Getty Images

McIlroy gets back on track in first event

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

Getty Images

Lexi involved in a(nother) rules controversy at LPGA Thailand

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 26, 2018, 2:50 am

Jessica Korda stole the show this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand, winning the star-studded event by four strokes in her first start since undergoing serious jaw surgery to address a significant overbite that led to ailments ranging from facial cramping to headaches to sleep apnea.

But just four strokes behind Korda finished Lexi Thompson, who may have challenged for the win on Sunday if not for another rules controversy during the second round of the event.

Thompson, who was famously assessed two two-stroke penalties last year at the ANA Inspiration that ultimately cost her the title, was hit with another two-stroke penalty on Friday in Thailand after she moved a sign out of her swing path at Siam Country Club.

The 23-year-old mistakenly thought a billboard on the 15th hole was a moveable object, when in fact, the local rule deemed this particular advertisement a "temporary immovable obstruction."

The two-stroke penalty was assesed after the round, where the par she made on the hole became a double bogey and what would have been a 66 ballooned into a 68.

Getty Images

After Further Review: JT may face serious Ryder Cup heckling

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 26, 2018, 2:09 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Thomas getting heckler thrown out ...

Justin Thomas polished off a playoff win at the Honda Classic despite the efforts of a fan who screamed for his ball to head for a fairway bunker on the 16th hole.

Thomas signaled for the fan to be ejected after striping his tee shot on No. 16, telling him, “Enjoy your day, buddy. You’re done.” It’s the second straight week that Thomas has had issues with fans, having bristled at some of the behavior he encountered while grouped with Tiger Woods at the Genesis Open.

Thomas’ stance is that golf has earned a reputation as a “classy sport” that should place it above jeering and catcalls from the gallery. It’s a view that is as noble as it is unachievable.

As long as tournaments continue to serve alcohol well into the afternoon hours, there will be outlier fans who will look to get a rise out of players with comments before, during or after swings. Thomas was within his right to ask for the fan’s removal, though I’d imagine the European fans planning to attend this year’s Ryder Cup in Paris might take note of the apparent impact the gallery can have on Thomas while in the heat of battle. – Will Gray


On the debate over rolling back the ball ...

The opening salvos in what promises to be one of the most polarizing eras in golf were exchanged this week. First, USGA CEO Mike Davis, via Jack Nicklaus, announced his arrival: “Mike said, ‘We’re getting there [on the distance issue]. We’re going to get there. I need your help when we get there,’” the Golden Bear explained when asked about the growing drumbeat to curtail how far modern players hit the golf ball.

A few days later, former Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein fired back: “Mike Davis has not told us (Acushnet/Titleist) that he is close and he has not asked us for help if and when he gets there.”

Perhaps this will turn out to be a misunderstanding and the game’s rules makers and manufacturers will all end up on the same sideline, but it doesn’t feel that way right now. Rex Hoggard


On Tiger turning up the notch on his comeback ...

It’s safe to say the Tiger Woods comeback is ahead of schedule. After looking lost with his long game in his first two starts of the year, he led the field in proximity to the hole and third in driving distance. He flighted and shaped shots both directions, seemingly at ease, looking nothing like the player we saw at Torrey and Riviera.

If that form continues at Bay Hill and beyond, this has the potential to be one of the greatest comebacks in golf history.  Ryan Lavner


On Korda's journey from pain to promise ...

Jessica Korda is the leader in the clubhouse for best story of the year in women’s golf. She won her first start of the season Sunday at the Honda LPGA Thailand just a little more than two months after undergoing a complex and painful double-jaw surgery to alleviate headaches caused by her jaw’s alignment.

She did so in record-breaking fashion, shattering tournament scoring records against a star-studded field that included the top six players in the world. If Korda can so quickly overcome the challenges of that daunting offseason, there is no telling what else this determined young American star might achieve this year.  Randall Mell

Getty Images

List loses playoff, may have gained performance coach

By Randall MellFebruary 26, 2018, 1:52 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Luke List didn’t win in his playoff with Justin Thomas Sunday at the Honda Classic, but he thinks he may have found a pretty good new performance coach.

The guy’s name is “Moose.”

He’s a former Australian rules football player.

Actually, his full name is Brent Stevens, a friend of List’s caddie, who put them on the phone together for the first time last week at the Genesis Open.

List liked a lot of the performance keys Stevens gave him and posted some of the advice in his yardage book, so he could reference them.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


“Effort over result” was one of the ideas List scribbled down.

“I feel like I've got the ability to play at this level,” said List, who was seeking his first victory Sunday at PGA National. “It just hasn't quite happened yet, but the more I think about it, I feel like the worse I do. So I focus on what's in front of me, the effort into the shot. I did a really good job of that this week.”

List said he’s interested in maybe visiting Australia to take Moose’s training to another level.

“He's a very fit dude,” List said. “He's got some clients that he brings down to south of Melbourne, to run the sand dunes,” List said, “and if we keep in contact, which I'm sure we will, I'm going to have to go down there and get my butt kicked.”

Getty Images

Both in contention, Thomas hears 'crickets' from Woods

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 26, 2018, 1:36 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods has become a friend, confidant and something of an adviser for Justin Thomas.

Whenever Thomas has been in contention in his young career, Woods has often texted him advice or good luck on the eve of the final round.

That wasn’t the case Saturday night after the third round of the Honda Classic.

“Got crickets last night,” Thomas said, laughing.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


That’s because Woods was in contention, too, beginning the final round seven shots off the lead.

“I knew he had one thing in mind, and we both had the same thing in mind,” Thomas said. “I thought that was pretty funny.”

Thomas added that he was “very impressed” with Woods’ 12th-place finish at PGA National.