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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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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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 14 career runner-up finishes and three 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.