McIlroy in good form, eager to tame TPC Sawgrass

By Ryan LavnerMay 8, 2013, 6:46 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Perhaps it’s no coincidence that both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy described TPC Sawgrass this week as “tricky.”

Neither has fared particularly well here.

For all of his glittery accomplishments, McIlroy has yet to solve the mystery that is the Stadium Course, struggling mightily in the event that boasts the strongest field and the biggest purse.

He’s not alone, of course.

Woods’ lone triumph here was his better-than-most moment in 2001. Phil Mickelson has won only once, in ’07. Area residents Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk rarely contend at The Players, but Fred Funk and Tim Clark have won. Madness reigns.

But McIlroy hasn’t even seen Sawgrass on the weekend, owning the kind of record that only a butcher could love: CUT-CUT-CUT. In six career rounds here, he’s yet to break par.

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“This is a tricky golf course,” he said. “It’s a golf course where you look at the field and you’re like anyone can win. It doesn’t really suit any type of player. It’s one of these courses where the player who plays well that week will win.”

Pressed further about his oh-fer, McIlroy explained it thusly:

In 2009 (74-77), he arrived on-site after spending the week in Vegas. “That didn’t help.”

In 2010 (73-72), it was the week after his 21st birthday. “That didn’t help.”

And in 2012 (72-76), well, McIlroy didn’t really have an excuse. “I just didn’t play well,” he said.

Indeed, last year’s Players, remember, was the start of his abbreviated slump, a stretch of four missed cuts in five starts that cost him a chance at two majors. All was forgotten a few months later, of course, when his five-win season was capped by Player of the Year honors on both sides of the pond.

So, by comparison, McIlroy arrives here with a better mindset, a decidedly sharper game, even without a victory to his credit.

After switching equipment at the start of the season, he has shown signs of life with a backdoor top 10 at Doral, a runner-up in San Antonio and a sustained run in Charlotte.

Statistically, he’s sixth in driving distance (301.1 yards), 17th in scoring average (70.19) and fourth in greens in regulation (71.16 percent) – the latter being the surest sign yet that McIlroy’s ball-striking has returned to its previous heights.

Oh, no, that’s not quite right.

This is:

McIlroy – for all of the criticism he has endured for the better part of four months – is ranked No. 1 in the Tour’s all-around statistic. Yes, first.

“He’s starting to show signs of the old Rory coming back, no doubt,” Graeme McDowell said. “That golf swing doesn’t change; it doesn’t need a lot of oiling. He’s just kind of settling down to the new pressures on him that he’s put on himself with all these amazing deals and new equipment and trying to prove new things to new sponsors and new people, and trying to prove things to himself. It seems they’ve all settled down now, and he’s ready to play golf.”

McIlroy’s troubles at Quail Hollow came on the greens, which were so patchy and bumpy that several top-tier players decided to withdraw before the tournament.

The greatest challenge at TPC Sawgrass, however, isn’t the fiery, Bermuda grass greens. No, like virtually every Pete Dye track, it’s visually intimidating off the tee.

Landing areas that appear small but actually are quite generous.

Awkward angles from tee box to fairway.

Tricks and bumps and hollows and “funky spots.”

Said Woods, “If you’re not playing well, you’re going to get exposed.”

But McIlroy, it should be noted, has won his last two starts on Dye designs, Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course and Crooked Stick. At the PGA, he was dominant from Tee to Green and won by eight. At the BMW, he carried his drives over the fairway bunkers positioned some 290-295 yards away, a high-powered luxury much of the field didn’t have.

So what gives at Sawgrass?

“It’s interesting that all the top players have bad records around here,” McDowell said. “I think there is an acceptable level of mistakes and disasters, really, around this golf course. I’m sure guys like Rory and other top players that perhaps don’t love this golf course, they’re only a couple of rounds away from getting back in love with it.”

Perhaps so. But right now, McIlroy and TPC Sawgrass are feuding lovers in need of an intervention.

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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.

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.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.