Rory knows: It just takes a spark to ignite a run

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2017, 1:39 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – Rory McIlroy is capable of playing such mesmerizing, poetic golf that it’s a wonder how his game could ever go sideways.

But the only one who doesn’t seem to panic in those situations is McIlroy.

He knows he’s been here before – several times, in fact.

There was the months-long slump in 2013, brought on by an equipment change and off-course drama.

There was the bizarre stretch in 2014, when his Friday blowups would spoil a good tournament.

Even last year he was in the midst of a 15-month winless drought on the PGA Tour.

“I’ve had little periods like this before in my career,” McIlroy said Wednesday at Royal Birkdale, “and I’ve been able to bounce back from them. I was in worse positions than this. The pieces are all there. It’s just about trying to fit them together.”

The most important piece of all is his health, and that’s still a lingering issue.

McIlroy seemed poised for a monster year at the start of January, but he developed a stress fracture in one of his ribs after too much offseason equipment testing. That cost him eight weeks – prime tune-up time for Augusta – and even though he’s been able to practice more recently, he conceded that he’s still “conscious” of the injury and won’t be 100 percent until the start of 2018, following a prolonged break. Earlier this week, he discussed his concerns with Charles Howell III, who recently returned from a 10-week layoff for a similar injury.

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“It’s a Catch-22,” McIlroy said, “because you don’t want to hit too many balls and aggravate it too much again, but at the same time if you want to compete and win some of the biggest tournaments in the world, you have to put in the time and put in the practice. It can be a little bit difficult to find the right balance.”

And so far, it has eluded him. After a few promising results this spring, he enters The Open having missed the cut in three of his last four starts; the only time he played the weekend, at the Travelers Championship, he rallied for a T-17 after making the cut on the number.

His struggles – again, a relative term for a global superstar with four top-10s in 10 starts this year – prompted Steve Elkington to tweet that McIlroy, 28, was “bored playing golf” and content with his four majors and hefty bank account.

Now a married man, McIlroy was asked Wednesday if he’s still as ambitious now as he was a decade ago, when he began his Open career at Carnoustie.

“I know what I’ve achieved and I know what I can achieve. It only makes you want to do that even more,” he said. “Having that success, you only want to do that more. You want to emulate that and you want to do it again and again and again. I definitely haven’t lost the hunger that I’ve always had.”

So, no, it hasn’t been the year that he planned, but the major season is only half over – under normal circumstances, he’d be a massive favorite at PGA venue Quail Hollow, where he has won twice – and it could still be memorable if the pieces start to fit together.

In May, McIlroy announced a new equipment deal with TaylorMade, and he’s still trying to find the right combination. In recent weeks, he has played Russian roulette with his putters, trying out three different models in four days at the Travelers. On Wednesday, while heading to the range, he saw fellow TaylorMade staffer Jason Day on the practice putting green and chatted for 10 minutes, at one point grabbing his mallet-style model and rapping a few putts. The mental battle is ongoing, as he tries to forget the technical aspects of his stroke and just focus on the target.

His recent form and putting woes have engendered such little confidence among the betting public that he’s listed here at 20-1 – his lowest odds in years.

“Good time to back me,” he said with a smile.

Because McIlroy has a long memory.

Those sky-is-falling periods in 2013, ’15 and ’16? It’s worth remembering that he responded with one of the best years of his career, back-to-back Order of Merit titles, and a $10 million PGA Tour bonus.

None of his peers will be surprised if the pieces soon fit together, if he’s back to playing that mesmerizing, poetic golf again. They’ve seen it happen too many times.

“The one thing about Rory is as soon as you question him, he’ll do something special and turn it all around,” Justin Rose said. “It’s happened a few times in his career where people say he’s in a bit of a slump, and then he’ll win the FedExCup. You never worry about him from that point of view.”

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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.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.