Tough start for McIlroy in Nike debut

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2013, 5:04 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – “It was not pretty,” the square-shouldered Nike Golf convert admits with little prompting.

Some would even say the transition was painful. Rounds of 75-74 to miss the cut in a player’s debut with a new equipment company always seems to create more anxiety however unfair the need for instant analysis may be.

No, said Swoosh staffer wasn’t Rory McIlroy – whose first week with Nike gear at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship has been dubbed a bust by many in the media, social or otherwise, following rounds of 75-75 to miss the cut.

The Nike player in question was Paul Casey, who in 2005 made the same jump from Titleist to Nike Golf with eerily similar results to McIlroy, save for the worldwide scrutiny that descended on the Northern Irishman following his short week in the Middle East.

“He’s going to get more (scrutiny), isn’t he? He’s going to get way more,” Casey said on Saturday in Abu Dhabi. “It just takes a little bit of time, that’s all. I’ll admit that I’m playing a new driver that I put in play at the end of last year, and I’m still not quite 100 percent flat out as comfortable as I used to be with my previous driver.”

For those who have endured a similar honeymoon with new equipment, the pointed discourse that followed McIlroy’s Middle East miscue is baffling, many pointing out it takes weeks, if not months, to find a comfort level regardless of the company or the player.

Tiger Woods, for example, took the better part of a decade to work his way into a full bag of Nike clubs, with the final piece (the putter) coming at the 2010 British Open.

“It takes two or three months until you’re there,” said Casey, who signed with Nike in 2005 and quickly points out he won in his first season with the new clubs (Volvo China Open). “It takes thousands of golf balls to know what that thing is going to do. I mean we are dealing with fractions. You get the clubface out by one degree, it’s whoosh ... ”

There was a lot of that on Days 1 and 2 in Abu Dhabi for McIlroy, who connected with just 13 of 28 fairways.

Although the frenzied focus was on McIlroy’s switch back to his old Titleist Scotty Cameron putter in Round 2, his post-round comments on Friday suggest he is more concerned with finding a driver that is to his liking.

“Really happy with the ball and the wedges. Putter is good on fast greens that I've practiced on, and I just need to probably find a driver that I'm comfortable with, because I didn't drive the ball at all well,” McIlroy said.

And that, any Tour type will tell you, takes time both on the practice tee and under the gun in tournament play.

“The last time I switched irons (2010), I can remember taking the irons out to AT&T (Pebble Beach National Pro-Am), and I was like, ‘These things aren’t going,’ and then three months later I was like, ‘These things go too far,’” Padraig Harrington said.

“We tend to get caught up how things are performing in an individual week. You need to have a big long stretch to test something. You want a period of time, two or three months, to understand your equipment.”

It’s also worth noting that McIlroy was hardly the only player to make a wholesale equipment change in 2013, although his status as the world’s top-ranked golfer and the rock-show like announcement on Monday in Abu Dhabi at least partially explains the hyper scrutiny.

Nick Watney and Kyle Stanley both switched to Nike Golf this year with similarly mixed results. Watney tied for 13th in his debut at the wind-shortened Hyundai Tournament of Champions, while Stanley struggled to rounds of 78-80-72 and finished 30th out of the 30-man field in Kapalua.

At the other end of the extreme makeover matrix is Thorbjorn Olesen, who was a respectable T-31 in his debut at last week’s Volvo Golf Champions and is tied for second through 45 holes in Abu Dhabi.

“I had a week last week (Volvo Golf Champions), and I think that helped me to learn about the irons and the ball. It helped a lot,” said Olesen, who began testing his new Nike gear late last year.

For McIlroy, his transition was always going to be a trial by fire, and with four weeks before his next start (WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship), the drumbeat of doubt promises not to subside any time soon.

Abu Dhabi was, Casey figured, always going to be a no-win situation without a win for the Ulsterman, the unrealistic way of an on-demand world. It’s a reality the Englishman is well aware of having missed the weekend in seven of his first eight PGA Tour starts with the Swoosh in 2005.

“If he didn’t win, I felt like he was going to get some kind of question. It didn’t matter what he did,” Casey said. “He’ll be absolutely fine.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.