McIlroy doing things his way, despite criticism

By Rex HoggardMarch 13, 2013, 9:26 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – When did 18 holes of competition with Michael Jordan become a bad thing?

When is the long view and pacing yourself a problem? Better yet, when did Twitter become the proper outlet for constructive criticism, as if solving the world’s problems 140 characters at a time was an option?

Perhaps this is nothing more than a sign of the times, an on-demand issue to fuel a non-stop news cycle. Who would have thought a scheduled member-guest with His Airness would have caused such a digital stir, but then when you’re Rory McIlroy there seems to be no end to the amount of minutia that can be turned into a mountain.

Despite his best competitive week of the year – truth is, Doral was McIlroy’s first full competitive week of 2013 – the world No. 1 was again under the gun following reports he would play this week’s member-guest at The Medalist in South Florida with Jordan and not next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Photo gallery: McIlroy through the years

The Ulsterman ultimately withdrew from the member-guest and was replaced by Keegan Bradley, but the damage had been done. Either way on this McIlroy was clear, he has no plans to add to his pre-Masters schedule (his next start is the Shell Houston Open followed by the year’s first major) despite a particularly difficult start to his season. He said as much after every round last week at Doral.

For McIlroy it’s a simple question of pacing himself and, even at 23 years old, knowing when it is too early to hit the panic button. Yet for the vocal minority that’s not good enough.

Lost in all the armchair analysis and McIlroy’s pedestrian play – four events, one missed cut (Abu Dhabi), a first-round loss (WGC-Match Play), a withdrawal (Honda Classic) and a tie for eighth (WGC-Cadillac Championship) – is a game and a mind that is built for the long term, not a panicky quick fix on the way down Magnolia Lane.

In 2011 McIlroy gave up his PGA Tour membership because of the rigors of playing two tours and the FedEx Cup playoffs. When he returned to the Tour in 2012 he played just three Tour events before The Masters, one fewer than he will play this year.

That he finished second, first and third in his run up to Augusta last year magically mitigated any second guessing. That he went on to win five times around the world and collect his second major by eight strokes is why the Ulsterman deserves the benefit of the doubt now.

Lost in McIlroy’s rocky transition to Nike Golf and his early swoon are the realities of being a two-tour player. In 2012 McIlroy played 24 events around the globe. By comparison, Tiger Woods has averaged 17 Tour starts since turning pro in 1997 and has never played more than 21 events in a single season.

For McIlroy, balancing a transatlantic schedule with the demands of competitive relevancy will always be a high-wire act, at least as long as he remains loyal to his European Tour roots, but know this – the 23 events he played in 2010 on both tours was too much.

McIlroy on fumes is no better than the slightly rusted version.

“It is a tricky thing, especially if you're like Rory and I, and play both tours,” said Luke Donald, who spent 56 weeks atop the Official World Golf Ranking before being unseated by McIlroy last year. “You feel like you spread yourself a little bit thin. When you get off to the slow start that he did, sometimes the best way to get out of a funk like that is just to play. I'm sure he juggled that in his mind a little bit, whether to add another event or something.

“At the same time, you also are planning your schedule around majors, and trying to be ready and rested enough where you don't feel like you've played a ton of golf leading up to the majors.”

It should also be pointed out that McIlroy is not dogmatic when it comes to his schedule. Midway through last season, after missing the cut in four of five events, he added the FedEx St. Jude Classic to his card.

It is sometimes too easy with McIlroy to consider the young man out of his depth atop the world order, but at every turn he’s demonstrated a veteran’s touch when things have not gone to script.

It’s natural to second guess the Ulsterman’s jump to the Swoosh, a big-money move following great success with another brand, but to pretend we know what schedule is best for McIlroy is the acme of foolishness.

It is unfortunate McIlroy had to withdraw from the Medalist member-guest. He would have had a made-for-Twitter sounding board in Jordan on how to handle unsolicited advice – ignore it.

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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 three runner-up finishes 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.''