Tough start for McIlroy in Nike debut

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2013, 5:04 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – “It was not pretty,” the square-shouldered Nike Golf convert admits with little prompting.

Some would even say the transition was painful. Rounds of 75-74 to miss the cut in a player’s debut with a new equipment company always seems to create more anxiety however unfair the need for instant analysis may be.

No, said Swoosh staffer wasn’t Rory McIlroy – whose first week with Nike gear at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship has been dubbed a bust by many in the media, social or otherwise, following rounds of 75-75 to miss the cut.

The Nike player in question was Paul Casey, who in 2005 made the same jump from Titleist to Nike Golf with eerily similar results to McIlroy, save for the worldwide scrutiny that descended on the Northern Irishman following his short week in the Middle East.

“He’s going to get more (scrutiny), isn’t he? He’s going to get way more,” Casey said on Saturday in Abu Dhabi. “It just takes a little bit of time, that’s all. I’ll admit that I’m playing a new driver that I put in play at the end of last year, and I’m still not quite 100 percent flat out as comfortable as I used to be with my previous driver.”

For those who have endured a similar honeymoon with new equipment, the pointed discourse that followed McIlroy’s Middle East miscue is baffling, many pointing out it takes weeks, if not months, to find a comfort level regardless of the company or the player.

Tiger Woods, for example, took the better part of a decade to work his way into a full bag of Nike clubs, with the final piece (the putter) coming at the 2010 British Open.

“It takes two or three months until you’re there,” said Casey, who signed with Nike in 2005 and quickly points out he won in his first season with the new clubs (Volvo China Open). “It takes thousands of golf balls to know what that thing is going to do. I mean we are dealing with fractions. You get the clubface out by one degree, it’s whoosh ... ”

There was a lot of that on Days 1 and 2 in Abu Dhabi for McIlroy, who connected with just 13 of 28 fairways.

Although the frenzied focus was on McIlroy’s switch back to his old Titleist Scotty Cameron putter in Round 2, his post-round comments on Friday suggest he is more concerned with finding a driver that is to his liking.

“Really happy with the ball and the wedges. Putter is good on fast greens that I've practiced on, and I just need to probably find a driver that I'm comfortable with, because I didn't drive the ball at all well,” McIlroy said.

And that, any Tour type will tell you, takes time both on the practice tee and under the gun in tournament play.

“The last time I switched irons (2010), I can remember taking the irons out to AT&T (Pebble Beach National Pro-Am), and I was like, ‘These things aren’t going,’ and then three months later I was like, ‘These things go too far,’” Padraig Harrington said.

“We tend to get caught up how things are performing in an individual week. You need to have a big long stretch to test something. You want a period of time, two or three months, to understand your equipment.”

It’s also worth noting that McIlroy was hardly the only player to make a wholesale equipment change in 2013, although his status as the world’s top-ranked golfer and the rock-show like announcement on Monday in Abu Dhabi at least partially explains the hyper scrutiny.

Nick Watney and Kyle Stanley both switched to Nike Golf this year with similarly mixed results. Watney tied for 13th in his debut at the wind-shortened Hyundai Tournament of Champions, while Stanley struggled to rounds of 78-80-72 and finished 30th out of the 30-man field in Kapalua.

At the other end of the extreme makeover matrix is Thorbjorn Olesen, who was a respectable T-31 in his debut at last week’s Volvo Golf Champions and is tied for second through 45 holes in Abu Dhabi.

“I had a week last week (Volvo Golf Champions), and I think that helped me to learn about the irons and the ball. It helped a lot,” said Olesen, who began testing his new Nike gear late last year.

For McIlroy, his transition was always going to be a trial by fire, and with four weeks before his next start (WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship), the drumbeat of doubt promises not to subside any time soon.

Abu Dhabi was, Casey figured, always going to be a no-win situation without a win for the Ulsterman, the unrealistic way of an on-demand world. It’s a reality the Englishman is well aware of having missed the weekend in seven of his first eight PGA Tour starts with the Swoosh in 2005.

“If he didn’t win, I felt like he was going to get some kind of question. It didn’t matter what he did,” Casey said. “He’ll be absolutely fine.

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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.

 

A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

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There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”