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McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Rose (64) peaking just ahead of the U.S. Open

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 8:40 pm

A former U.S. Open champion appears to be finding his form just three weeks ahead of the year's second major.

Justin Rose ascended to the top of the leaderboard Friday at the Fort Worth Invitational, with rounds of 66-64 pushing him to 10 under par for the week.

Through 36 at Colonial, Rose has marked 12 birdies against just two bogeys.

"Yeah, I did a lot of good things today," Rose said. "I think, you know, the end of my round got a little scrappy, but until the last three holes it was pretty flawless. I think I hit every fairway pretty much and obviously every green to that point. ...

"Yeah, the way I played through, I guess through my first 15 holes today, was about as good as I've played in a long time."


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Rose won in back-to-back weeks last fall, stunning Dustin Johnson at the WGC-HSBC Championship and riding that victory right into another at the Turkish Airlines Open.

Now the 2013 U.S. Open winner at Merion feels himself once again rounding into form ahead of this year's Open at Shinnecock. A final-round 66 at The Players gave Rose something to focus on in his recent practice sessions with swing coach Sean Foley, as the two work to shore up the timing of Rose's transition into the downswing.

As for his decision to tee it up at Colonial for the first time since 2010, "It was more the run of form really," Rose explained. "I feel like if I didn't play here it was going to be a little spotty going into the U.S. Open. I felt like I wanted to play enough golf where I would have a good read on my game going into Shinnecock.

"So rather than the venue it was more the timing, but it's obviously it's just such a bonus to be on a great layout like this."

For whatever reason, Rose does tend to play his best golf at iconic venues, having won PGA Tour events at Muirfield Village, Aronimink, Cog Hill, Doral, Merion and Congressional.

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Koepka (63): Two wrist dislocations in two months

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 8:19 pm

Brook Koepka's journey back from a wrist injury that kept him out four months hasn't been totally smooth sailing, even if his play has suggested otherwise.

Koepka on Friday fired a 7-under 63 to move up the leaderboard into a tie for third, three shots behind leader Justin Rose through the end of the morning wave at the Fort Worth Invitational.

After a slow start Thursday saw him play his first 13 holes 3 over, Koepka is 10 under with 11 birdies in his last 23 holes at Colonial.

"It doesn't matter to me. I could care less. I'm still going to try as hard as I can," Koepka said. "I don't care how many over or how many under I am. Still going to fight through it."


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Just like he's been fighting his wrist the last two months or so. Koepka reinjured his wrist the Wednesday of The Players when he was practicing on the range and had to halt mid-swing after a golf cart drove in front of him. He nonetheless managed to finish T-11.

And that's not the only issue he's had with that wrist during his return.

"We had a bone pop out of place. I didn't tell anybody, but, yeah, they popped it back in," Koepka admitted Friday. "Luckily enough we kind of popped it back into place right away so it wasn't stiff and I didn't have too, too many problems.

"Yeah. I mean, I've dislocated my wrist twice in the last two months. You know, different spots, but, I mean, it's fun. I'll be all right."

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Twitter spat turns into fundraising opportunity

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 6:30 pm

Country music star Jake Owen, along with Brandt Snedeker, has turned a spat on Twitter into a fundraising campaign that will support Snedeker’s foundation.

On Thursday, Owen was criticized during the opening round of the Web.com Tour’s Nashville Golf Open, which benefits the Snedeker Foundation, for his poor play after opening with an 86.

In response, Snedeker and country singer Chris Young pledged $5,000 for every birdie that Owen makes on Friday in a campaign called NGO Birdies for Kids

Although Owen, who is playing the event on a sponsor exemption, doesn’t tee off for Round 2 in Nashville until 2 p.m. (CT), the campaign has already generated interest, with NBC Sports/Golf Channel analyst Peter Jacobsen along with Web.com Tour player Zac Blair both pledging $100 for every birdie Owen makes.

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Noren so impressed by Rory: 'I'm about to quit golf'

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 5:33 pm

Alex Noren won the BMW PGA Championship last year, one of his nine career European Tour victories.

He opened his title defense at Wentworth Club in 68-69 and is tied for fourth through two rounds. Unfortunately, he's five back of leader Rory McIlroy. And after playing the first two days alongside McIlroy, Noren, currently ranked 19th in the world, doesn't seem to like his chances of back-to-back wins.

McIlroy opened in 67 and then shot a bogey-free 65 in second round, which included pars on the pair of par-5 finishing holes. Noren walked away left in awe.

"That's the best round I've ever seen," Noren said. "I'm about to quit golf, I think."

Check out the full interview below: