Amid criticism, McIlroy in control of work-life balance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2013, 3:00 pm

GULLANE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy walked through the entrance of the media center, climbed onto the dais, sank into a dark leather chair behind the podium and buried his head in his iPhone, tapping out a quick message before his therapy appointment … no, his interrogation ... OK, really, his scheduled interview session. The moderator, as if it to drive home the point, introduced McIlroy not as the current second-ranked player in the world but as the “former world No. 1.”

When you’re mired in an 0-for-13 slump, everything seems like a slight.

Over the past few weeks McIlroy has taken heat from all corners, as if he’s locked in a sauna. And these aren’t just sideswipes from anonymous Internet commenters. These are boldfaced names, legends of the game, presumably some of the most authoritative voices on the subject.

Jack Nicklaus has weighed in. He thinks McIlroy has become a bit too “leisurely,” that a little pressure to perform could propel him out of his yearlong slump.

Johnny Miller, as is his wont, offered his opinion. He thinks Rory is in love, and that such a dizzying feeling can be “distracting.” (For what it’s worth, he also doesn’t like McIlroy’s open shoulder position at address.)

And, most recently, Nick Faldo shared his thoughts.

The only person seemingly untroubled by the world No. 2’s current struggles? That would be McIlroy himself.

“I think, 'What’s the big deal?'” he said Wednesday at Muirfield. “I haven’t had the best six months, but it’s OK. I’m fine. I’ve got a good life. You know, it doesn’t bother me. I’m in a good place. I’m working hard. I feel like I’m working on the right things. And sooner or later, it will turn around and I’ll be back lifting trophies.”

Faldo’s criticism, in particular, dominated much of the headlines here earlier this week. “You have a window of opportunity,” the six-time major winner said. “You have, say, a 20-year window as an athlete. Concentrate on golf, nothing else.”

That’s precisely what Faldo did. He approached golf like he would a business. He arrived at the course at 9 a.m., hit balls all day, and left at 5 p.m. To him, that was a productive day. To him, the fun could (and should) wait. He sought, in order, greatness and then happiness.

McIlroy isn’t wired that way, and that’s OK, too. Sure, he puts in the time with his game – he has played 108 holes at Muirfield since last Monday – but he also enjoys his charmed life. He spends time with his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. He travels the globe. He acts 24 years old.

“Nick should know how hard this game is at times,” McIlroy said, “and he’s been in our position before. He should know how much work that we all put into it.”

When asked if he could ever foresee a day when he approached golf like Faldo, McIlroy didn’t hesitate: “No. I’m not like that.”

Certainly he isn’t naïve enough to think that any downturn in performance wouldn’t result into a full-blown crisis. He’s the 2012 Player of the Year, the phenom who won two majors by eight shots, the kid who was made fabulously wealthy by Nike. Now, and for the foreseeable future, whatever he does will draw attention.

The only other golfer who has experienced such ultrascrunity: Tiger Woods. He’s been microanalyzed ever since he greeted us with “Hello, world.” Maybe earlier.

This week, Woods recalled being criticized when he changed his swing after winning the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, and then again in 2002, after a stretch in which he won seven of 11 majors.

Only eight months of sharp criticism? In Woods’ world, that’s a reprieve.

“Only (McIlroy) knows it’s for the betterment of his game,” Woods said. “People obviously speculate and analyze and hypothesize about what he should or shouldn’t do, but deep down he knows what he’s doing.”

Perhaps no player in the past few years has given more thoughtful remarks about McIlroy than Graeme McDowell. Not surprisingly, he offered a word of caution before dismissing his friend and fellow countryman either this week or this season: “I want to say this time 12 months ago Rory McIlroy’s form wasn’t very good either, and he proceeded to have an incredible last six months of the season.”

But that’s only partly true. McIlroy’s “slump” last year lasted only eight events, or 3 1/2 months, and during that span he had only one more missed cut (four) than top 10 (three). In other words, he showed signs of busting out of his summer swoon.

That hasn’t been the case this year, not yet at least. His only legitimate chance to win came at the Valero Texas Open, the week before the Masters, where only 11 players in the OWGR top 50 were in the field. Since then, he has produced only two other top 10s, and he has played just 36 holes since the U.S. Open. Depending on the week, he’s either completely lost or tantalizingly close to a breakthrough, the margin of error seemingly as thin as a scorecard.

142nd Open Championship: Articles, videos and photos

Which brings us to this week’s Open at Muirfield.

McIlroy described the current state of his game as “promising,” which sounds like neither a ringing endorsement nor a death sentence.

In truth, this week’s test of links golf may be what McIlroy needs to shake out of this malaise. Here, a player thinks not about positions or swing thoughts but about shot shape, ball flight and angles. His recent form has lowered expectations – currently a 25-1 favorite – and his Open record is poor, with just one top-20 finish (2010) in five career starts.

Rest assured, if McIlroy struggles at the year’s third major, the chorus of critics will grow louder still.

Another legend will step forward and explain, yet again, what is wrong with Rory McIlroy.

And how will he respond?

“I think the best thing is to try and stay oblivious about what people are saying about you, to try and wrap yourself in a little bubble,” he said. “It’s hard to avoid at times, but you just have to have the confidence and the self-belief that you’re doing the right things and know that what you’re doing is ultimately going to get you to the place that you want to be.”

Which is, of course, being a prolific major winner who can also enjoy the spoils of his success.

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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.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)