McIlroy back from injury to take spotlight from Spieth

By Rex HoggardAugust 12, 2015, 7:33 pm

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – From his couch he watched the Open Championship unfold and attention spans wandered.

It wasn’t jealousy or even envy, as if the man that has everything would covet another’s prize; but for Rory McIlroy, the evolving narrative in golf over the last five weeks has been a study in mob mentality.

For nearly a year, McIlroy’s hold on the heavyweight crown had been undisputed and unchallenged. Even when Jordan Spieth won the Masters this spring, the Northern Irishman answered with victories of his own at the WGC-Match Play and Wells Fargo Championship.

Not long after Spieth’s second consecutive major victory at the U.S. Open, however, short attention spans and the desire for instant analysis began to change the conversation. And when McIlroy severely injured his left ankle playing soccer with friends on July 6, the world No. 1 officially became an afterthought, however temporarily.

“We live in such a world that everything's so reactionary and everything happens so quickly that a year ago after I won this tournament it was the Rory era and then Jordan wins the Masters and it's the Jordan era,” McIlroy said on Wednesday at the PGA Championship. “Eras last about six months these days instead of 20 years.”

If McIlroy’s take sounds bitter, it’s not.

If he sounds a touch put out over the attention Spieth has now garnered, he’s not.

To be clear, Spieth is “taking up a lot of the limelight this year which is deservedly so,” McIlroy said.

But it’s just as clear that the world No. 1 – and he is still the world No. 1, at least until Sunday – did not go on the disabled list quietly.

The same internal dialogue that drove McIlroy to two majors last season has been a tortured companion over the last five weeks of relative inactivity, repeatedly reminding himself that it’s not the limelight he seeks as much as it is all the accomplishments that land a champion at center stage.

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Not playing the Open Championship at St. Andrews, his favorite major venue, was so offensive he told friends and family he wouldn’t watch the event on television. He did tune in for most of the final round, but he didn’t like it.

That desire is virtually impossible to temper, driving Rory during the best of times to be unbeatable but also beckoning him back when things aren’t ideal, like the last five weeks of rehabilitation.

No athlete has ever come back too late from an injury, a truth that remains undefeated, despite McIlroy’s objections.

McIlroy’s injury, which was a total rupture of the anterior talo-fibular ligament along with joint capsule damage, is an ailment that normally requires a six- to eight-week recovery.

“An average person that goes to the physio three times a week will probably take between six and eight weeks,” McIlroy said. “Maybe I was one or two weeks ahead of what I was told at the start, but I don't think that's any surprise, given this day and age and everything that is at our disposal in terms of treatment and machines and everything.”

McIlroy is not an “average person,” but he’s not super human either.

The swing looks solid, and after arriving at Whistling Straits last Saturday he certainly appears up to the physical challenge of playing the year’s final major, but there are always unforeseen dangers when dealing with injuries.

“I just get worried sometimes when people get injured and come back a little early because sometimes it can snowball and go other places and it may start in an ankle, it could go to a knee, or could go to a hip, it could go to the back,” said Jason Day, who has dealt with more than his share of injuries in his career.

It’s called the kinetic chain, which is trainer speak for injuries or weaknesses in one part of the body, say the left ankle, that can slowly manifest itself in other areas, such as a right hip ailment, or worse it could even cause slight swing adjustments that will be hard to break over time.

It’s likely a conversation McIlroy has had with his trainer Steve McGregor, but knowing the road to take and veering down the correct path are two different things.

Keeping the proverbial racehorse in the stable is always difficult, but to put the climb McIlroy will face this week in context he’s being asked to save Game 7 of the World Series straight off the DL.

He played 72 holes in four days last week in Portugal to test his mended ankle, but he still hasn’t hit a meaningful shot since the final round at Chambers Bay in June.

To be fair, McIlroy has earned the benefit of the doubt considering how well he’s handled adversity throughout his career and he’s proven himself mature beyond his 26 years.

“When you're playing week in, week out and you're thinking about winning these tournaments, you get so wrapped up in what you're doing and your own little life and your own little bubble, sometimes you forget there's a bigger wider world out there,” he said. “That's something that I can bring in with me this week, knowing that, OK, it's a big deal, but no matter what happens this week, only a very small percentage of the population really care.”

Of course, proving to that slice of the audience that does care he is still very much a part of the conversation would also be OK.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.