McIlroy's Open win feels like milestone moment

By Jason SobelJuly 22, 2014, 4:45 pm

It’s a funny thing, this business of defining time periods by separate eras. We never quite know when one is ending and the next is beginning – not while that transition is happening, at least. There is no specific date on the calendar, no handy color-coded chart to help us immediately understand exactly what we’re witnessing at the time.

Dinosaurs didn’t just show up on earth one day and declare it the Jurassic period; more recently, historians can’t pinpoint one singular action that ended the Renaissance.

And in a transition of slightly less global significance, we might not know for years whether Sunday afternoon, when the final putt of the Open Championship was tapped into the final hole, was the exact moment when the golf world shifted from the Tiger Woods Era to the Rory McIlroy Era.

It sure felt that way, though.

Ultimately, history will decide if McIlroy’s third career major victory officially ushered us into this new era in the game. But in a week where Woods – who won the last time this tournament was held at Hoylake – finished 68 spots behind his youthful pal, this one appears earmarked as a milestone moment.

Call it a changing of the guard or a passing of the torch or a textbook example of out with the old and in with the new, but the facts clearly outweigh any hyperbole.

In the time since Woods’ last major victory, McIlroy has three of ‘em. As Woods continues to slide down the world ranking, McIlroy continues to climb. With Woods seemingly growing more frustrated with his on-course performance, McIlroy appears unburdened by any demons from his past.

Years from now, we’ll very well look back on this one in the same manner that we review the 1960 U.S. Open. In a tournament that is often considered a crossroads of the generational gap, Ben Hogan was upstaged by 30-year-old Arnold Palmer defeating 20-year-old Jack Nicklaus by two strokes. Hogan would never again win a professional tournament.

This latest transition period, however, likely won’t prompt such a dramatic fade, just as it won’t provoke the sudden spike that occurred when Woods won the 1997 Masters. He will win again – and he could very well win multiple major championships from the age of 38 and beyond. Instead, this has a more similar feel to the latter part of the career of the man Woods is chasing.

Nicklaus was 38 when he won his 15th major title – one more than Woods owns now. That was in 1978, but two years and exactly zero wins later, the Jack Nicklaus Era had given way to one led by young upstarts like Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros. When the Golden Bear was able to win the 1980 U.S. Open and follow it with a PGA Championship two months later, he was impinging on the next generation’s era rather than extending his own. By the time he won his 18th and final major at the 1986 Masters, his personal era was long a thing of the past.

Woods prides himself on being a golf historian and so he knows all of this already. He understands that one generation giving way to the next doesn’t necessarily mean the older players will be shut out from ever winning again.

Woods also realizes that although McIlroy’s early accomplishments might not be level with those from the early part of his own career, they are eerily reminiscent. The accolades, at least, if not the consistency.

“The way he plays is pretty aggressively,” Woods analyzed Sunday, comparing him favorably with Phil Mickelson. “When he gets it going, he gets it going. When it gets going bad, it gets going real bad. It's one or the other.”

Rory joined Jack and Tiger as the only players in the Masters era with three major titles by the age of 25. He’s now just a green jacket away from becoming the sixth player in history to win the career grand slam, all of which should feed into this transition period.

While the festivities at Augusta National have often been hailed as Tigermania, the circus will appear more like Rorymania next April, when he attempts to join that exclusive club.

If that’s not enough to sound the alarms of change, then try this: Mickelson, with five major titles and more than three dozen other PGA Tour wins, is on the short list of the greatest players of all-time. He’s certainly inside the top 15, arguably amongst the top 12, pushing toward the top 10.

Well, McIlroy owns three majors at an age that’s eight years younger than Mickelson when he won his first.

That’s just another on a long list of reasons why the transition to a new era felt complete on Sunday. It's not an exaggeration to state that golf has apparently entered a new time period. Every generation has eventually succumbed to the next one, but rarely has that process taken place in such an abrupt manner.

History will tell us whether that’s true. Years from now, though, don’t be surprised if we look back on these days as the beginning of what’s forever remembered as the Rory McIlroy Era.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''