McIlroy may be Woods' one true rival

By Rex HoggardOctober 24, 2012, 6:07 pm

Seems the only thing Greg Norman is guilty of is hyperbole, or a misplaced dictionary. Either way, the Shark missed the mark when he said earlier this year that Tiger Woods is intimidated by Rory McIlroy. He must have meant motivated.

What else would explain the 36-year-old’s newfound clarity of competitive thought? December’s World Challenge will be Woods’ 24th global event, the most he has played since 2005, and last week he didn’t sound like a man edging gracefully for the good life.

“It was nice to be able to be healthy enough to where I have the opportunity to play as much or as little as I want, it wasn't something I was forced to sit on the sidelines, forced to rehab and try and get myself back into a position where I can compete,” he said. “I was able to compete and play as many tournaments as I wanted to. So that was a positive.”

No, the Ulsterman didn’t put that spring back in Woods’ step – that honor belongs to multiple knee surgeries and a new swing designed, at least partially, to keep him off the DL – but there is no mistaking what McIlroy’s meteoric rise has meant to the former world No. 1.

We’ve been here before. False rivals have come and gone and from Lefty to El Nino they have all fallen short to varying degrees of the ultimate billing. But Tiger vs. Rory moved beyond budding this year at the Honda Classic, when the youngster held off Woods who closed with a 62, and raced passed potential when McIlroy lapped the field at Kiawah Island in August for his second major walk-off.

Even Woods, who has had little interest in media hype throughout his career, acknowledged there is something afoot when asked on Wednesday at the CIMB Classic in Asia about the rivalry.

“For a number of years I've been the youngest one. Throughout my years it's been Phil (Mickelson), Vijay (Singh), Ernie (Els), Duval (Duval), Paddy (Harrington),” Woods said. “I was the youngest of all of those parties. Rory is younger, so this is the next generation of guys. It's neat to be part of that generational change.”

McIlroy is quick to point out the last dozen majors are normally the hardest, showing deference to Woods’ 14 grand slam tilts and Hall of Fame resume, but the golf universe, upended since 2009 by Woods’ pedestrian play and parity, has unmistakably been narrowed to two names.

The only thing, to be sure the key thing, missing is the classic Sunday showdown at a major. Well, that and anything close to animosity. The duo will play for show on Monday at the “Duel at Jinsha Lake,” which is missing that “Rumble in the Jungle” cachet but the subtext remains unchanged.

Many of sport’s best rivalries have been contrived. Muhammad Ali no more hated Joe Frazier than Magic Johnson loathed Larry Bird, but all sides understood the importance of perception.

The perfect combination of mutual petulance and competitive parity is rare, so if Woods and McIlroy sidestep acrimony for the congenial high road then so be it. We’ll take our rivalries with or without a side of order of mutual distaste, although there are no shortage of pundits who suggest the relationship is not what it seems.

Some conspiracy theorist have suggested Woods’ friendship with McIlroy is little more than a business ploy to woo his young rival over to Nike Golf, which, according to numerous reports, is trying to sign the Ulsterman to a 10-year endorsement deal. Perhaps, but you never heard Woods clamoring to fit Mickelson with a “Swoosh.”

Maybe a jump to Nike for McIlroy would be an economic boon for Woods, but you know what else would help the bottom line? Winning majors, and right now the biggest threat to Woods reaching Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 grand slams is a healthy, happy McIlroy.

“We're the top two players in the world right now, and we get to compete against one another. To us it's fun,” Woods said last week. “We have fun out there and we both like to compete. For us to go out there and compete against one another, we're ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, respectively. It's a lot of fun to be able to have those opportunities.”

Maybe there is an ulterior motive for Woods’ budding friendship with McIlroy, but it has nothing to do with endorsement deals or cleverly crafted ad campaigns. In McIlroy Woods sees a kindred spirit, a reason to improve or be passed and, if the cosmic tumblers cooperate, a distant thought of Sunday duels at Augusta National and beyond.

For Norman it was an honest mistake, the fine line between intimidated and motivated is often lost in the psychological grey area. But the truth is Red Shirt outplayed his young rival in six of the eight times they were paired together this season.

It’s not a fear of McIlroy that now seems to embolden Woods, it’s the future possibility that this could be the rivalry that we’ve all been waiting for.

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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.