Ten years after pro debut, McIlroy at crossroads

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2017, 4:12 pm

It was 10 years ago Monday that Rory McIlroy turned professional, and all he’s done since is win four majors, hold the No. 1 world ranking for 95 weeks and become the most electrifying player of the post-Tiger Woods era.

But perhaps it’s fitting that this landmark falls today, with McIlroy at a professional crossroads.

It’s been a transitional year, both on and off the course, and Sunday marked the end of a disappointing PGA Tour season in which he couldn’t even qualify for the Tour Championship a year after he captured the season-long title.

He battled an injury all year, leading to a stop-start schedule and compensations with his swing.

He dumped his longtime caddie and now heads into a long offseason in need of a full-time looper.

He got married in April.

And he plummeted to No. 8 in the world – interesting because it’s not only his worst position since spring 2014 (and figures to get worse, with an extended layoff), but four of the players ranked ahead of him are younger.


Photos: Rory McIlroy through the years


How McIlroy responds will dominate the run-up to next year’s Masters, but this is more a time for reflection than projection.

His evolution has been remarkable to watch.

After all, he arrived on the scene as a pudgy, mop-haired kid from Holywood. Now, save for an injured rib, he is arguably the most physically fit player on Tour.

Both of his parents, Gerry and Rosie, worked extra jobs to help fund Rory’s dream of becoming a professional golfer. Now, he is rich beyond his wildest dreams, raking in $50 million last year alone.

After signing his professional papers in ’07, McIlroy has won four majors (most of any player in that time frame), captured the PGA and European tours’ season-long title a combined four times, and starred on three victorious Ryder Cup teams.

Perhaps most interestingly, though, McIlroy is known now for more than just his sterling playing record.

In an era of aggressive over-management by p.r. reps, the 28-year-old has become one of the sport’s most refreshing voices, unafraid to sound off on a variety of topics – from the Olympics to drug testing, from a club’s exclusive membership practices to course setups, from Tiger to Trump.

His news conferences at majors often are appointment viewing, and McIlroy, like so many of today’s young stars, remains engaging, interesting and thoughtful.

Indeed, it’s a testament to McIlroy’s candor and likability that he’s been able to emerge relatively unscathed from a series of controversies over the past decade. The high-profile equipment changes. The nasty split with his management team. The wedding-invitation breakup.

His gaps between victories might vary, but rarely does he go weeks without a headline.

McIlroy plans to go dark this fall, however, after teeing it up at the British Masters and the Dunhill Links – his last chance to continue his streak of at least one win since 2008 – and there is much to consider.

Steve Elkington memorably questioned McIlroy’s motivation earlier this year, and there’s little doubt that the former Boy Wonder is at a different place in his life: happily married, in the process of renovating the couple’s new home in South Florida, and thinking about starting a family in the next few years. His health is now the top priority; the past few months he has played away from pain, relying mostly on draws to avoid discomfort. His wedge game and putting also need work if he’s to regain his rightful place as golf’s alpha dog.

Still, the landscape has changed dramatically since he won the most recent of his four majors, in August 2014. Jordan Spieth has won three majors; at times, Dustin Johnson has looked unbeatable; Jason Day, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka all have broken through, and players like Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm don’t appear far behind. The attributes that made McIlroy so dominant – the outrageous length, the red-hot putting, the swagger – now are shared by much of the game’s elite.

Only McIlroy knows what can give him an edge again. But here’s hoping that he finds that spark, that he makes his second decade as a pro as fruitful and entertaining as his first.

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Sharma closes on Monday, wins Joburg Open

By Associated PressDecember 11, 2017, 12:43 pm

JOHANNESBURG – Shubhankar Sharma won his first European Tour title by a shooting 3-under 69 Monday in the final round of the weather-delayed Joburg Open.

The 21-year-old Indian resumed his round on the eighth green after play was halted early Sunday afternoon because of storms. He parred that hole, birdied No. 9 and made par on every hole on the back nine.


Full-field scores from the Joburg Open


Sharma finished at 23-under 264, three strokes ahead of the pack, and qualified for next year's British Open, too.

''I actually wasn't going to come here about a week ago ... so I'm really happy that I came,'' said Sharma, who shot 61 in the second round. ''I don't think I'm ever going forget my first time in South Africa.''

