McIlroy back under the microscope at Match Play

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 19, 2013, 7:55 pm

MARANA, Ariz. – That season debut – the one that included smoke tunnels and holograms and, eventually, one-armed follow-throughs – seems like a long time ago. So long, in fact, that when Rory McIlroy was packing his bags for this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, he briefly forgot how many shirts and pants to bring.

You’ll have to excuse the kid. It’s been 32 days since that missed cut in Abu Dhabi; 86 days since he won his 2012 season finale in Dubai; and 149 days since he last competed on the PGA Tour, at the Tour Championship.

Not much has happened since then, unless, of course, you count a two-time major champion changing equipment, becoming one of the freckled faces of the biggest companies in the world, appearing in two TV commercials, and, yes, shooting 75-75 with a large segment of the golf community watching, waiting to dissect every poor swing and every sour facial expression. So, like we said, not much.

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Like Tiger Woods before him, McIlroy now lives as the man under the microscope, a headline in perpetuity. It’s little wonder, then, that after Abu Dhabi the 23-year-old escaped to the French Alps with his tennis-star girlfriend, spent a few sun-splashed days in Monaco, and then finally returned to South Florida – where he has purchased a stunning, $9.5 million pad in Palm Beach Gardens – to begin the serious work of reestablishing his game with instructor Michael Bannon.

“I feel like I’ve turned a corner,” McIlroy said Tuesday at Dove Mountain. “I’ve got it back on track.”

Everyone with a microphone and some airtime has weighed in on those 150 strokes in Abu Dhabi. Some suggested his changing equipment was a fatal mistake. Others questioned why he didn’t add another tournament on the West Coast, even though, he said, “I don’t feel like I’m a guy that needs to play his way into form.”

McIlroy understood the backlash was coming, particularly if he didn’t play well in his first start. Distracted all week – “I was just glad to get to the first tee on Thursday,” he said – he bombed out with a missed cut, caused a mini-controversy by switching from his new Nike putter back to his trusty Scotty Cameron, and then disappeared for five weeks.

Yes, with the interest in him never greater, he got away – from the spotlight, the scrutiny and the expectations. He needed the break, perhaps more mentally than physically. He was exhausted, agitated, and it was manifesting itself on the course.

“It’s nice to sort of get away for a little bit and do my own thing and not be in the spotlight or have the attention so much,” McIlroy said. Later, he added, “(The scrutiny) is part of what we do. We’re under the spotlight. We’re going to get criticized from time to time, rightfully or wrongfully so. That’s just the way it is. It’s part of life.”

What will the reaction be like if McIlroy – the No. 1 overall seed, the No. 1 player in the world – loses in the Match Play’s opening round Wednesday to Shane Lowry, a good friend for the past decade, but also the last man to secure an automatic spot in the field, a stocky Irishman with just two pro titles to his credit?

It’s happened three times before, the No. 1 overall seed being sent packing after one day, after one round. (Heck, it happened last year, to Luke Donald.) Once, Graeme McDowell rolled his luggage through the locker room, defeated, before McIlroy had even gotten to the course. Unlike the NCAA basketball tournament, not much separates Nos. 1 and 64 over the course of 18 holes.

On Tuesday, Lowry was asked if he had any advantages against McIlroy, if only because he knows his game as well as anyone. “I don’t think anyone can have any advantages against Rory, to be honest,” he said, smiling.

Maybe so, but Lowry conceded that if he were to take down McIlroy in their first-ever meeting, “It would be one of the great stories of my career so far. I’ve got nothing to lose.”

They usually eat dinner together on the road, or play a practice round, the ultimate lesson in osmosis. (Not this week, of course.) Their relationship dates nearly a decade, when they played foursomes together for the Irish amateur team.

And when Lowry won his first event, as an amateur, at the 2009 Irish Open, guess who was one of the first players on the green to celebrate? And guess who was spraying the champagne? And guess who was the first to suggest that he turn pro afterward? McIlroy.

Lowry has since fortified his resume with a victory at the Portugal Masters last October, and here he is, faced with a potentially career-changing moment, hoping to validate his appearance here and knock off his good friend and, just maybe, create even more uncertainty atop the world order.

“There’s not many people expecting me to win,” Lowry said. “I’m just going to go out there all guns blazing.”

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

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J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''