Spieth, McIlroy resume compelling, friendly rivalry

By Rex HoggardJanuary 20, 2016, 11:40 am

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Rory McIlroy famously lists his goals for the upcoming year on his boarding card on his way to his first event of the new season.

Whatever the Northern Irishman penned onto that card on his way to Abu Dhabi – reclaim the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, win that elusive green jacket and complete the career Grand Slam, steer clear of pick-up soccer matches – the simplest and most direct route to most of those goals is through Jordan Spieth, who McIlroy will be grouped with for the first two rounds at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

While the names have changed, it’s a familiar feeling for the world’s third-ranked player. Although the Middle East kickoff is early and far removed from the pressure that looms at Augusta National and beyond, there’s something to be said for announcing your presence with authority.

“Teeing off on Thursday morning, it's your first competitive shot in a couple of months. To tee up alongside those guys, the excitement. There's a buzz about it,” said McIlroy, who will also be joined on Thursday and Friday by Rickie Fowler. “It was sort of the same last year with Rickie and the previous couple of years it was with Tiger [Woods]. You're teeing off the first round of your season and it feels like you're right into the thick of things at the start.”

McIlroy would go on to explain that there are 142 other players assembled for this week’s lead-off event that he’s just as keen to beat, but it’s the metaphorical match with Spieth that will make Abu Dhabi the center of the golf universe this week.

Abu Dhabi HSBC: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth seemed to embrace the gravity of the moment a little more profoundly, figuring that it’s best to acknowledge the elephant in the room than try and dance around it.

“I'm very excited about the pairing,” Spieth said. “We very rarely get this pairing and very rarely will we get it going forward. So we'll take advantage and try and really feed off of each other. We all want to beat each other pretty bad, so that should help us out within our group.”

The two players have been grouped together 10 times on the PGA Tour, with Spieth holding a 5-3-2 advantage in those head-to-head match ups.

The competitive reality, however, is Spieth and McIlroy have never been paired together on the weekend, when it counts. Contrived Thursday and Friday groupings are great for fans and broadcast partners, but for this to escalate into a true rivalry there needs to be a mano-a-mano exchange on a Sunday afternoon, preferably during a major.

Still, McIlroy has made it clear his desire to ascend back atop the world rankings after losing the top spot late last season after being sidelined with an ankle injury that had him miss the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

But in simplest terms those types of esoteric goals tend to sort themselves out if the results on the golf course are there. In other words, beating Spieth would go a long way toward that end (although, according to the world ranking math McIlroy can’t overtake Spieth even with a victory this week).

“I've made no secret about I want to get back to that position, and I'd like to do it as quick as possible. So it's definitely a motivation,” said McIlroy, who admits to checking the world ranking each Monday as a way of tracking his performance.

For McIlroy, this week’s desert swing kickoff is very much a friendly confines deal. He’s won four times in Dubai, including last month’s DP World Tour Championship to complete his season on the European Tour, has finished runner-up four times in Abu Dhabi and spent the last two weeks in the United Arab Emirates preparing for his 2016 debut.

Yet what Spieth lacks in familiarity he’s made up for with impressive early-season form after beginning his year earlier this month with a commanding eight-stroke victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions that wasn’t even as close as the score might suggest.

Where the much-anticipated rivalry goes from here depends on whether the stars and each player’s game align at the right time, just don’t expect even a trace of contentiousness between the dynamic duo. Both are genuinely endearing characters who seem to share a fondness for each other.

Truth is, the closest the two will get to a scrum this week occurred on Tuesday when they competed in something called the Rider Cup Desert Challenge, which pitted an American tandem (Spieth and Fowler) against a European duo (McIlroy and Henrik Stenson) in a race on a motorized GolfBoard.

“Jordan nearly took me out,” McIlroy laughed. “We collided halfway down the fairway. Thankfully I didn't fall off. It was really good fun.”

The looming collision between Spieth and McIlroy won’t be nearly as dangerous, but it has the potential to be infinitely more compelling.

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."