McIlroy following similar path as the young Woods

By Jason SobelJune 4, 2013, 3:00 pm

This was supposed to be the year. The year of Old vs. New. Experience vs. Youth. Crafty Gamesmanship vs. Raw Talent. The year a friendly rivalry turned into just a rivalry. The year we've been waiting for.

This was supposed to be the year of Tiger Woods vs. Rory McIlroy.

Instead, it’s been the year of the anchored-putting ban, the year of deer-antler spray, the year of the lawsuit, the year of the Aussie at Augusta, the year of the racially charged comments, the year of the weather delay and, yes, the year Tiger returned (again).

But Tiger vs. Rory? Nope. Hasn’t happened yet. Hasn’t even come close.

A rivalry that seemed predestined – if not by major championship victory predictions, then at least by the Nike marketing team – has stalled on the tracks, one train chugging full steam ahead as the other has lost its route.

Woods’ puzzling performance at this weekend’s Memorial Tournament notwithstanding – he finished 20 strokes behind winner Matt Kuchar – the game’s No. 1-ranked player has more than held up his part of the deal so far, with wins in exactly half of his eight PGA Tour starts.

None of them, however, has come with the heir apparent breathing down his neck over the closing holes. McIlroy famously claimed two major championship titles before his 24th birthday, but has gone from extraordinary to simply extra ordinary, that space between the two words as empty as his trophy shelf this season.

Granted, the lack of a true rivalry can be explained in a variety of different ways – foremost, of course, is the fact that golf simply isn’t a sport which lends itself to such relationships. With fields decidedly deeper than those of past generations, forging any sort of mano a mano duel – even between the two most talented players – is an exercise in brevity, if not futility.

But a rivalry also has to be more than Hammer vs. Nail, and to call the one between Woods and McIlroy this year any differently is a mistake. They’ve now played in the same event on seven occasions, with Rory’s share of 57th place at Muifield Village his first time bettering Tiger, but hardly anything to write home about.

Speaking of home, there’s been plenty of hand-wringing back in Holywood and surrounding areas after McIlroy's much ballyhooed switch to Nike equipment has yielded middling results so far. While McIlroy’s four top-10s in 11 worldwide starts, including a best finish of solo second at the Valero Texas Open, would be cause for optimism for many pros, it’s left him searching for answers.

“I'm pretty frustrated. I'm trying not to let it get to me, [but] it is what it is,” he said after an opening-round 78. Two days later, he was scored only three strokes better and culminated his round by explaining, “It's more to do with just committing and really getting through the ball. I guess just being more aggressive through the ball instead of guiding a little bit yesterday, something you definitely shouldn't do.”

While McIlroy contends that outside agencies – and yes, in some cases “agencies” should be read in the literal sense – haven’t affected his game, it’s hard to believe that he is competing without a cluttered mind right now. Though many observers will look only at the results to determine that his play is suffering, we should look at past history as an indicator, as well.

In fact, it is the player to whom he is most often compared – fairly or not – that McIlroy most resembles right now.

During the 18-month period from mid-1997 through the early part of 1999, Woods hardly struggled, but added just a single trophy from the 1998 BellSouth Classic to his mantel. It’s easy to envision McIlroy similarly going through these growing pains right now.

Let us count the ways.

Woods fired his initial manager, Hughes Norton, during this time. McIlroy is on the verge of making his second such switch in the past two years, reportedly forming his own representative team.

Woods gradually started to shift from Titleist equipment to Nike during this period, though didn’t get fully absorbed into Nike’s equipment line until a few years after. McIlroy has made more of a definitive adaption this year.

Woods even parted ways with his girlfriend after a few years as a pro. McIlroy followed suit.

And there are some who are predicting that the next domino in Camp Rory to fall will be caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. If so, it would mirror Woods’ breakup with Mike “Fluff” Cowan back in 1999.

Consider it all part of McIlroy’s need to find the right formula going forward. Some of these moves will have more of an impact than others; equipment and caddie will – or at least, should – be greater factors than girlfriend and agent.

These are the problems with being a global superstar at age 24. The maturation process is still ongoing; it just happens to be in front of millions of awaiting eyeballs. Keep this in mind, though, when assessing McIlroy’s on-course performance recently.

That rivalry with Woods has yet to take root, but for McIlroy, so many moving parts are eerily similar to the early career of the man he continues to chase.

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Tiger's driver now a great asset to his game

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 20, 2018, 9:57 pm

ATLANTA – Tommy Fleetwood hit a handful of tee shots past Tiger Woods on Thursday at the Tour Championship. But Woods found more fairways [10 to eight] and shot four strokes lower [65 to 69].

Ever since making adjustments to his driver – which included adding loft and changing his shaft – at The Northern Trust, Woods’ long game has become one of his greatest assets.

Woods hit 10 of 14 fairways in the first round at East Lake Golf Club, which led to hitting 14 of 18 greens in regulation. Twenty-eight putts equaled a 5-under round and a share of the lead.

