McIlroy in pursuit of more majors

By Jason SobelJuly 29, 2014, 8:06 pm

AKRON, Ohio - There is no way to definitively predict how a major champion will follow his celebrated triumph. There's no calculable method for knowing exactly how one will react to reaching the pinnacle of achievement in this game. 

Will he let his guard down, allowing himself to enjoy the spoils in the warm afterglow? Or will it fuel his desire even more, leaving him hungrier to taste victory again?

Like most major champions, Rory McIlroy is professing the latter. He's saying all the right things. He believes his recent Open Championship title was just the start of more winning ways rather than the culmination.

“I always feel like winning a major,” he explained, “is almost a springboard in a way.”

Unlike most other champions, his game might back up that sentiment.

Already in his young career, McIlroy has displayed a knack for not easing off the gas pedal when he's got his best stuff working. Call it strong mental fortitude or just the happy byproduct of a streaky inclination, but either way it shows in the results.

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Three years ago, he countered his U.S. Open title with a T-25 in his next start at the Open Championship, but soon regained form, finishing sixth or better in six of his next eight starts, a run that ended with a win at the Hong Kong Open less than six months after he tore up Congressional. The next year, he followed a PGA Championship victory with a T-24 in his next appearance, then won each of his two starts after that and once again in the European Tour finale.

That probably sounds like a normal progression, using the major victories to propel himself to more success, but the truth is that McIlroy remains an outlier when it comes to doubling down on major prosperity.

Granted they're still enjoying a deserved grace period, but neither of this year's previous two major champions - Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer - has won in the time since.

More peculiarly, neither have two of last year's major winners - Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner. Or Ernie Els from the year before. Heck, even three of the four major champions from a half-decade ago have yet to ascend to any victory circle, anywhere, in the time since.

Don’t expect McIlroy to fall victim to a similar fate.

“I think every time you have success, you need to reassess your goals,” he said Tuesday in advance of this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “A lot of the goals that I set myself for the start of the year, I've achieved already. So that's when you have to reassess and say like, OK, you've boxed that off. It's great. Celebrate it for a couple of days, but then you've got to move on.

“You've got to keep moving forward and keep thinking about what you want to achieve from now until the end of the year.”

Call it a classic case of a sentiment that’s easier said than done.

After all, it’s not as if the likes of Watson, Kaymer, Mickelson, Dufner and Els have packed it in and simply been content with their most recent major wins. And it’s not as if they’re each playing poorly, either.

The simple truth is that success doesn’t come easy. In the cyclical nature of professional golf, where losing heavily outweighs winning, even for the greatest players of all time, following any victory with another is an intricate task laden with pratfalls. Following a major victory with more wins in the short term is even tougher.

And yet, here’s McIlroy, just two weeks removed from his latest major conquest, sounding not only confident in his upcoming chances to build his resume, but hungry for more.

“I feel like I've got a lot of momentum and I can carry that through to the end of the year,” he boasted. “Hopefully ride that and play some really good golf and some golf similar to what you saw at Hoylake.”

Those words echo what so many other major champions have decreed in the past. Few have been able to live up to their own hype, though, instead failing to promptly build on that momentum.

So far in his career, McIlroy has proven to be an outlier. Starting this week, he’ll have an opportunity to prove that he isn’t all talk this time, either.

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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.  

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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.” 

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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.”

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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.