McIlroy's road to Masters gets off to a rough start

By Will GrayFebruary 27, 2015, 11:10 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – All signs pointed toward another successful week for the world’s best golfer.

Rory McIlroy arrived at the Honda Classic unencumbered by off-course baggage, his lawsuit with his former management company now settled.

He arrived in peak form, having won in Dubai four weeks ago.

He arrived at a course where he had won three years ago and probably should have won last year.

His six-week journey to Magnolia Lane appeared clear, as he prepared to kick off a stretch of three starts to complete his prep for the Masters, where he hopes to complete the career grand slam.

Then in the course of 36 holes at PGA National, he showed his mortality.

McIlroy dug himself a hole with an opening-round 73 amid blustery conditions, then was unable to rebound during a second round that was twice interrupted by lengthy weather delays. He limped home, with three bogeys across his final four holes for a 74, and made little effort to disguise his emotions after posting a 7-over 147 total.

“I’m pissed off,” he said. “I don’t like missing cuts. You want to be playing on the weekend, and I’m not there.”

A missed cut has become a rarity for McIlroy during his most recent ascent to the top of the world rankings. His previous MC came last summer at the European Tour’s Irish Open, while his most recent one on the PGA Tour came at the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield.

For a missed cut on U.S. soil you have to go back even further, to the 2012 U.S. Open, while McIlroy last missed the cut on Tour in a non-major at the 2012 Memorial Tournament.

Of course, those stats don’t include his bizarre walk-off two years ago at PGA National, when his title defense ended nine holes short of an official missed cut because of golf’s most infamous toothache.

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While this week’s early exit was more conventional than that of 2013, the fact remains that McIlroy’s downhill coast to Augusta National has hit a speed bump.

“Usually I’m good at taking it from the range to the course. That’s never really been a problem with me,” McIlroy said. “But this week, it was funny, it felt like the first tournament of the season when I’ve actually played two events.”

McIlroy’s week began with a lost ball on his opening hole, and he never truly recovered. While he hit only 50 percent of the greens for 36 holes on the Champion Course, his inability to score Friday was rooted in his putting.

McIlroy required 31 putts, and a 6-foot par save on No. 12 turned out to be his longest made putt of the round. With a missed cut already assured, his day ended appropriately with a miss from 3 1/2 feet on No. 9, resulting in his first three-putt of the round.

“I feel like it was more the reads,” McIlroy said. “I felt like I was hitting some good putts. Just didn’t quite go in.”

While the full-field stats will reflect that McIlroy received an unfavorable draw, playing in the strongest winds Thursday afternoon and then enduring sloppy conditions Friday morning, others were able to thrive under similar circumstances. Tournament leader Patrick Reed shot consecutive rounds of 67 playing in the group in front of McIlroy, while Brooks Koepka fired a second-round 64 playing in McIlroy’s group.

“It’s surprising,” Koepka said of McIlroy’s missed cut. “He’s the best player in the world right now. Any time he struggles, I think it would be a shock to everyone.”

McIlroy will have little time to contemplate his struggles, as the first WGC event of the year looms next week just down the Florida Turnpike at Trump National Doral. There he will be greeted by another stern test, albeit one that will at least guarantee him four competitive rounds.

“Coming off three weeks off, and playing in conditions like these, it sort of shows you where your game’s at,” he said. “Just got to regroup and put some work in and get ready for Miami next week.”

When prompted, McIlroy insists that he is not yet thinking about the Masters – that his focus remains on the task at hand, as will be the case next week at Doral. But the season’s first major draws ever nearer, and McIlroy is now faced with his first set of on-course concerns.

The stage will be largely his next month at Augusta National, as he looks to win a third consecutive major and capture the biggest title that has eluded him.

Whether he can right his ship before next week’s event – or more importantly, the one that looms less than six weeks away – remains to be seen.

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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.