Punch Shot: How can McIlroy get better in 2015?

He won four times, including two majors, in 2014. So what can world No. 1 Rory McIlroy do to improve his game in 2015? GolfChannel.com's writers weigh in.

BY REX HOGGARD

He could always tidy up his short game (he ranked 123rd in sand save percentage last season on the PGA Tour), or maybe his wedge play (he was 108th in approach shots from 50 to 75 yards).

Perhaps Rory McIlroy could further refine his schedule in order to peak in April when he will head down Magnolia Lane a green jacket away from the career Grand Slam.

One can pick apart the Northern Irishman’s game ad nauseam, but considering his play last year perhaps the only thing he should look to improve upon in 2015 is his own internal dialogue.

The world No. 1 has proven himself immune to the external pressures of media scrutiny and the inherent armchair coaching that is part and parcel of being the game’s best.

What now stands between McIlroy and continued greatness are his own expectations. Too lofty an outlook and he could become susceptible to self-doubt, too little and he runs the risk of lapsing into competitive lethargy.

Striking a balance between what he hopes to accomplish and how he intends to arrive there is crucial to his ongoing development, and, short of the ubiquitous nitpicking, is the one thing he should look to improve in 2015.


BY JASON SOBEL

Rory McIlroy plays his best golf when he’s smiling and his mind is right.

Think about it: When he came down with a sudden “toothache” two years ago, he admitted that he was just mentally exhausted. Last year, his game took a dramatic turn for the better after he’d come to terms on breaking off his engagement. He started winning major championships after claiming he stopped checking his phone and laptop.

And so entering this year, the best way for McIlroy to match or even surpass last season’s historic performance has less to do with driving accuracy or putting acumen and more to do with ensuring everything in his life is copacetic off the course.

That won’t be easy, especially with an ongoing legal battle against his former management team scheduled to go to trial soon. Not to mention that, unlike those technical aspects of his game, he has little control over outside influences that could deter his mindset.

What’s become apparent, though, is that he plays his best when his mind is at ease.


BY RANDALL MELL

Keep tuning out the noise.

It looks like Rory McIlroy does a pretty good job of that as it is for a 25-year-old, but the more big events he wins, the more history he makes, the louder the chaos around him will become.

Imagine the hoopla if he wins the Masters in April to complete the Grand Slam? There will always be distractions. Whether it’s a high or a low in his personal life, or a bad turn in business, maybe even another lawsuit someday, there will always be challenges crowding his game.

What did John Lennon write in that song? “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans?”

McIlroy isn’t going to be at his best every time he tees it up. Nobody is. The shorter he can make his swoons, the ones every player endures, and the longer he makes his time “in the zone,” the greater his fame will become.

His focus, his ability to tune out what doesn’t matter, will serve him well this coming year and beyond.


BY RYAN LAVNER

Let’s be serious: There’s not much Rory McIlroy needs to improve on the course in 2015.

He was third in driving distance. He led the PGA Tour in the strokes gained-tee to green statistic. He made the most birdies per round. He had the lowest scoring average.

Maybe you could point to his shoddy bunker play (123rd), or his short wedge shots (108th from 50-75 yards), or his mid-length putting (155th from 20-25 feet), but realistically none of those stats held him back during a two-major, four-win season that rocketed him back to world No. 1.

So what McIlroy canimprove in 2015 has nothing to do with his performance on the course. It’s what he does away from it, with the myriad distractions that come with being one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet.

Last year, he was embroiled in a court case against his former management company (the trial begins next month) and broke off his engagement to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki. The year prior, he was breaking in new equipment and providing plenty of fodder for the tabloids.

His court case is inevitable, but McIlroy would do well to eliminate some of the drama that has plagued him the past few years – for his own sanity, if nothing else. 


BY WILL GRAY

Rory McIlroy doesn’t have much room for improvement after a torrid close to 2014, but one area that could use a tune-up is consistency. Sure, when the Ulsterman is “on” he is nearly unbeatable, a gear the likes of which we rarely see. But when things went south last year, the product was often a nine-hole stretch of 40+ or a round well over par, a scoring balloon that was seemingly isolated to Fridays for parts of the spring.

McIlroy knows what it takes to win on the game’s biggest stages, but improvement will come when his bad holes, rounds and tournaments become better.

