McIlroy young and still learning

By Rex HoggardMarch 5, 2014, 8:15 pm

DORAL, Fla. – Behind the polish and the power of his swing, just beyond the inviting smile and immense talent, Rory McIlroy is nothing more or less than a 24-year-old.

Sure, he’s a 24-year-old with two major championships and a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal, but beyond the resume and the immense retirement plans he is still a young man just trying to find his way in an unforgiving game.

Never has that truth been more evident than during the Ulsterman’s last two trips to the Honda Classic. In 2013, McIlroy limped off property on Friday with a toothache and severely bruised ego. Last week at PGA National he simply limped off.

By all accounts, McIlroy should have won on Sunday. He led by two strokes going into the final round and was three shots clear when he made the turn. But things unraveled, slowly at first with a bogey at the 12th hole, then in waves with a double bogey at the 16th and a bogey at No. 17.

The world No. 6 rallied to join the playoff with Russells Henley and Knox and Ryan Palmer with a clutch 5-footer for birdie at the last, but the damage had already been done.

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Players of McIlroy’s caliber don’t spit up three-shot leads with seven holes to play. Players with multiple majors know how to close out events even when faced with a pesky right-to-left wind. Players who are mentioned in the same breath as Tiger Woods don’t blink in a playoff.

Yet lost in all those generalities is the simple mathematics of age. At 24, McIlroy is still learning how to win and, more importantly, how to deal with the emotions of a Tour Sunday.

“I maybe just didn’t make as committed swings as I should have at some points during the back nine,” McIlroy allowed. “But I know that, and if I get myself into that position again this week, I’ll try and do a better job of seeing my shots and making more committed swings.”

It is an effortless-enough trap to fall into. When you’ve watched the Northern Irish phenom win two majors by a combined 16 strokes it’s easy to forget that, at least in theory, his prime is still a decade away.

It’s even easier to dismiss the idea that despite all the accolades and accomplishments McIlroy still has plenty to learn, like he did on Sunday.

Even Jason Day, at the grand old age of 26, could relate to the trial-and-error realities of winning on the PGA Tour and Rory’s rough Sunday.

“I know exactly how they are feeling. Sometimes you feel like you just want to curl up and run away. Some days you go out there and you feel like you can stay out there forever and play golf and it doesn't matter what golf course is in front of you,” Day said.

“It's not easy to win. You guys have been blessed by seeing Tiger Woods win for so many years and being No. 1 for I think 12 years now that people in general think it's easy to win. It's hard.”

Perhaps the hardest part is that there is no Sunday substitution.

It’s a testament to McIlroy’s resilience that he took an a la carte approach to his Sunday swoon at PGA National. While his inability to hold shots up against a right-to-left wind was troublesome, his last-minute haymaker in regulation to join the overtime was enough to mitigate the lingering ills of losing.

“If I think back to last Sunday all I have to do is think about that 5-wood into (No.) 18 and it puts a smile on my face and go from there,” McIlroy said.

The glass-is-half-full approach has served McIlroy well in his young career. Twice since turning pro he has endured varying stages of a slump, most recently in 2013 when he managed just one top-10 finish over his last eight Tour starts.

It was a similar story in 2012 when he missed three cuts and tied for 60th at the Open Championship before lapping the field at the PGA Championship. But then a long-term memory can be an occupational hazard for any professional golfer, which is the high road McIlroy took on Wednesday at Doral.

“I was disappointed with how I played coming down the stretch. It obviously wasn’t what I would have liked,” he said. “But plenty of positives . . . it was my third stroke-play event of the year and third chance to win. If you keep giving yourself those chances then hopefully you learn from the mistakes.”

Considering everything McIlroy has yet to learn he has adopted one of the game’s most important lessons – don’t be too hard on yourself.

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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.