McIlroy in predicament over Olympic affiliation

By Rex HoggardSeptember 11, 2012, 7:30 pm

On Sunday Rory McIlroy won the BMW Championship. On Monday he won what may turn out to be an even greater contest for cultural context.

It is mathematically telling that McIlroy’s 495-word open letter that he released to the public via his Twitter account was just 17 more words than the total amount of world ranking points (478) he’s collected this season, the most by anyone; and just 37 words short of his combined winning stroke-totals (532) the last two weeks at the BMW and Deutsche Bank championships.

Or maybe it’s as simple as 3.2, that’s McIlroy’s lead over No. 2 Tiger Woods in the world ranking, and yet the headlines on Monday fixated on an event that will be held four years from now in Brazil. An event that McIlroy, or anyone else for that matter, hasn’t even qualified for.


Video: McIlroy's dominance and Olympic delimma


Instead of marveling at the 23-year-old’s play of late, the talking points have drifted to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and comments McIlroy made last week to the Daily Mail as to his intentions to play for either the United Kingdom or Ireland.

“What makes it such an awful position to be in is I have grown up my whole life playing for Ireland under the Golfing Union of Ireland umbrella. But the fact is, I’ve always felt more British than Irish,” McIlroy told the Daily Mail.

In some Irish and British circles this comment was viewed as tacit acknowledgement of McIlroy’s intentions to play for the United Kingdom when golf returns to the Games, which is his right having grown up in Northern Ireland.

The media storm that followed prompted McIlroy’s open letter. “I wish to clarify that I have absolutely not made a decision regarding my participation in the next Olympics,” he wrote.

But then the one thing McIlroy doesn’t appear capable of buying these days is the benefit of the doubt. Unrealistic expectations have become the norm for the Ulsterman, first with comparisons to Woods following his eight-stroke masterpiece last month at the PGA Championship and now this, a nationalist corner many seem determined to back him into.

This is not an attempt to dismiss the religious and political divide that still exists in Northern Ireland. During a trip to Belfast last year while researching a feature on McIlroy your correspondent was surprised to learn that our visit corresponded with the marches, which occur each year on July 12 and sometimes still result in violence.

Some speculate that it is the marches that prompted the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews to slow play a possible return of the Open Championship to Royal Portrush, which is the only venue outside of England and Scotland to host the event.

But this isn’t about politics or religion. It is about a young man who, at least to some on both sides of the Ulster border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, transcends these historical divides. McIlroy’s family is catholic but he grew up in a fairly protestant neighborhood and attended a protestant school.

He has also been quick to point out how influential the Golfing Union of Ireland was to his development and wrote on Monday, “I am a proud product of Irish golf.” Having been born in 1989 it’s also worth noting that McIlroy was never exposed to the troubles.

“My honest opinion is he is transcending the sport in this country. He is a wonderful example of a modern thinking individual. We are blessed to have him and we should be celebrating him instead of getting caught up in old arguments,” said Shane O’Donoghue, an Irish journalist who has covered McIlroy since he was a teenager. “What he is doing is unique. Because of his youth he has never gotten caught up with what is an old issue.”

There is a growing fear that when the time comes McIlroy will sidestep the issue and simply not participate in the 2016 Olympics, which, given his current lofty status, would be a shame for the Games and McIlroy.

For now, however, McIlroy is proving to be a youthful voice of reason, focusing instead on his historic summer and the looming Ryder Cup, where no one questions his loyalties.

There will be plenty of time in the years before the ’16 Olympics to dissect McIlroy’s choices, but that time is not now. He will have to make tough decisions, but until then the only unrealistic expectations he should have to face need to be on the golf course.

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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.