McIlroy confident and comfortable at Honda Classic

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 28, 2014, 10:20 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy unsheathed his 3-wood, stepped behind the ball and contemplated how he was going to dissect his final hole of the day.

Like always, he stepped up to bat with a club twirl, danced in place until comfortable, gave three quick peeks at his target some 300 yards away, and uncorked the deceptively powerful swing that is the envy of teaching professionals everywhere. The ball had barely begun its ascent by the time he bent down to snatch the tee.

Over and over he pounded his tee ball Friday at PGA National’s Champion Course. He blasted it over bunkers. He cut off corners of doglegs. He blew it past his fellow playing competitors, including world No. 2 Adam Scott.

Finding the fairway makes the game easier for everyone, from major champions to weekend duffers. But for McIlroy, it’s different. He doesn’t need to lead the Tour in driving accuracy or center-cut every fairway. More important is how he feels over a tee shot, a confidence that then trickles down into every aspect of his game.

Afterward, he confirmed what everyone at the Honda Classic already knew:

“I’m confident,” he said. “I’m playing well.”

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After a rocky start to his second round, McIlroy made six birdies in his last 12 holes for a 4-under 66 and the halfway lead at the Honda. At 11-under 129, he is already just one shot off his winning total from 2012, when he held off Tiger Woods and reached world No. 1 for the first time.

That was the first victory in a five-win campaign that cemented his status as the heir apparent to Woods and led to a mega-millions deal with Nike. That guy is looking more and more familiar.

“A coach can tell you the perfect way to swing a golf club,” McIlroy said, “but once that little light bulb in your head comes on where you start to get it as well, you can start to own your own swing.”

That light bulb began to flicker on during the Asian swing last fall, when he gushed about finally finding the right driver-and-ball combination with Nike. Since then, he has finished in the top 11 in seven of his last eight stroke-play events, including a drought-busting victory at the Australian Open in December.

Confidence can be fleeting, even for the world’s best. Last year McIlroy could summon a few spectacular shots, even a dazzling round or two, but the peaks and valleys in his results damaged his belief. Now, he says, “I’m happy with where my swing is, and even if I do hit a loose shot, I can get over it much quicker and much easier because I have the confidence in what I’m doing.”

It’s why he didn’t get flustered early in his second round, when he made two bogeys in his first three holes. Watching McIlroy there was a here-we-go again quality to his start – after all, he has begun three of his last five stroke-play events with 65 or better, then failed to finish inside the top 5. But on Friday he regained control with birdies on 16 and 18, then roared ahead with birdies on 3, 4, 5 and 7, the latter two after holing 25-footers. No panic.

A day earlier, he was talking swing changes with Billy Horschel, with whom he hadn’t played since a practice round at last year’s U.S. Open. As they walked down the 15th hole, McIlroy demonstrated the various changes in his action – how last year, he had to reroute his downswing because he started it too far outside, and how, to compensate, he then tucked it too far inside and got across the line. He owns that swing now, to the point that he can express where it is now and eight months ago.

“He’s swinging better,” Horschel said. “I’m not a swing guru or anything like that, but I know when someone is swinging well what it looks like. He just didn’t look like he was swinging well last year.”

And he seems to have figured it out now, yes?

“(Expletive), you guys saw enough of it the last two days,” Horschel said, laughing. “The guy is swinging very free. He hit a lot of good shots, made a lot of good putts, looked comfortable and confident out there over the ball. … He’s always been a pretty good putter and he’s just confident now with his swing. Now, all he’s focusing on is playing golf.”

Indeed, McIlroy said this is the most dialed in he has felt since the 2012 FedEx Cup playoffs, when he won two events on his way to earning Player of the Year honors. “That’s when it was automatic,” he said.

Both then and now, his performance is predicated on how well he hits the tee ball.

Consider this: McIlroy had 15 top-5 finishes worldwide in 2012. Only twice in those events did he finish outside the top five in driving distance.

He leads here at the halfway point. No surprise, he is currently ranked third in driving.

It helps, too, that at last week’s Match Play he had a productive session with putting coach Dave Stockton, whom he hadn’t seen since Woods’ event in December. Occasionally his right hand drifts too far underneath the putter grip. With a slight change, his putter now chases down the line and stays lower to the ground. Through two rounds here, he has needed only 49 putts and leads the strokes gained-putting category.

“It’s obviously going in the right direction,” he said.

So is the rest of his game. Master Rory believes again. 

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.