Tiger vs. Rory: A new dynamic

By Randall MellSeptember 13, 2012, 6:33 pm

It may not be a full-fledged rivalry yet, but their head-to-head pairings in the FedEx Cup playoffs and their appearances on Sunday leaderboards over the last two weeks have ratcheted up the intensity of interest in how these two titans match up.

With three titles in his last four starts – a major (PGA Championship) and back-to-back playoff events – Rory McIlroy, 23, just might be on his way to carving out a first in the Tiger Woods era. He just might be evolving as the first player who is consistently favored over Woods, 36, in the game’s biggest events.

Just ask the oddsmakers.

They are the foremost experts at gauging the public’s perception of who is most likely to win a tournament. They don’t base their odds and the financial well being of their multimillion-dollar businesses on who they think will win. They base those odds on their evaluation of the public’s perception of who will win.

Going to the Tour Championship next week, McIlroy is the prohibitive favorite.

Ladbrokes makes McIlroy the 4/1 favorite at East Lake with Woods at 5/1.

They aren’t alone.

William Hill is posting the same odds as Ladbrokes. BoyleSports makes McIlroy an even heavier favorite at 7/2 with Woods 5/1. So does Coral Sports, with McIlroy at 4/1 and Woods at 6/1.

All 13 sports books listed on Betting Zone’s extensive listing of oddsmakers have McIlroy as The TOUR Championship favorite.

Notably, McIlroy will be playing East Lake for the first time as he makes his debut in the Tour Championship.

Woods excels at East Lake. In his last four starts there, he has won once and finished second three times.

The game’s top analysts don’t see the match-up a whole lot different than the bookmakers right now.

NBC’s Roger Maltbie has observed McIlroy and Woods close up the last two weeks as an NBC on-course analyst. He believes McIlroy has an advantage over Woods in their current form.

“I just think right now, as far as the complete package, all the edge has to go to Rory from a confidence standpoint, driving standpoint, putting standpoint,” Maltbie said in an NBC/Golf Channel teleconference. “Right now, he’s on top of all those elements.”

Maltbie believes Woods has more shots, and more trajectories, for more conditions, but he believes McIlroy’s superior driving and ability to hit such towering iron shots into greens gives him the current advantage, as does McIlroy’s hot putter.

“When Tiger is on top of his game, it’s case closed,” Maltbie said. “But right now, he's in a little different situation. There's someone else on his radar that he's looking at and going, `Wow.’ He even admitted last week, he says, `Geez, I'd like to hit it as far as he hits it.’  

“When Tiger dominated the game, he was certainly the longest, most effective player, using power, that we've probably ever known. I just think it's a little different dynamic right now, and I think it's a bit of an uphill climb for Tiger. But with that said, he's certainly capable of regaining the top spot, no question.”

NBC’s Johnny Miller also sees McIlroy with an advantage off the tees and on the greens.

“Tiger is no short hitter, [but] the big advantage is the driver, [McIlroy] is much more accurate than Tiger is off the tee now, with a little more distance,” Miller said. “The worst shots of McIlroy are better than Tiger's (worst shots), and, I can't believe I'm saying this, but he might be out-putting Tiger for four rounds.”

Since McIlroy turned pro late in 2007, he has teed it up in the same PGA Tour or European Tour event as Woods 43 times.

McIlroy is 23-17-3 when measured against how Woods finished in those events.

McIlroy has won five of those common events, Woods has won three.

McIlroy is 14-5-2 when measured against how Woods finished in tournaments they both played the last two seasons.

Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee likes where the emergence of McIlroy and the comeback of Woods is taking the game. He sees an exciting change from the last couple years, where parity and rotating No. 1s was the theme.

“There was a sense that no matter what the world rankings said, that, really, Tiger Woods was the de facto No. 1,” Chamblee said. “Well, now, I think if you took a poll, most people would say Rory McIlroy is clearly better than Tiger Woods, which is preposterous. I think we are in the beginning of one of the best eras in the history of the PGA Tour.”

Chamblee believes the emergence of McIlroy against Woods ranks among The Great Triumvirate, The Big Three and Tom Watson’s challenge of Nicklaus as compelling eras.

“Now, you've got a rivalry being born between Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, and from a nostalgic aspect, you still have Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh and Ernie Els around,” Chamblee said. “So, golf, I think is as good as we are ever going to see it in our era. It's fantastic.”

Miller is fascinated by the growing friendship of Woods and McIlroy, the connection they’ve made. He finds it telling.

“I think that Tiger is going through an interesting, humbling process the last three or four years,” Miller said. “He's 36, and I think he has realized, maybe, what's important in life, and maybe it doesn't all have to do with 18 holes out there.

“I think he still really wants to do great, and he'll be driven, but I think he was over driven before. I think now he's enjoying relationships. He’s enjoying friendships, and I think, actually, he'll be a happier person. I think he'll still play great golf, but he's starting to enjoy guys that do well and be happy for them.

“I’m not saying he’s Steve Stricker, but there’s a little transition there, and I think it’s a good one. I think he’ll realize as he gets older that there’s a lot more in life than just major championships and what happens on the golf course . . . He’s in a pretty good place right now.”

Competitively, Woods is in a different place. He’s chasing a top player, instead of everyone chasing him.

Maltbie finds that telling.

“There's one component we kind of missed, maybe, in watching Tiger all these years,” Maltbie said. “He is the greatest closer, greatest frontrunner that there has ever been. He operates best when he's looking back, not trying to go forward, so to speak, and trying to pass people.

“I just think he's in a position now, where it is clear, maybe by some of the comments Tiger made himself last week, that maybe there’s a little level of deference to Rory, right at the moment. I liken it very much to the way Ernie Els was, when he saw Tiger. It was like, `Wait a minute. Here is a guy that does stuff that I don’t know that I can do right now.’ I think Tiger is seeing some of that in Rory.”

Chamblee like Maltbie’s analysis of Tiger’s challenge in no longer being the frontrunner.

“You can almost look at the first 15, 16 years of Tiger’s career as one big golf tournament,” Chamblee said. “He was by far and away ahead, by far and away the best. Going forward, as another golf tournament, he is not the best. He is not in front, or now chasing a player.  And now the world doesn't really know if Rory is better than Tiger or Tiger is better than Rory.

“So I think the last part of Tiger's career, this next 10, 15 years, could prove to be just as interesting in a different light. How does Tiger rise to that challenge? He's never had that challenge before.”

Whether Woods is chasing McIlroy, or McIlroy is chasing Woods, the storyline is dominating golf.

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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.