McIlroy's best could be closer than it appears

By Will GrayAugust 2, 2017, 9:45 pm

AKRON, Ohio – The last time Rory McIlroy strode past the iconic water tower at Firestone Country Club, he was relishing the height of his powers.

It was Aug. 3, 2014, when McIlroy raced past Sergio Garcia with relative ease to walk away with the title at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. It came on the heels of his Open win at Royal Liverpool and directly preceded his PGA Championship triumph at Valhalla.

McIlroy was back to world No. 1. Golf was easy, and the smiles were wide.

Fast forward three years, and McIlroy returned to the interview room at Firestone knowing full well the line of questioning he would face after abruptly parting ways with longtime caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The split serves as just the latest variable for a man who has dealt with both injury and equipment changes since ringing in the new year.

“A lot of water’s passed under the bridge since we were here in 2014,” McIlroy said. “I’ve went from yeah, riding on the crest of a wave to a couple of injuries to trying to sort of find – not find my way back again, but just find a bit of form to get back to where I know I can be.”

The path was never supposed to be this circuitous for a man of McIlroy’s talent. Coming off his win here in 2014, the notion that he would go three years without a major seemed unfathomable. It certainly feels like more than 10 months have passed since his double-dip victory at the Tour Championship.

But golf remains a fickle game, even for those who occupy the most rarified air.

The caddie switch is the latest effort by McIlroy to, as he terms it, “take ownership” of his game. But it also continues a growing trend of instability for the Ulsterman, who has spent the entire year incorporating one change or another, all in an attempt to keep pace with the likes of Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.

That game of whack-a-mole has yielded a few passing appearances on leaderboards, including his T-4 finish at The Open, but McIlroy heads into a critical fortnight still seeking the catalyst that could return him to the heights he reached in Akron three years ago.

WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I feel like my game sort of turned a corner at Birkdale. I saw some good, fighting qualities,” he said. “I didn’t have my best stuff but was able to finish fourth in the end. So it’s getting there, it’s getting there. Coming to two venues where I’ve done well at before can only give me confidence.”

“It’s getting there” has become a familiar refrain from McIlroy, especially as he struggled through a pair of missed cuts last month in Europe. But it’s also one echoed earlier in the year by Spieth, who spent weeks insisting that his game was “close” before proving it emphatically with the claret jug on the line.

“You take a few weeks off or a month in the offseason, you come back and sometimes you put in a ton of repetitions and it’s not quite the right way to do it, and that’s where you’re starting from,” Spieth said. “The hardest part is putting the grasp on exactly what it is. Once you do, and then you can nail that in enough, then you’re right back to where you were. I imagine that’s what it is with Rory.”

Regardless of who’s on the bag, McIlroy possesses the inherent skill to win this week or next – or even both, as he did in 2014. Ten days from now, the assessment of his season could very well have shifted dramatically.

But as currently constituted, it merely serves as another example of how razor-thin the margin can be for top-tier players looking to convert good shots or good rounds into trophies by the handful.

“I think more and more we’re seeing that it’s going to be harder and harder for people to be a clear No. 1 for long periods of time,” said former No. 1 Adam Scott. “I mean, we were just spoiled or led into an area that wasn’t reality with Tiger for all those years, and we’re coming off the back end of that dominance. Now No. 1 has been shared by more guys than ever, because more guys play at this level than ever.”

The man who left Firestone with the trophy three years ago is not the same one who showed up Wednesday with an unfamiliar face on the bag. He’s older, wiser, married and perhaps a bit more attuned to the mercurial nature of the sport he plays.

But the name on the back of the caddie bib still reads “McIlroy,” and the gap between the two versions may ultimately prove much smaller than it currently appears.

“It’s very quick,” Scott said. “And that’s the world we live in, too. It’s very reactive and all about what’s happening today. Yesterday is kind of forgotten.”

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

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Rose leads halted Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters when bad weather stopped play Friday during the second round.

The Englishman, who shot a 10-under 62 on Thursday, had completed 13 holes and was 5 under on the day at the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat (64) was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew wit on the 11th hole at 2 under for the day after shooting an opening 72.

There was no reason given for his withdrawal, but the American has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.

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Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

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