McIlroy savors 'fun' Augusta trip, eyes serious return

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2015, 7:33 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy can only hope that his next trip to Georgia is just as enjoyable.

Last week he took his father to Augusta National for the first time. He played 45 holes, drank some expensive vino out of a club member’s wine cellar, and even snuck in a gym session with two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

It’s the stuff of bucket-list legend, a two-day itinerary that could bring back Robin Leach out of retirement.

And for Rory, it was just another weekday.

Heck, the biggest revelation during his news conference Wednesday was the fact that there’s a weight room on property at Augusta. McIlroy described the facility as “understated,” with most of the essentials, and … well … you remember where he hit his tee shot on 10 in 2011? Yeah. It’s right around there.

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, videos and photos

The sun hadn’t even considered coming up yet, and McIlroy was going through his usual pre-round workout. Then Tom Brady walked in. And then came Peyton and Eli Manning. Four legends, in shorts and a T-shirt, and it wasn’t long before McIlroy decided to take his 5-foot, 9-inch frame elsewhere and let the big boys go to work.

As for the golf, Team McIlroy lost its opening 36-hole match, but not all was lost. The beauty of Augusta is that a player gets more comfortable with each and every visit, and so McIlroy wasn’t compelled to intensely chart the course. He reacquainted himself with Augusta’s unique greens, played only one ball and shot in the 60s. All good.

Overall, he described the two-day, one-night excursion as “100 percent fun, 0 percent serious,” which is how most trips to Augusta in mid-March should be viewed. It was nice, he said, “to feel relaxed in there for a change and not feel on edge the whole time.”

Besides, he knows that it stands to be markedly different 22 days from now, when he begins the first round of the 79th Masters with a chance to become only the sixth player in history to complete the career Grand Slam.

Now comes the part that is 100 percent serious.

This week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational has a decidedly more business-like feel to it. It’s the beginning of a three-week stretch that is designed to ensure that his next trip to Augusta is as much fun as the father-son outing.

The world No. 1 is the odds-on favorite to win next month, but he has yet to break 70 in six rounds in Florida. That has raised more than a few eyebrows about his pre-Augusta form, but it’s worth remembering that he won in Dubai and has finished inside the top 15 in 13 of his last 15 worldwide starts. Even his C-game at Doral was good enough to post a T-9 finish.

For just the third time since 2009, McIlroy is not playing the week before the Masters. He is trying to adopt a similar approach to 2011, when he took off a month before the year’s first major, and it worked pretty well for 63 holes.

But without a final-week tune-up before Augusta, this week’s start at Bay Hill takes on an increased importance.

By no means is it win-or-bust, of course, but McIlroy at least wants to feel something – nerves on the first tee, anxiety while looking at the leaderboard, excitement while getting into the hunt on the back nine Sunday.

“I don’t think there’s any better way to prepare for a tournament than to get into contention (here),” he said.

After Doral, McIlroy had an unexpected visit from swing coach Michael Bannon. For five days they worked one on one, uninterrupted, rewinding footage on the coach’s camera and working out the numbers on TrackMan.

“I’m feeling much better about my game now than I was walking off Doral 10 days ago,” McIlroy said, and now he’s eager to tackle Bay Hill for the first time in competition.

Arnie’s Place should suit his game – it favors the long hitters, especially with wider fairways for this year’s event – and he expects to play well.

With no other trips to Augusta scheduled, McIlroy will spend the next two weeks at home in South Florida. He’ll encourage the superintendent at The Bear’s Club to shave the mounds around the putting surfaces and get the greens running as fast as possible, and he’ll likely play a few times at Seminole to test out his short game on its undulating greens.

Twenty-two days and counting. For Rory, it’s time to be 100 percent serious.

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.