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McIlroy trying to avoid distractions

By Randall MellFebruary 9, 2018, 2:10 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Rory McIlroy made a great save Thursday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

It’s another testament to how quickly his game is coming back together.

He didn’t just erase his own mistakes at Spyglass Hill. He erased his father’s mistakes.

They may be laughing about what happened at the seventh hole for a long time, especially if it leads to something special on Sunday, when McIlroy would love to hoist the trophy in his first appearance in this event.

With the early morning sun low in the sky, McIlroy’s father stood aside his son at the seventh tee.

“There were a few shadows out there,” McIlroy said. “And as I was about to take my driver away, I saw his shadow move. So, I backed off it.”

Gerry McIlroy got a stern “stand still” from his son, and then he watched his boy lash a terrible drive “way right.” From a tough spot, his son then knocked his second shot in the water.

The father-son bucket-list trip wasn’t off to such a great start, but that’s where the good son was really good.

“I chipped in,” McIlroy said.

It was good for a birdie on McIlroy’s way to shooting 4-under-par 68, which moved him into early contention just three shots off the lead. The start gives him a chance to win in his PGA Tour debut this year.

It was a recovery shot the McIlroys won’t soon forget.

“You’re forgiven,” Rory told his dad.

This is McIlroy’s first appearance at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he would relish winning it after going winless last season. He would especially relish it with his father playing alongside him.

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“It’s awesome,” McIlroy said of teaming with his father. “We’ve had a blast the last few days.”

These pro-ams come with challenges, and McIlroy explained them after Thursday’s round. There’s the novelty of playing with an amateur, wanting that experience to be special, but there’s also the serious matter of wanting to hoist an important trophy.

McIlroy knows the challenges well, having played multiple times with his father in the Dunhill Links, a European Tour format akin to this week’s. Rory said the team aspect can detract from the individual quest. It’s a fine line when the intensity of one is different from the other, where a world-class player can lose an edge.

“This is a golf tournament, and there’s a lot of world-ranking points at stake,” McIlroy said. “So, I made a conscious effort this week to treat it as that.”

So Rory didn’t warm up next to his father Thursday morning, so he could “get my game head on.”

McIlroy said it worked.

The field is strong this week, and a victory would carry a lot of weight. The top three players in the Official World Golf Ranking are here with No. 1 Dustin Johnson, No. 2 Jon Rahm and No. 3 Jordan Spieth all playing. A victory would be a boost to McIlroy’s bid to return to No. 1.

“I feel good,” McIlroy said. “I'm healthy and I'm able to practice. I'm able to do everything I want to do. I'm in a really good frame of mind and that helps, too.”

McIlroy, 28, a four-time major championship winner, struggled through a nagging rib injury most of last season. He fell outside the top 10 in the world and watched Justin Thomas join Johnson and Spieth in the limelight that was once mostly his.

With a tie for third at the Abu Dhabi Championship in his first start this year, and a second-place finish at the Dubai Desert Classic a week later, McIlroy is feeling good about his bid to return to top form.

Former No. 1 Jason Day knows what that could mean.

“He's just explosive,” Day said. “Not only explosive off the tee, and with his iron shots, but he can make a lot of birdies quickly. He's a guy that's not afraid of going low and lapping the field.”

Day remembers. He finished second to McIlroy at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional.

“I lost by eight,” Day said.

Day sees history-making talent in McIlroy.

“He has the tools to be kind of Tigeresque,” Day said. “Obviously Tiger is Tiger, but to be in the same sentence as Tiger is pretty unique . . . I think Rory has the ability to go out there and win more majors than he has right now. I'm sure that's what he wants to do.”

McIlroy played Thursday alongside Phil Mickelson, who opened with a 69.

“His game sure looks sharp,” Mickelson said.

Sharp enough to save a father-son outing and a chance for a memorable weekend.

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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda fired eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record at the tournament.

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Korda, who is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda, leads fellow American Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.

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Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.