Open Championship not as interesting without Rory

By Rex HoggardJuly 8, 2015, 7:53 pm

The 144th Open Championship just got less interesting.

Sure, Jordan Spieth will be looking to secure the third leg of the single-season Grand Slam and Tiger Woods is returning to the site where he won two of three claret jugs with something that resembles decent form, but without Rory McIlroy, it just won’t be the same.

The world No. 1 announced via Instagram on Wednesday that after rupturing a ligament in his left ankle playing soccer two days ago, he would be unable to return to St. Andrews to defend his title.

“After much consideration, I have decided not to play in the Open Championship at St. Andrews. I’m taking a long term view of this injury and, although rehab is progressing well, I want to come back to tournament play when I feel 100% healthy and 100% competitive. Thank you all for your support and best wishes. I hope to be back on the course as soon as I can,” he wrote.

While much of the golf world continues to fixate on the “kick about” that landed McIlroy on the disabled list – as if a 26-year-old should lock himself away when something as important as a major championship is hanging in the balance – the real talking point should be the impact his absence will have on next week’s event and beyond.

With the makings of a bonafide rivalry emerging between McIlroy and Spieth, this certainly seems like a potentially historic missed opportunity.

Spieth will still be eying Grand Slam history at the Old Course, but it will be missing the buzz that would have come with a potentially historic duel with Rory on such an iconic venue.

The two have traded titles with regularity this season, with Spieth striking first with his victory at the Masters. The Northern Irishman answered with convincing triumphs at the WGC-Match Play and at the Wells Fargo Championship in May.

Spieth won last month’s U.S. Open, essentially putting the ball in McIlroy’s court, but now that answer will have to wait.

“It's unlucky, it's unfortunate, and I'm sure he's taking it harder on himself than anybody else,” Spieth said Tuesday at the John Deere Classic. “But I don't think he did anything wrong, it just was an unfortunate situation, and hopefully he rebounds quickly and gets back right to where he was.”

Spieth’s comments go well beyond that of a friend or interested bystander. In many ways having a healthy rivalry is as important to a player’s legacy as his record.

Arnold Palmer had Jack Nicklaus, Nicklaus had Tom Watson, even Woods had a revolving cast of would-be contenders from Ernie Els and Vijay Singh to Phil Mickelson to add a level of intrigue to all of those milestones.

A victory for Spieth at St. Andrews won’t be diminished by McIlroy’s absence – let’s be honest, if Jordan leaves Scotland with the third leg of the Grand Slam there will be little talk of ligament damage and ongoing therapy – but the best in any sport crave the competition more than the championships.

So far, the rivalry between the two young players has been good natured, competitively heated and very much a two-way street, which are the central tenets of a good rivalry.

In May, following his victory at the WGC-Match Play, McIlroy was asked how he planned to spend his birthday, which was the next day.

“Every Monday morning I go onto the website and look at what my lead [in the Official World Golf Ranking] is,” he said at Harding Park. “Tomorrow will be the same. It’s nice to be in that position.”

It was a telling glimpse into the competitive elements that make a good rivalry and why a Rory vs. Jordan showdown at this year’s majors was so compelling.

Next week’s Open will be entertaining, it always is at the Home of Golf, and Spieth may well make history, but it could have been historic.

Getty Images

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.  

Getty Images

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.” 

Getty Images

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.”

Getty Images

Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.