t delivered.

Never mind the fact that he hasn’t played during this time. That’s a mere footnote to this story.

OK, maybe not.

Maybe it’s time to turn off the sarcasm font and get serious.

After all, if McIlroy can win the Open Championship followed by the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational followed by the PGA Championship and still be wearing his game face entering this week’s Barclays, then the rest of us should be able to maintain a modicum of sincerity, as well.

The Barclays: Articles, videos and photos

Judging by his demeanor so far, it doesn’t appear as if quenching his thirst by drinking out of each of those trophies has diminished his hunger for winning more of them.

McIlroy is just the fifth player since 1980 to win three consecutive PGA Tour starts and this week will attempt to join Tiger Woods as the only players to win more than three in a row.

If that statistic alone isn’t enough to motivate him for the upcoming stretch run, then he’ll rely on something slightly less tangible instead.

“I think it would be a shame,” he offered, “if I'm playing this good golf and to just say, ‘Look, you know, I've had a great year, it's been an awesome summer;  I'm going to just see what happens for the next few weeks and not really work hard.’ But I want to finish the season well. I want to be up there in contention week in, week out. I feel like the season I had, it deserves a finish like that.”

Those only sound like uncharacteristically wise words from a 25-year-old if you fail to consider exactly which 25-year-old is the source.

McIlroy’s maturity level on the course is equaled by his wisdom off of it, which might help to explain why he hasn’t parlayed these three recent victories into a devil-may-care attitude. In fact, getting back into competition may be the only normalcy he’s seen in a while.

“Obviously I'm coming off the back of a few good weeks and I'm just trying to keep it going for as long as I can, try and keep the momentum going, and actually I'm happy to be back on a golf course and into sort of a regular routine again,” he explained. “The last week or so has been pretty hectic. It's nice to get back to what I do and get back into some routine, and excited to get playing again.”

There’s an interesting dichotomy between McIlroy’s attitude now and at this point last year. Back then, he was wrestling with a trying campaign that hadn’t yielded a win yet, more than eight months after public criticism following his switch to Nike equipment.

Having seen the game’s highs and lows so recently, he was asked Wednesday which generated more internal pressure: Attempting to succeed after months of failure or on the heels of so much previous success?

“You haven't won for a while and you're almost trying too hard in a way, where it seems when you get on a run like this and momentum is on your side, everything just sort of falls away,” he said. “Like a lot of things fell my way at the PGA a couple weeks ago that helped me win there.

“Both scenarios bring their own pressures, but I think it's definitely when you're on a run like this, it's definitely easier to get the job done rather than if you haven't won in a while.”

While we’re on the subject of comparison, this current run much more resembles that of his 2012 late-season rally, when he claimed the PGA Championship and two FedEx Cup playoff events, only to finish second in the overall points standings.

For others, it might be difficult to remain motivated to win the PGA Tour’s end-of-year series after joining history with a pair of major titles, but McIlroy is continuing to use these impending events as further motivation.

“It's a big four weeks coming up. It's one of the only things that I haven't achieved in this game is winning the FedEx Cup. I came close in 2012. It would be great to finish off what has been my best year to date with a victory there.”

Those aren’t the words of a player ready to pack it in and keep filling up his trophies. They sound like a guy ready to win more of ‘em.

Getty Images

Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

Getty Images

One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

Getty Images

DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

Getty Images

Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.