McIlroy's surge keeps him near lead

By Rex HoggardSeptember 12, 2014, 7:40 pm

ATLANTA – The storm that sent officials at the Tour Championship scrambling on Friday never materialized, but another tempest emerged for the other two dozen or so players looking to close out the season with a victory.

After opening with what he figured was a pedestrian 69 on Thursday at East Lake, Rory McIlroy did what Rory McIlroy does on Day 2 – rolling in four birdie putts from inside 11 feet, overpowering a soft golf course with towering drives and even making par from a spectator’s pocket on his way to one of the easiest 65s this side of the Humana Challenge.

When the round was completed well before happy hour on the East Coast, the world No. 1 had jumped nine spots up on a crowded leaderboard and into a tie for second place, just two strokes behind the prince of these playoffs, Billy Horschel.

Perhaps it doesn’t hold the cachet of the claret jug or the historical significance of a Masters green jacket, which would complete the career Grand Slam for the 25-year-old, but the FedEx Cup playoffs have a compelling hold on McIlroy.

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Two years ago the Northern Irishman began the Tour Championship atop the points list after a dominant run that included victories at two of the first three post-season stops only to watch the $10 million payday go to Brandt Snedeker in what can only be considered the game’s most expensive pencil whipping.

McIlroy has no problem with the often-skewed math that determines the yearlong champion, but he does have a score to settle.

“It would be the icing on the cake, really,” McIlroy said. “Before coming into these FedEx Cup playoffs, having won four times in a season, two majors, a World Golf Championship, the flagship event on the European Tour, it was going to be a great season anyway, I wanted to cap it off in style and I've given myself a chance to do that over the next two days.”

Although the math becomes a little complicated depending on the scenarios, the only outcome McIlroy is interested in is winning because at fourth on the playoff point list that would assure him the FedEx Cup regardless of what Horschel & Co. pull off.

And on Friday he moved to within 36 holes of the only prize in golf other than that green jacket that has eluded him with a dominant performance that is becoming far too familiar for some of his Tour frat brothers.

Although comparisons to Tiger Woods remain unrealistic, McIlroy’s name on a weekend leaderboard is starting to draw players’ attention the way the guy in the red shirt used to.

“Rory is a good front-runner and he is tough to catch when he is up. I look forward to the challenge,” said Rickie Fowler, who went head-to-head with McIlroy on Sunday at Royal Liverpool. “This summer he’s made his presence known a bit more.”

After turning in 2 under on Friday, three hours earlier than originally scheduled because officials moved up tee times in hopes of avoiding an approaching storm that never arrived, McIlroy pulled to within two shots of the lead with his two longest birdie putts of the day at Nos. 17 and 18.

Although he remains two shots off the lead, McIlroy has, as he has done all season, maintained a machine-like consistency according to every statistical matrix. He’s fourth this week in driving distance, first in approach shot distance to the pin, third in strokes gained-putting and first in distance of putts made.

It was the driver, however, that set up all those short approach shots and continues to separate him from the rest of the pack.

“I’m not quite as good as I was about a month ago, but I'm still driving the ball well,” McIlroy said. “I wouldn't say I'm driving it as good as I was driving it (at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) and PGA (he won both). But I'm still driving it good enough to give myself a chance to win this tournament.”

Even when he wasn’t perfect, like at the par-4 14th hole when his drive clipped a tree limb and ended up in a spectator’s pocket, he still managed to sidestep trouble and make par.

But then he’s used to the occasional wayward tee ball.

“I hit it off someone's leg at the Scottish Open this year,” smiled McIlroy. “I need to stop hitting it off line. Bad things happen.”

The way he is playing the 28 other players in this week’s field may be hoping for a few more adventures, say a few foul balls in the direction of Buckhead, to even the playing field because they’ve all seen these storm clouds before.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.