McIlroy's missed cut just a blip on the radar

By Will GrayMay 22, 2015, 5:53 pm

After his 78th swipe of the day, Rory McIlroy walked off the final green at Wentworth Golf Club, a victim of the 36-hole cut at the BMW PGA Championship.

Surprising? Certainly. Concerning? Not in the least.

McIlroy remains in the midst of a whirlwind spring tour that might be better suited for his musical friend Niall Horan: five events in five weeks across three countries, two continents and a handful of time zones.

The fatigue associated with that itinerary may have contributed to McIlroy’s early exit. After all, we saw Jordan Spieth suffer a similar fate earlier this month at The Players Championship, reduced from world-beater to also-ran in the span of 36 holes. Incidentally, he seems to have found his way once again this week at Colonial.

"I'm probably in need of a little bit of a rest," McIlroy said. "I'd rather still be here, but it's not all bad getting to go home for the weekend."

Maybe it wasn’t just the fatigue, though. Perhaps it was the layout itself, as McIlroy has never really gotten along with the West Course at Wentworth. Friday’s result meant three missed cuts in the last four years, a trend that serves to highlight just how impressive his victory a year ago was.

Or maybe this was simply a bad day at the office. McIlroy appeared out of sorts early on, hitting three consecutive shots from the sand en route to a bogey on No. 3, and he didn’t make his first birdie until No. 8. McIlroy’s round officially derailed on the easiest stretch of the course, holes 10-13. While the world No. 1 was expected to rally with a handful of birdies, he instead played the four holes in 4 over, including a double bogey on No. 11, to essentially seal his fate.

"I'm sort of back to my usual at Wentworth," McIlroy said. "It wasn't great before I won last year, and it hasn't been great after."

Great players have bad rounds – even when coming off a seven-shot romp in their most recent start. McIlroy’s score was 17 shots higher than his third-round total six days ago at Quail Hollow, a spread that indicates golf’s vagaries strike even the best in the world.

It also shows just how superhuman Tiger Woods was during his prime. Coming off two victories in three starts, a missed cut for Woods a decade ago would have been as unlikely as a five-putt. Tiger is Tiger and Rory is Rory, no matter how easy it seems to compare the two.

"It was inevitable at some point that the run was going to come to a bit of an end," McIlroy said.

We’ve been here before with McIlroy, though, and know better than to read too much into a single poor result. He missed the cut in surprising fashion last year at the Irish Open, then turned around and won everything in sight across the summer.

He missed the cut earlier this year, too, at the Honda Classic in March. Whispers swirled again: Would he be able to follow up a two-major season? Had rust gathered in the winter months?

Six consecutive top-11 results followed, including wins at both TPC Harding Park and Quail Hollow, to silence any of those doubts.

So as McIlroy heads to the Irish Open – with a couple of extra days off – it’s wise not to read too deeply into the tea leaves scattered in his wake at Wentworth. Next week, McIlroy will serve as tournament host at Royal County Down, an event that means as much if not more to him than this week’s test.

After that it will be the U.S. Open, where McIlroy admitted earlier this week the uncertainty presented by Chambers Bay will make it difficult to predict an outcome. McIlroy could show up and dust the field as he did at Congressional in 2011, or he could cancel his weekend hotel reservations.

The takeaway from McIlroy’s game is not this week, it’s this month. He will not make every cut, and when his ball-striking begins to falter, he is still prone to big numbers. That hasn’t changed.

But the last four weeks, specifically the two wins, demonstrated that McIlroy is the best player in the world. A missed cut at Wentworth showed that he is still human, but it doesn’t unseat him from golf’s pole position.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

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

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.