TPC Boston braces for Monday madness

By Rex HoggardAugust 31, 2014, 11:12 pm

NORTON, Mass. – And now the most manic of Mondays.

In no particular order, Rory McIlroy is doing what Rory McIlroy does, Jason Day will be vying for his second PGA Tour victory of the season on what should still be a rehab assignment and a dozen other players will spend Labor Day either trying to impress a Ryder Cup captain or interpreting the FedEx Cup math.

Against that backdrop the University of Georgia’s Russell Henley will quietly set out in an SEC showdown paired in the final group with Florida’s Billy Horschel looking to complete the day’s hectic trifecta.

Henley posted a third-round 65 to move atop a congested leaderboard with an eye toward his second victory of 2014 and a possible nod from U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson when he makes his picks Tuesday evening.

But it will be McIlroy, who went one better than Henley with a 64 on Sunday, who will draw the most attention.

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It’s what happens when you’re poised to add a playoff high card to a single-season haul that already includes two major championships and a World Golf Championship with a power game that golf hasn’t seen since before Tiger Woods went on a Grand Slam hiatus.

“It’s so easy for him to do that because he’s so explosive,” explained Day, who began Round 3 tied for the lead but continued his back-nine slide at TPC Boston and is tied with McIlroy two shots out of the lead. “No course is safe when he is playing like he is right now.”

And no lead is safe.

Earlier this month the world No. 1 ran down Sergio Garcia to collect his first WGC crown at the Bridgestone Invitational after starting the last 18 holes four strokes back. After Sunday’s flawless display it won’t be the FedEx Cup scenarios that will occupy Henley’s thoughts on Monday.

After a slow start to the week with rounds of 70-69, McIlroy played the front nine in 3 under and added four more birdies coming in despite not making birdie at the par-5 18th hole, a tactical miscue he won’t repeat Monday.

“I had driver out today and then I was thinking, you're 7 under par for the round, you want to take the bad number out of play. At least I still had a chance of making a birdie, hitting a 5-wood on the fairway. I played it a little conservatively,” said McIlroy, who has played the finishing hole in 1 under par for the week.

For the Northern Irishman the Deutsche Bank Championship, and by extension the FedEx Cup, are the final items on his competitive “to do” list before he motors down Magnolia Lane next April looking to complete the career Grand Slam.

The season-long race eluded him in 2012 after he won three of his last five starts, including the PGA Championship and two playoff events.

This time, however, feels different. Unlike his title run in ’12, McIlroy’s aura has outpaced his actual play. Much like Woods before he was slowed by injury, when Rory makes a move the field notices.

“The biggest thing is there are no weaknesses in his game,” said Chris Kirk, who was paired with McIlroy on Sunday and matched him with a 7-under 64 to grab a share of third place. “Everyone talks about his power, but his speed on the greens is perfect and he can get to pins that we can’t.”

As he has done throughout this current run of brilliance, McIlroy is largely dismissive of his ability to play shock-and-awe golf.

“It feels normal,” McIlroy figured. “It’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s my job.”

As if that wasn’t enough to keep his attention, Henley, as well as Horschel, will have the added complexities of playing for a spot in next week’s BMW Championship – the two are 62nd and 82nd, respectively, on the FedEx Cup points list and the top 70 after Monday’s final round advance to the third playoff stop – and impressing Watson.

Although Henley, Horschel and Kirk were considered long shots to make the team that will travel to Scotland, a victory combined with the pedestrian play of many of the presumed favorites – including Brandt Snedeker who missed the cut and Hunter Mahan who is tied for 67th – could give Captain Tom, if not Henley, something else to think about.

“Ryder Cup, FedEx Cup - there’s always going to be something to talk about,” said Henley, who beat McIlroy in a playoff earlier this year at the Honda Classic. “Any week on the PGA Tour is big so I’m used to that whole deal. The harder I try the harder it is.”

But then it’s the Ryder Cup captains’ jobs that seem to become harder as they inch closer to the moment they announce their selections.

Earlier on Sunday Stephen Gallacher narrowly missed earning a spot on the European team with a third-place finish at the Italian Open and the Continent’s captain, Paul McGinley, may have a more difficult decision than his American counterpart.

The final European picks seem to be down to Gallacher, Ian Poulter (T-37 at TPC Boston), Lee Westwood and Luke Donald (T-67).

“It is tougher in terms of there are quite a few guys with a lot of experience that are not on the team for Europe,” Donald said. “(McGinley) may have to leave one or two of those guys out. When it comes to the U.S. picks, (Mahan) has played a couple, (Bradley) has played one. On the European side you have me, Poulter and Westwood who, combined, have probably played about 15 (Ryder Cup matches). It’s going to be tough for someone out there.”

It certainly will be tough for anyone trying to keep track of it all during the game’s most manic Monday.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.