Poor finish sours McIlroy's 8-under 64 at Players

By Randall MellMay 13, 2016, 7:50 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Now that will take the fun out of shooting 64.

Rory McIlroy didn’t look like a guy who just posted his best round ever at The Players Championship as he marched off the course Friday at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. He didn’t look like a guy glowing over his swift climb into weekend contention with a chance to win the PGA Tour’s flagship event for the first time.

McIlroy walked off the last green looking as grim faced as the guys headed to slam their trunks on their way out of town after a missed cut.

He looked as if he wanted to snap the lob wedge that failed him after a bogey at the closing hole.

McIlroy’s finish turned sour after he found himself standing over a 91-yard wedge shot in the middle of the fairway at the ninth hole, his 18th of the day. He needed to make birdie to shoot a 10-under-par 62, the best round in the 43-year history of The Players. He needed a par to shoot 63 and gain a share of the tournament record.

“A few guys have shot 63 here, it would have been nice to shoot 62,” McIlroy said.

An otherwise exhilarating day full of so much to feel good about left him feeling something else.

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“Disappointment,” McIlroy said. “I'm frustrated. It should have been a couple better.”

McIlroy was at 8-under 136 when he signed his scorecard, two shots off the lead.

“I feel like I should be tied for the lead,” McIlroy said. “So, yeah, I'm disappointed, but there are still two more days to go. That's the nice thing. I'm in a good position heading into the weekend, but it really depends on what the guys do this afternoon. Hopefully, I'm still not too far behind going into the weekend.”

We heard the hungry competitor in McIlroy in those frustrating, raw moments after his round, but as he made his way from one interview station to another after signing his scorecard, the bigger picture of the day became clearer to him. He was on fire for 17½ holes. He pounded drivers deep and straight. He hit a lot of wedges, which have frustrated him of late, tight into pins. He needed just eight putts over his first eight holes. He shot 29 on the back nine (his first nine) to equal the course record.

McIlroy was brilliant for all but the final 10 minutes of his 4-hour and 45-minute round.

“Obviously, I have to take a lot of positives from it,” McIlroy said. “I played well. I took advantage of the conditions.”

McIlroy is seeking his first victory since winning the European Tour’s DP World Championship last November. He is seeking his first title at The Players Championship after top-10 finishes in each of the last three years.

“I’m happy with my game,” McIlroy said. “I’m in good position even though I finished a little bit frustratingly, but these things happen.”

McIlroy gave himself a chance at the course record after hitting a 3-wood down the middle at that last hole, leaving himself 275 yards to the pin. Why didn’t he go for the green in two?

“I sort of talked myself out of it in the fairway,” McIlroy said. “Any time I’ve went for the ninth green in two here, I've either hit into the trees on the left, or I've hit it out to the right, into those grassy mounds that Pete Dye loves. It has never really worked out for me when I went for the green.”

McIlroy said he took 5-wood out of his bag this week and replaced it with a 2-iron. He said he might have gone for the green if he had left the 5-wood in his bag.

“I could have got a little bit more height,” he said. “Yeah, I was thinking about it. I wanted to make birdie and shoot 62. There's no doubt about that.”

From 91 yards, McIlroy tried to finesse a lob wedge at a hole location cut near the front of the green.

“I might have left myself a little bit too close,” McIlroy said. “It was a tough shot with it being downwind and the pin so tight. I was trying to get sort of cute with it, I guess, and I just hit it too easy.”

McIlroy’s approach ballooned short, landing in deep Bermuda rough on a slope in front of the green. He tried to pop out his chip, but he barely got the ball on the fringe of the green, leaving himself a 21-foot putt for par. He ran that past.

McIlroy hasn’t been happy with his wedges this season. He ranks 116th on tour on approaches between 50 and 125 yards, but he was stiffing wedges on Friday. That last lob wedge approach was his worst all day.

“I could have been a couple lower, but it was still a great round,” McIlroy said.

And it gives him a chance to have a great weekend.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

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

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.