McIlroy following similar path as the young Woods

By Jason SobelJune 4, 2013, 3:00 pm

This was supposed to be the year. The year of Old vs. New. Experience vs. Youth. Crafty Gamesmanship vs. Raw Talent. The year a friendly rivalry turned into just a rivalry. The year we've been waiting for.

This was supposed to be the year of Tiger Woods vs. Rory McIlroy.

Instead, it’s been the year of the anchored-putting ban, the year of deer-antler spray, the year of the lawsuit, the year of the Aussie at Augusta, the year of the racially charged comments, the year of the weather delay and, yes, the year Tiger returned (again).

But Tiger vs. Rory? Nope. Hasn’t happened yet. Hasn’t even come close.

A rivalry that seemed predestined – if not by major championship victory predictions, then at least by the Nike marketing team – has stalled on the tracks, one train chugging full steam ahead as the other has lost its route.

Woods’ puzzling performance at this weekend’s Memorial Tournament notwithstanding – he finished 20 strokes behind winner Matt Kuchar – the game’s No. 1-ranked player has more than held up his part of the deal so far, with wins in exactly half of his eight PGA Tour starts.

None of them, however, has come with the heir apparent breathing down his neck over the closing holes. McIlroy famously claimed two major championship titles before his 24th birthday, but has gone from extraordinary to simply extra ordinary, that space between the two words as empty as his trophy shelf this season.

Granted, the lack of a true rivalry can be explained in a variety of different ways – foremost, of course, is the fact that golf simply isn’t a sport which lends itself to such relationships. With fields decidedly deeper than those of past generations, forging any sort of mano a mano duel – even between the two most talented players – is an exercise in brevity, if not futility.

But a rivalry also has to be more than Hammer vs. Nail, and to call the one between Woods and McIlroy this year any differently is a mistake. They’ve now played in the same event on seven occasions, with Rory’s share of 57th place at Muifield Village his first time bettering Tiger, but hardly anything to write home about.

Speaking of home, there’s been plenty of hand-wringing back in Holywood and surrounding areas after McIlroy's much ballyhooed switch to Nike equipment has yielded middling results so far. While McIlroy’s four top-10s in 11 worldwide starts, including a best finish of solo second at the Valero Texas Open, would be cause for optimism for many pros, it’s left him searching for answers.

“I'm pretty frustrated. I'm trying not to let it get to me, [but] it is what it is,” he said after an opening-round 78. Two days later, he was scored only three strokes better and culminated his round by explaining, “It's more to do with just committing and really getting through the ball. I guess just being more aggressive through the ball instead of guiding a little bit yesterday, something you definitely shouldn't do.”

While McIlroy contends that outside agencies – and yes, in some cases “agencies” should be read in the literal sense – haven’t affected his game, it’s hard to believe that he is competing without a cluttered mind right now. Though many observers will look only at the results to determine that his play is suffering, we should look at past history as an indicator, as well.

In fact, it is the player to whom he is most often compared – fairly or not – that McIlroy most resembles right now.

During the 18-month period from mid-1997 through the early part of 1999, Woods hardly struggled, but added just a single trophy from the 1998 BellSouth Classic to his mantel. It’s easy to envision McIlroy similarly going through these growing pains right now.

Let us count the ways.

Woods fired his initial manager, Hughes Norton, during this time. McIlroy is on the verge of making his second such switch in the past two years, reportedly forming his own representative team.

Woods gradually started to shift from Titleist equipment to Nike during this period, though didn’t get fully absorbed into Nike’s equipment line until a few years after. McIlroy has made more of a definitive adaption this year.

Woods even parted ways with his girlfriend after a few years as a pro. McIlroy followed suit.

And there are some who are predicting that the next domino in Camp Rory to fall will be caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. If so, it would mirror Woods’ breakup with Mike “Fluff” Cowan back in 1999.

Consider it all part of McIlroy’s need to find the right formula going forward. Some of these moves will have more of an impact than others; equipment and caddie will – or at least, should – be greater factors than girlfriend and agent.

These are the problems with being a global superstar at age 24. The maturation process is still ongoing; it just happens to be in front of millions of awaiting eyeballs. Keep this in mind, though, when assessing McIlroy’s on-course performance recently.

That rivalry with Woods has yet to take root, but for McIlroy, so many moving parts are eerily similar to the early career of the man he continues to chase.

Getty Images

Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

Getty Images

McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

Getty Images

What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x