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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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.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”