Erik van Rooyen (66) was second, three strokes ahead of Shaun Norris (65) and Tapio Pulkkanen (68).

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 pm
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Sharma among three Open qualifiers at Joburg Open

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:16 pm

Shubhankar Sharma earned his first career European Tour win at the rain-delayed Joburg Open and punched his ticket to The Open in the process.

Sharma returned to Randpark Golf Club Monday morning after storms washed out much of the scheduled final day of play. Beginning the re-start with a four-shot lead, he hung on to win by three over South Africa's Erik Van Rooyen.

Both men can make travel plans for Carnoustie next summer, as this was the second event in the Open Qualifying Series with three spots available for players not otherwise exempt who finished inside the top 10. The final spot went to Shaun Norris, who tied for third with Finland's Tapio Pulkkanen but had a higher world ranking (No. 192) than Pulkkanen (No. 197) entering the week.

The Joburg Open was the final official European Tour event of the year. The next tournament in the Open Qualifying Series will be the SMBC Singapore Open in January, where four spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 6, Dustin Johnson

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:00 pm

Only Dustin Johnson could win four times in 2017 and it still feels as though he underachieved.

That’s unfair, perhaps, but it’s a testament to Johnson’s awesome ability – and his incredible run of form last spring – that observers can’t help but shake the feeling that his year could have been even better.

In February, he rose to the top of the world rankings for the first time, the culmination of a long, bizarre journey in which he often battled himself (through major blunders and, reportedly, drug-related suspensions) as much as his peers. Johnson’s blowout victory at Riviera was his first of three consecutive titles (including two WGCs), as he achieved Tiger-like levels of dominance and rolled into the Masters as the prohibitive favorite.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


Expectations for this star-crossed talent are always different, and so the surprise wasn’t that he blew that major but that he didn’t even give himself a chance. In one of the biggest stunners of the year, Johnson’s manager announced on the eve of the first round that his client had suffered a back injury while slipping on a set of stairs in his rental house. Just like that, the year’s first major was thrown into chaos, with Johnson unable to play – the line of demarcation in his good-but-not-great year.

Though he added a playoff victory at the end of the season, Johnson failed to factor in any of the remaining three majors and was surprisingly inconsistent, perhaps because of swing compensations after the injury.

Would DJ have denied Sergio Garcia a green jacket? Would he have created even more separation at the top of the world rankings? Would he have defended his Player of the Year title? Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

In typical DJ fashion, he left us to ponder what could have been.

Johnson becomes world No. 1, starts season with three straight wins

Article: Johnson officially ascends to No. 1 for first time with Riviera win

DJ on reaching No. 1: 'It's been a long journey'

View from the top: How long will DJ stay at No. 1?

Article: DJ's star once again shines brightest at WGC-Mexico

DJ on win: 'Means a lot' with the pressure of No. 1

DJ breaks it down: How No. 1 won WGC-Mexico

Video: DJ withstands Rahm's rally to win WGC-Match Play final

DJ on beating Rahm: 'I didn't give him anything'

Johnson: 'I definitely didn't play my best today'


Johnson enters Masters as odds-on favorite, withdraws after falling down stairs

Article: After uneasy warmup, DJ withdraws from Masters

Article: Johnson installed as Masters betting favorite

Article: DJ injures back in fall, hopes to play Masters

DJ on Masters WD: 'Want to play ... it sucks'

DJ: 'I was playing the best golf of my career'


DJ welcomes second child with fiancée Paulina Gretzky

DJ, Paulina welcome baby boy before U.S. Open

It's a(nother) boy! DJ-Paulina's gender reveal


This and that: DJ and Paulina in 2017

DJ, Paulina make new music video on ski vacation

DJ, Paulina unwind with Bahamas vacay

DJ: 'Absolutely' no input on Paulina's social media

Watch: Paulina shows off pretty swing at TopGolf


Johnson adds fourth win of season, blows chance at fifth

As good as it gets: DJ-Outduels Spieth at Northern Trust

Johnson's HSBC collapse surprising, but not major

DJ beats Spieth in playoff to earn fourth win of year

Burr: 'For a great win there is an epic collapse'