McIlroy overhauling his putting with Masters in mind

By Rex HoggardSeptember 1, 2016, 8:37 pm

NORTON, Mass. – When things are going well the game can seem so simple – drives sail for miles into perfectly manicured fairways, approach shots always feed to the hole and every putt feels like it can’t miss.

But when things aren’t quite right, as they largely haven’t been for Rory McIlroy in 2016, the entire world is a mystery.

There are no easy answers, no carefree rounds and, most importantly for the former world No. 1, no apparent end in sight.

For most players, McIlroy’s ’16 campaign would not exactly be a reason to reinvent the wheel. Although it’s been more than a year since the Northern Irishman hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, he won the Irish Open on the European Tour in May, which for Rory is akin to a fifth major, and has more top-10 finishes (six) in the United States than all but a dozen of his play-for-pay frat brothers.

But those kinds of platitudes mean little to a player like McIlroy, who would rather practice his putting on broken glass than go 0-for-4 in the majors. But for the second consecutive year the young lad, and he is still a young lad, came up blank on the Grand Slam tote board.

Things reached a boiling point at the PGA Championship, where he hit the ball better than anyone else at Baltusrol but watched Jimmy Walker’s victory lap from home after missing the cut.

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Without digging too deep into the minutia, the root of what haunts McIlroy is a suddenly uncooperative putter. At Baltusrol he needed 65 putts for two days of work; and while putting experts may debate the specifics, McIlroy has a “left miss” that has been compounded by a setup he has gradually compensated to match that miss.

Last week at The Barclays, McIlroy attempted to change his putting fortunes by teaming with putting guru Phil Kenyon.

“It's a work in progress, like I'm trying to work on a few things and trying to change a few things,” said McIlroy, who finished tied for 31st at Bethpage. “Hopefully it can start to begin to feel a little more natural this week and moving forward.”

Depending on whom you ask, McIlroy’s move to Kenyon is either an act of panic or a sign of progress. Like most things in life, the truth is probably somewhere between those polarized points.

McIlroy admitted on Thursday at TPC Boston that he and Kenyon are overhauling just about everything from his aim to his setup and how he reads greens, which is a cool fall wind when you consider that this is the same man who has won majors by eight strokes.

McIlroy’s ultimate makeover is even more comprehensive when you consider his own timeline for success.

“If I can be really comfortable with my putting going to Augusta next April, that's my timeline, so that's a seven- or eight-month period where I can sort of try to get it right,” he said.

While that recovery may not exactly play well in the European Ryder Cup team room next month at Hazeltine National, it is a sign of McIlroy’s commitment to turning 2016 into something more than a lost season.

There’s also something to be said for McIlroy’s resilience in the face of what has become a familiar swoon.

In 2013, McIlroy also failed to win a Tour event and posted just a single top-10 finish in the majors, yet rebounded in ’14 with two major triumphs at the U.S. Open and The Open and added a World Golf Championship high card.

Jordan Spieth knows something about bouncing back after suffering his own sophomore slump in 2014 when he went winless on Tour. We all know how ’15 played out for the Golden Child.

“Recognizing the longevity of a career, recognizing how many chances you're going to get, and that kind of time and the poor memories, the poor experiences like this year at the Masters, if you keep your head down, keep doing your job, it will end up diminishing because you'll end up getting back to that high point again,” Spieth said. “The more times you prevail, the less you think about what happened in those tough times.”

McIlroy will prevail. He has too much talent and, at 27 years old, too much time not to find the opening at the far side of the tunnel.

He’s also too smart to allow the inevitable ebb of a career define him.

“I'm taking a long-term view of it,” McIlroy said. “As long as I feel like I can see improvements each and every week and feel like I'm on the right path, then I feel like that's the right way to go.”

If that long view doesn’t exactly fit within modern society’s demand for instant satisfaction, know that McIlroy is keenly aware of what it will take to change his competitive fortunes. Just don’t expect a quick fix.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “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.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”