It’s not as though Woods has completely traded distance for accuracy. He hit his drive on the par-5 18th 320 yards and that helped produce an eagle.

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It’s more like he now has the ability to control his driver. Those wayward tee shots we had become accustomed to seeing aren’t so offline. That means sometimes he’ll send one 296 yards – like he did on the first hole – and sometimes he’ll gear up and knock one 328 yards – like he did at the fifth.

“[I]f I hit it normal, I hit it just as far. And so that's to me like 300 yards in the air,” he said. “But … the neat thing about this one is that if I miss it and spin it a little bit, those spinners stay in play instead of chasing off on me, and I can turn this ball.

“Like the tee shot I hit down 18, I didn't have that shot earlier with – not enough loft. … [M]y spin rate would be so low that it wouldn't stay in the air.”

“And so, yeah, if I hit controlled shots, they're in play and they're shorter. But if I go ahead and step up and launch one, I'm just as far. The neat thing is I don't have to swing it as hard to hit the ball as far. And so it puts a little less toll on my body. I don't have to have my speed up there at 120, 121, 122 miles an hour to carry it 305, 310 like I did before.”

Often times you hear players talk about aspects of their game and it sounds like they are trying to convince themselves that things are OK. Tiger's actions are backing up his words.

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TT postscript: This 65 better than Aronimink 62

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 20, 2018, 9:21 pm

ATLANTA – The start wasn’t much to look at, but that finish was something else. Tiger Woods eagled the final hole on Thursday and shares the 18-hole lead at the Tour Championship. Here are the things you know you want to know:

• First of all, let’s give a pat on the back to the man who most deserves it today: Me. Early this morning, I sent this tweet:

Never doubt my good feelings. Ben Crenshaw doesn’t have my good feelings. We may have 54 holes to play, but I gotta good feeling we’re going to be changing that Tiger Tracker avatar Sunday night.

• Now onto Tiger. After all, he did hit 10 of 14 fairways, 14 of 18 greens in regulation and took 28 putts. It wasn’t looking good early when he had nine putts through four holes and was 1 over par. But he birdied Nos. 5 and 6, turned in 1 under, and really turned it on down the stretch with two birdies and an eagle over his final seven holes. And if you take a good look at the scorecard below you’ll notice he didn’t make a bogey after the first hole.

• How good is a 65 at East Lake? Better than his opening 62 at Aronimink, according to Woods: “This was by far better than the 62 at Aronimink. Conditions were soft there. This is – it's hard to get the ball closer. There's so much chase in it. If you drive the ball in the rough, you know you can't get the ball close.”

Woods added that you had to play “conservatively” and be patient – take what the course allowed. Tiger missed five putts – four of them for birdie – inside 15 feet. But in the 93-degree heat, he kept his composure and made putts of 26 and 28 feet for birdie, and 28 feet for eagle.

• This week feels different. It feels like Tiger is really ready to win again. He seems very serious, very focused. He talked about “getting the W” on Wednesday and said on Thursday, “[T]he objective is to always win.”

After shooting 65, Woods signed a few autographs and eventually made his way to the putting green. If he gets those 15-footer to fall, we’re going to be two wins away from tying Sammy.

• So, what about that eagle on 18, you ask? Tiger said he “hammered” a driver – which was listed at 320 yards – and then hit a 5-wood from 256 yards to 28 feet. As for the putt: “It took forever for that putt to start breaking, grain coming down off the left. But once it snagged it, it was going straight right.”

Right into the cup. Right into the lead. Our man is making history this week.

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Watch: Highlights from Tiger's first round at East Lake

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 20, 2018, 8:30 pm

Tiger Woods is back at the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2013, and he provided the fans in Atlanta with some highlights on the first day of competition.

Still looking for his first win of the year after coming close on numerous occasions, Woods started the day off by splitting the fairway on the first hole with the driver, not even bothering to watch his ball land.

Despite the picture-perfect opening tee shot, Woods would go on to bogey the first hole, but he rebounded with back-to-back birdies on 5 and 6, making putts from 26 and 15 feet.

Tiger's best shot on the front nine came on the par-4 seventh hole after he found the pine straw behind a tree with his drive. The 14-time major champ punched one under the tree limbs and onto the green, then calmly two-putted for par from about 40 feet en route to a front-side 1-under 34.

Woods added two more birdies on the par-4 12th and 14th holes, rolling in putts of 3 feet and 7 feet after a couple of great looking approach shots.

Woods finished his round with a vintage eagle on the par-5 18th hole, finding the green with a 5-wood from 256 yards out and then sinking the 28-foot putt.

The eagle at the last gave Woods a share of the early first-round lead with Rickie Fowler at 5-under 65.

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Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 20, 2018, 8:20 pm

Tiger Woods is looking to close his season with a win at the Tour Championship. We're tracking him this week at East Lake Golf Club.