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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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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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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).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


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 contacted 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.