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Punch Shot: Phil's or Rory's performance more encouraging?

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The only player to finish in the top five in all four majors in 2014. With help from Butch Harmon, Rickie Fowler's game is matching his bright attire. 2015 has to lead to a win or two ... right? (Getty Images)  - 

Sure, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy walked away from Abu Dhabi winless, but they showed plenty of guts and glory in their season debuts. Our writers debate: Whose performance was more encouraging?


Or, in other words, whose knuckle-headed play was less discouraging?

Rory McIlroy needed a quick start to 2014 more than Phil Mickelson did. So, coming close Sunday at Abu Dhabi translates into a more encouraging start.

Given the kind of years they were coming off, McIlroy needed affirmation more than Mickelson needed it. McIlroy gets the bigger boost with both players tying for second in what felt like a loss for all of us with Pablo Larrazabal playing knuckle-head free golf in the final round. If Larrazabal could have thrown in his own mental gaffe Sunday, maybe we get to see a McIlroy-Mickelson playoff. All credit to Larrazabal, but a McIlroy-Mickelson playoff would have felt like a big-bang start to ’14.

While there is some frustration for McIlroy over his two-shot penalty in failing to take full relief on Saturday, and for Mickelson with his double hit out of a bush on Sunday, there’s a lot to build on for both players knowing their games are already in good places.

McIlroy’s confidence is coming back. Mickelson’s never really seems to leave him. So give McIlroy the slight edge for the more encouraging start, another big step in the right direction.


Rory McIlroy is a momentum type of player. When he’s hot, he’s hot – and when he’s not, well … you know the rest. He can go for months looking extraordinary, then quickly turn extra ordinary.

Granted, that same description could be written for Phil Mickelson, but with two more decades of experience, the unsinkable lefty is more accustomed to these highs and lows. He’s already gotten his sea legs under him.

By comparison, McIlroy can still feel a little seasick when his boat keeps rocking back and forth so vigorously. Last year was a perfect example. He started with an MC in Abu Dhabi, followed with a first-round L at the Match Play, then hit the alphabet soup trifecta with a WD at the Honda. Had such a start happened for Mickelson, we would have collectively rolled our eyes and declared, “Oh, that’s just Phil being Phil!” Rory’s failures instead made international headlines.

All of which brings us to his runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi this week. Remember, he’s a momentum player. Even coming off an Aussie Open win last month, McIlroy needed this result more than Mickelson. He needed a good start, not only for his own confidence, but to keep the “begrudgers” - as he calls them – safely at arm’s length.

That doesn’t mean the second-place finish will launch McIlroy to bigger and better successes over the next 12 months, nor does it mean the result won’t vault Mickelson toward prosperity, either. But if this week was more encouraging for one of them over the other, that honor certainly goes to the guy who’s still trying to get his sea legs under him from all these highs and lows.


Phil Mickelson’s runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi showed me that his head is in the right place as he enters arguably the most important year of his career.

After all, where was his motivation this week? He was 8,500 miles from home. He was collecting an appearance fee. He hadn’t played in two months.

But Lefty showed plenty of fight and played brilliantly in stretches, and he should be brimming with confidence as he returns to the West Coast. Yes, he’s scaling back late in the season and gearing up for Pinehurst. But if Abu Dhabi was any indication, he’s committed to making 2014 more than just a one-major success. 


In this case, a tie really isn’t a tie.

Although Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson finished their weeks at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship all square at 13 under par, one stroke behind the champion, it is the Northern Irishman who took away the moral victory.

Remember, at this time last year it was McIlroy who was starting an inexplicable slide, missing the cut in Abu Dhabi with rounds of 75 on his way to the most difficult year of his young career.

Mickelson’s third-round rally after opening cards of 73-70 was impressive, maybe even historic. Lefty’s third-round 63 was his lowest round in a season debut since 2004 at the Humana Challenge, which is much more scoring friendly than the Abu Dhabi layout.

But it was McIlroy who will take the most from his 2014 debut. Following a season of inconsistent play the Ulsterman was downright machine-like in Abu Dhabi by comparison, carding rounds of 70-67-70-68.

McIlroy’s runner-up showing was his best finish on the European Tour since winning the DP World Tour Championship in 2012 and the best sign to date that he has emerged from last year’s troubles.

The leaderboard says McIlroy and Mickelson tied in Abu Dhabi, but considering how far the 24-year-old has come over the past year he easily takes the moral victory.