#AskLav: Unfortunate timing for McIlroy news

By Ryan LavnerOctober 17, 2013, 12:12 pm

Unfortunate timing, these latest Rory McIlroy reports. Because during the soft opening to the 2013-14 PGA Tour season – or whatever you’re calling it these days: the Silly Season, the Fall Series, or the What-I-Watch-When-A-Boring-Football-Game-Is-On Swing – any semblance of news involving a former world No. 1 immediately goes above the fold.

It’s particularly unfortunate for Rory, of course, because these headlines have little to do with his on-course form (for now) but instead concern his relationship – that he and his longtime girlfriend reportedly booked a one-way ticket to Splitsville – and his ongoing lawsuit with his former management team, including an embarrassing claim that McIlroy signed his deal with Horizon Sports while at a Christmas party and without first seeing a draft of the contract. (Too much eggnog, perhaps?)

The former story is none of our business. The latter could become messy, if it hasn’t already, especially given the expected trial date (October 2014, a month after the 2014 Ryder Cup, where McIlroy and former stablemate Graeme McDowell will likely team up) and the early leaks of how much he is expected to bank from various endorsement deals over the next five years (reportedly at least $129 million).

Yes, these are the perils of being a high-profile athlete, but they come in the wake of arguably his most difficult season yet, from the oft-scrutinized equipment change to the walk-off to the bad swing habits and mediocre results. Add it all up, and it was a forgettable year (with six more starts to go).

As one loyal mailbag reader (and esteemed peer) tweeted to us Wednesday, the real question now has little to do with Wozzilroy. It is this:

So, enough pillow talk. Were tackling that question and more in this weeks #AskLav mailbag:

Rory had 10 top 10s in 16 starts in 2012. That included five worldwide wins, including two in the playoffs. That included a major. He was first in scoring average. He was second in the all-around ranking. Across the pond, he captured the season-long Race to Dubai. It was a career season, at age 23.

And then this year happened. His best chance to win came in San Antonio, when the rest of the worlds elite were back home preparing for the years first major. He didnt win, he had only five top 10s in 16 starts and he failed to reach the Tour Championship but really, his 2013 stats were reasonably similar to what he showed in 2010 and 11 ' when he was brilliant and unremarkable in equal measure. His greatness came in spurts. Would McIlroy have continued his worldwide tear in 2013 had he not changed his equipment and fallen into bad habits? Thats impossible to know, of course, but this much seems certain: You cant summon winning golf when your mind is elsewhere.

Ko, and Im not sure itll be particularly close. At 16, she is already No. 5 in the Rolex Rankings and a two-time LPGA winner. Guan, who turns 15 later this month, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur and made the cut at Masters, where he relied not on strong ball-striking but rather sublime putting (no three-jacks on those perilous greens) and sound course management (made no worse than bogey in four rounds). Of course, its reasonable to expect that he will only get bigger and stronger and better, but Ko, less than two years older, is already contending in majors. She possesses world No. 1-caliber talent playing on a tour that isnt nearly as deep.

Yes, but truth to tell we thought the same thing in 2012 and 13 and here we are. Tiger will be the prohibitive favorite at each major he plays next year, and not just because hes the world No. 1 coming off a five-win season. He has won four times at Augusta, though not since 2005. In two U.S. Opens at Pinehurst, he finished T-3 (1999) and solo second (05). He won the last time the Open was held at Royal Liverpool, back in 06. And when the PGA was last contested at Valhalla, in 2000, guess who hoisted the hardware? TW. So, yes, he has plenty of good memories with the 2014 major venues ' and it still guarantees absolutely nothing.

Low blow, though in fairness I, too, thought my Dawgs would lose to Missouri. After all, it was asking a lot to knock off a hungry, undefeated team when youre missing two world-class running backs, three of your four best wide receivers, and the Swiss-cheese defense cant even stop a mailman. Still, UGA has a good shot to win the SEC East and reserve a spot at the championship table with Alabama. Your Tigers, meanwhile, are due for a market correction.

Three of the next four Ryder Cups (through 2020) are at courses that should be familiar to many players and fans ' Gleneagles, Hazeltine and Whistling Straits. On the docket for 2018 is Paris Le Golf National, which has hosted the French Open for a number of years. As for the Presidents Cup, we know only that its heading to the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in South Korea in 2015, which effectively neutralized any advantage the Internationals might have enjoyed. I never have been a fan of gussying up a regular Tour stop, like what we saw earlier this month at Muirfield Village. Theres no mystery, no strategy. Thats why the cup at Royal Melbourne was such a treat in 2011, and not just because its one of the worlds best courses. It was unfamiliar to many.

Fortunately for you, this scribe has mini-tour talent on the drums. Owned a drum kit as a kid/teen, and I would Hulk-smash on the cymbals late into the night. Even now, when crippled by writers block, Ill close my eyes and tap on the table for a few minutes, much to the displeasure of those nearby.

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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.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.