He began to turn a corner in this department last year when he salvaged multiple top-25 finishes despite those scoring outliers, but if McIlroy is going to be (justifiably) compared to Tiger Woods, he’ll need to measure himself against Woods’ incredibly high standard of excellence during those weeks when things weren’t quite firing on all cylinders.

It seems like a minor tweak, but it’s hard to offer much counsel to a man with a major trophy in each hand.

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Farewell to the mouth that roared

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.


Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.

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S.Y. Kim leads Kang, A. Jutanugarn in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:24 am

SHANGHAI  -- Sei Young Kim led the LPGA Shanghai by one stroke at the halfway point after shooting a 5-under-par 67 in the second round on Friday.

Kim made six birdies, including four straight from the sixth hole, to move to a 10-under 134 total. Her only setback was a bogey on the par-4 15th.

Kim struggled in the first half of the year, but is finishing it strong. She won her seventh career title in July at the Thornberry Creek Classic, was tied for fourth at the Women's British Open, and last month was runner-up at the Evian Championship.

''I made huge big par putts on 10, 11, 12,'' Kim said on Friday. ''I'm very happy with today's play.''

Danielle Kang (68) and overnight leader Ariya Jutanugarn (69) were one shot back.


Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos


''I like attention. I like being in the final group. I like having crowds,'' Kang said. ''It's fun. You work hard to be in the final groups and work hard to be in the hunt and be the leader and chasing the leaders. That's why we play.''

She led into the last round at the Hana Bank Championship last week and finished tied for third.

Brittany Altomare had six birdies in a bogey-free round of 66, and was tied for fourth with Bronte Law (68) and Brittany Lincicome (68).

Angel Lin eagled the par-5 17th and finished with the day's lowest score of 65, which also included six birdies and a lone bogey.

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'Caveman golf' puts Koepka one back at CJ Cup

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:12 am

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea – Brooks Koepka, recently named the PGA Tour Player of the Year, gave himself the perfect opportunity to become the No. 1 player in the world when he shot a 7-under par 65 to move to within one shot of the lead in the CJ Cup on Friday.

At the Nine Bridges course, the three-time major champion made an eagle on his closing hole to finish on 8-under par 136 after two rounds, just one stroke behind Scott Piercy, who was bogey-free in matching Koepka's 65.

With the wind subsiding and the course playing much easier than on the opening day when the scoring average was 73.26, 44 players – more than half the field of 78 – had under-par rounds.

Overnight leader Chez Reavie added a 70 to his opening-round 68 to sit in third place at 138, three behind Piercy. Sweden's Alex Noren was the other player in with a 65, which moved him into a tie for fourth place alongside Ian Poulter (69), four out of the lead.

The best round of the day was a 64 by Brian Harman, who was tied for sixth and five behind Piercy.


Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos


The 28-year-old Koepka will move to the top of the world rankings when they are announced on Monday if he wins the tournament.

Thomas, playing alongside Koepka, matched Koepka's eagle on the last, but that was only for a 70 and he is tied for 22nd place at 1 under.

Koepka's only bogey was on the par-5 ninth hole, where he hit a wayward tee shot. But he was otherwise pleased with the state of his ''caveman golf.''

''I feel like my game is in a good spot. I feel like the way I played today, if I can carry that momentum into Saturday and Sunday, it will be fun,'' Koepka, winner of the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, said.

''My game is pretty simple. I guess you can call it like caveman golf – you see the ball, hit the ball and go find it again. You're not going to see any emotion just because I'm so focused, but I'm enjoying it.''

Piercy, who has fallen to No. 252 in the world ranking despite winning the Zurich Classic earlier this year with Billy Horschel – there are no world ranking points for a team event – was rarely out of position in a round in which he found 13 of 14 fairways off the tee and reached 16 greens in regulation.

''Obviously, the wind was down a little bit and from a little bit different direction, so 10 miles an hour wind versus 20s is quite a big difference,'' said Piercy, who is looking for his first individual PGA Tour win since the Barbasol Championship in July 2015.

''It was a good day. Hit a couple close and then my putter showed up and made some putts of some pretty good length.''

Australia's Marc Leishman, winner last week at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, shot a 71 and was seven behind. Paul Casey's 73 included a hole-in-one on the par-3 seventh hole and the Englishman is nine behind Piercy.