Woods, McIlroy set to face off again in Round 3 at Abu Dhabi

By Rex HoggardJanuary 27, 2012, 5:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Abu Dhabi will never be confused for Cherry Hills and regardless of how the cosmic tumblers fall on Sunday, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are still the game’s ultimate two-ball, but as destiny intervened late Friday it became apparent that Woods-Rory McIlroy is the premier undercard.

This week’s European Tour mixer isn’t the 1960 U.S. Open and it seems unlikely we will recall the 2012 season-opener in the same revered tones that we do that epic clash in Colorado that featured three of the game’s greats – Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus – converging on a single crossroad. Yet as Woods and McIlroy continue on their collision course it becomes fashionable to envision something special.

When Woods and McIlroy set out on Tuesday for a nine-hole practice round, an impromptu opportunity that was of Woods’ making, it was a footnote.

Video: Tiger talks after Round 2

Video: Rory discusses his two-stroke penalty

When they found themselves grouped together for Rounds 1 and 2 with Luke Donald, the threesome’s cellophane man despite his status as the world’s top-ranked player, it had all the markings of a contrived attempt at drama.

But when Saturday’s tee sheet was released late Friday it was equal parts surprising and suspicious that Woods and McIlroy, considered by many the game’s present and future, would be grouped again.

Instead of going off in twosomes on Saturday, which is tradition on most tours, the European Tour switched to threesomes. Officials made the change because of the limited daylight this time of year and a crowded (69 players made the cut) weekend field.

Those who subscribe to fate would say the grouping is destiny, a fortunate happenstance that delivers an extra level of intrigue. The more cynical would likely question the European Tour’s motives.

This was, after all, the first time the two had been grouped together in an official event. They were paired in Round 2 at the 2010 Chevron World Challenge, a matchup Woods won by four strokes, and were paired in a nine-hole exhibition match at the 2010 Memorial Tournament.

Through 36 holes, the two have played to a draw, McIlroy handicapped by a two-stroke penalty on No. 9 on Friday and Woods a belligerent putter on Day 1. Both overcame to move to 5 under and earn a spot alongside Robert Karlsson on Saturday.

“I enjoy his company and we have good chats around the course,” said McIlroy, who rallied on the back nine to sign for a 71. “It will be a good buzz.”

Among the 22-year-old’s gifts seems to be an ability for understatement. Saturday’s buzz promises to exceed simply “good.”

This collision course began in 2010 when the Ulsterman crossed the line, however innocently, when he was asked if he’d like to play Woods at the upcoming Ryder Cup in Wales.

“I would love to face him. Unless (Woods’) game rapidly improves in the next month or so, I think anyone in the European team would fancy his chances against him,” he said.

That duel never materialized, but McIlroy’s eight-shot masterpiece last year at Congressional only raised the expectations of the budding rivalry.

Although there was plenty of interaction between the two during Tuesday’s practice round and even on Day 1, both players seemed to revert to matching competitive blinders on Friday as the stakes increased incrementally.

“(On Thursday) he struggled a little bit off the tee and got up-and-down quite a bit,” Woods said. “Today he hit the ball a little bit better. He got off to a poor start and had a couple bad holes but overall he grinded his way around the golf course today.”

Some would say McIlroy’s two-day effort was downright Tiger-esque. On Thursday he turned what should have been a 72 or 73 into a 67 thanks to just 25 putts. On Friday he rallied after being saddled with a two-stroke penalty on the ninth hole with a 2-under back nine.

Meanwhile, Woods is beginning to look more like the guy who finished 2011 third (Australian Open)-first (Presidents Cup)-first (Chevron), instead of the player who hasn’t posted an official win in two years.

“He’s controlling his ball flight and knowing he’s giving himself plenty of chances,” McIlroy said of Woods. “He’s got this little 3-wood shot in the bag that he’s hitting an awful lot that looks like he can hit it all day.”

No, historians probably won’t chronicle this Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship as the week McIlroy assumed the role as Woods’ primary rival, although Mickelson’s continued swoon may expedite that transition. But if the stars continue to align properly over the desert, he may finally give Woods what he’s lacked his entire career – a rival with staying power.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.