Stroker Ace: McIlroy in the grip of cross-handed putting

By Rex HoggardMarch 6, 2016, 12:41 am

DORAL, Fla. – Rory McIlroy was worried about the perception he was copying Jordan Spieth.

Turns out, that’s not a bad thing.

For the last two days your front-runner at Doral has needed just 50 putts on his way to a three-stroke lead. He ranks 11th in strokes gained-putting, has converted 49 of 55 attempts from 10 feet and has generally breezed his way around to a 4-under 68 on a windswept and demanding golf course.

“I've seen Rory play some great golf. I think he's going to be very satisfied with that round,” said Adam Scott, who was paired with McIlroy on Saturday. “It looked like he was under total control. He scrambled when he had to. He executed a lot of great shots. He drove the ball great.”

Unmentioned in Scott’s assessment was McIlroy’s putting this week, which fell under a particularly intrusive microscope when he revealed via social media that he’d switched to a cross-handed putting grip.

McIlroy’s putting has always been the lone blind spot in an otherwise flawless game. It’s not as though the Northern Irishman has ever been a bad putter, as if that’s possible for someone who ascends to No. 1 in the world and collects multiple majors, but by contrast to the rest of his game there has always been room for improvement.

It’s interesting that it wasn’t a fear of the unknown or the predictable awkward moments that come with a new putting stroke that gave McIlroy pause to switch.

It was, in fact, the perceived notion that he was following Spieth’s example to the cross-handed crossroads.

WGC-Cadillac Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I've been playing it around in my head a little bit about making the switch, and the one thing that I was sort of worried about was the McIlroy-copying-Spieth,” McIlroy said on Friday. “That was my big thing.”

You can call Rory a copycat, figure him a Johnny-come-lately, chide him for being late to the dance; but on Saturday there was only one title that mattered to the world No. 3 – 54-hole leader.

This is, after all, a guy who has converted 6-of-8 outright 54-hole leads in his Tour career and is keen to rejoin the conversation after an ankle injury sidelined him last season.

Yes, yes, McIlroy is impressive with his driver – like on the 18th hole on Saturday when he obliterated his tee shot 324 yards, some 20 yards deep of Scott, into a hurting wind.

But it’s been his putting and that cross-handed grip that has made the difference at Doral.

For the first time this year McIlroy pieced together a bogey-free round on Saturday thanks, in large part, to key par saves at No. 12 from 8 feet and the 18th hole from 6 feet.

“Just look at some of the saves I had out there today and some of the big par putts; those were the things that were missing over the past three or four tournaments,” McIlroy said. “To be able to correct that and go out and play in a final group on a Saturday in a golf tournament like this on a golf course like this, and play bogey-free, it gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

There will be a rush to judgment that McIlroy’s cross-handed experiment is an instant success, that he’s effortlessly made a transition it takes others years to manage.

But as is the case with every aspect of a top player’s game, the road to renewal has been well-traveled for McIlroy.

McIlroy explained that after missing the cut at last week’s Honda Classic he spent four days, two hours a day honing a stroke that wasn’t exactly foreign to him.

“So I've put the work in and I've kept putting the work in,” said McIlroy, who putted cross-handed briefly when he first turned pro in 2008. “I've found a really nice routine that I go through before every round now, and you see me sort of holing putts from all around the hole from 3 feet, 6 feet, 9 feet, and that gives me a nice feel before going out there.”

Maybe the most impressive part of McIlroy’s transition to cross-handed is that it was a self-made move. Like all aspects of his game, he wanted to “own” his new stroke and only after hours of practice did he send a video to Dave Stockton Sr., who has worked with Rory on his putting in recent years.

According to McIlroy, Stockton liked what he saw, which is no surprise considering that two weeks ago at Riviera the putting guru explained that Rory is at his best when uses his left hand to putt.

“I didn't seek anyone out, but I guess I sent videos to a couple of people for confirmation more than anything else,” McIlroy said. “But it felt really good to me from the start. I think when something does feel that right, you just have to go with it.”

If imitation is the best form of flattery consider McIlroy’s shift to “Spieth’s” putting grip a success for everyone involved, and it didn’t hurt that the two were paired together the first two days at Doral, giving McIlroy a chance to see up close the game’s best putting stroke.

“I stood up on the podium yesterday saying I didn't want that perception of me copying Jordan, but that hasn't really been the case this week,” McIlroy said.

Not to mention that if McIlroy wins on Sunday it would be a much more welcome comparison to Spieth.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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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.”