McIlroy settling in to married life, equipment change

By Ryan LavnerMay 9, 2017, 7:18 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Fidgeting with his wedding ring, discussing his new, long-term equipment deal, Rory McIlroy officially launched the next chapter of his career Tuesday at The Players.

He is making his first start since the Masters, since he tested even more clubs, since he got married to fiancée Erica Stoll, since he finalized the deal with TaylorMade, since he shed a few pounds from his honeymoon and since he ramped up his preparation for a return to competition.

A hectic April, to be sure, and yet …

“With everything that’s gone on the last few weeks,” he said, “it seems like everything is very settled. There’s not many question marks going on in my life right now. I feel like everything is exactly where it’s meant to be, and if you feel like that off the golf course, then I can only imagine that it will help you on it.”

McIlroy better hope for a wedding bump, because his main competition is pulling away. On a tear since last year’s U.S. Open, Dustin Johnson has opened up a nearly five-point lead in the world rankings – over the past two decades, only Tiger Woods has enjoyed such a massive advantage.

“I can’t see him falling off or dropping off,” McIlroy said, “so it’s up to the other guys to try and catch him.”

Since DJ’s considerable shadow has obscured the rest of the Tour, it seems like eons ago that McIlroy last won. But since the Tour Championship, he has played only seven events – Johnson has 10 starts during that span – his progress derailed by an early-season rib injury. Since returning in March, he has finished seventh or better in all three stroke-play events, including at the Masters.

After falling short at Augusta, again, McIlroy suggested that he needed to make some changes with his game. That included a closer look at his equipment, and so he tested clubs for 10 days before being blown away by TaylorMade’s offerings, specifically its new ball, the TP5x.

The Players Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Said McIlroy: “I thought, Wow, this is what I need. This is exactly the thing that I’ve been struggling with.”

Everything else fell into place, and McIlroy, after hinting at an equipment change in an Instagram post on Monday, announced the lucrative, full-bag deal on Tuesday.

It’s a calculated risk, of course, switching out the entire bag. If he had enough rounds to qualify, McIlroy would rank first on Tour in strokes gained-tee to green.

“But I came to the conclusion that this was the best way forward for me to try and improve, try and win more, try to get back to world No. 1, try to win more majors, so I’m really excited about that,” McIlroy said. “It’s very rare that you get really excited about your equipment, but I feel like it’s a new chapter in my life, and it’s hopefully going to take me to the next level.”

That new chapter also includes his new life off the course. He married Stoll on April 22 at Ashford Castle in Ireland, a lavish wedding that included Masters champion Sergio Garcia and pop star Niall Horan and soul singer Stevie Wonder.  

No, McIlroy isn’t the only Tour player to get married this year – Valspar winner Adam Hadwin tied the knot in March – but he is the most famous. And just like every newly married man, he expects a learning curve as he adjusts to a different level of contentment.

“This game is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life, so I’ll always be determined, I’ll always be intense and try to get the most out of my game,” he said. “I don’t think that will change just because I’m married or not. My mentality on the golf course will just be the same. It might help me get over tough losses a little bit easier, but I don’t know – I’ll have to tell you what that time comes.”

But McIlroy isn’t completely settled – at least not yet.

The Northern Irishman is not a full-time resident in the States, so he can spend only 120 days in the U.S. and 90 in the United Kingdom. Now that he’s married to a U.S. citizen, however, he can establish a permanent residence here beginning on Jan. 1.

“I can’t wait to have a home,” he said. “I’ve been a bit of a nomad for the past few years.”

And settling down can have a significant benefit, right?

“Just being centered,” he said. “Now you know what you can go back to and what you have.”

And what McIlroy has is seemingly everything – an awe-inspiring golf game, a beautiful wife, a support system with family and friends, an abundance of riches.

What comes next, what he achieves, is entirely up to him.

“I’m in a great place in my life and I feel very settled and very lucky to be in this position,” he said. “Now it’s just about trying to make the most of the good fortune that I’ve had.”

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.