Woods-McIlroy friendship comes full circle

By Rex HoggardJanuary 15, 2013, 11:35 am

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Between media grillings and photo ops with a camel in a caddie bib, or whatever it was the ungulate was wearing on Tuesday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods stole a quiet moment to catch up.

It’s what friends do, be they childhood pals, college buddies or workplace acquaintances.

Defining the budding relationship between the world’s Nos. 1 and 2, however, is not that simple. When it comes to the game’s alpha and omega no one is exactly sure of the extent of their friendship – be it bromance, big brother or BFF.

It is, by any definition, new territory for Woods, so the media’s fixation with whatever the bond that has formed between Red Shirt and the wunderkind is at least partially understandable.

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With the possible exception of Mark O’Meara and John Cook, who were only briefly Woods’ contemporaries, never before in his now 17-year professional career has he let someone in so publicly.

Woods wasn’t so much emotionally unavailable as he was aloof, some would even say gated in by a fishbowl existence. Yet there they were outside the Abu Dhabi clubhouse on Tuesday, goofing and grinning like schoolmates on the first day of a new semester.

“We’ve certainly hit it off, and our relationship has grown and our friendship’s gotten better,” Woods said. “It’s been fun.”

Those with suspicious minds have suggested the Rory-Tiger relationship is born from mutual monetary gain, pointing to Monday’s much-anticipated announcement that the Ulsterman had joined Woods in the Nike Golf fold as Exhibit A. But that seems to be an over simplification at best and a gross misunderstanding at worst.

“It was entirely (McIlroy’s decision),” Nike Golf president Cindy Davis said on Tuesday when asked if Woods had any impact on McIlroy’s decision to join Nike. “That young man is very impressive. He went through the entire process and made the decision himself.”

If all parties are to be believed, and there is no reason to think otherwise, McIlroy’s decision to bolt for the Swoosh was his alone and exclusive to his friendship with Woods that began, of all places, at Abu Dhabi Golf Club a year ago.

It was an impromptu nine-hole practice round on Tuesday before last year’s event that set the wheels in motion for a friendship that at its core seems based on a deep mutual respect and an appreciation of sophomoric humor.

“Before this time last year we would say hello in passing but not really anything else,” McIlroy said. “Once Tiger sort of gets to know you and trusts you, I guess, and lets you in then it’s great.”

Both players suggested familiarity – there were paired together eight times in 2012 – breeds friendship. But if that’s the case, why didn’t Woods develop a similar relationship with Ernie Els or Phil Mickelson – hold your punch lines – after a decade of shared tee times?

No, this goes beyond a bond born of mutual association.

There is, with apologies to armchair psychologists everywhere, an appreciation between the two that appears rooted in a unique understanding of greatness.

Woods, who has been known to put up competitive walls when he’s on Tour, appreciates McIlroy’s talents and the measure of his greatness better than anyone else could. You don’t win two major championships by record margins by accident and few can relate to the work and energy that takes better than a kindred spirit.

“It’s great to just spend time with him and pick his brain about a few things if I feel the need to, but it’s a relationship that’s definitely based on respect,” McIlroy said. “He’s been a huge hero of mine growing up and he’s done some incredible things in golf. I think he respects me for what I’ve done on the golf course, too.”

Unlike Woods’ idolization of Jack Nicklaus, McIlroy didn’t grow up with Woods’ major championship resume pinned to the wall in his room back home in Holywood, Northern Ireland, but the appreciation for greatness was manifest.

Of course the subtext to this bromance is the theory that in McIlroy Woods now has a true rival, a singular talent driven to perfection on par with the standard Woods set early in his career.

But Woods has been here before. Throughout his Hall-of-Fame career he has been paired with no fewer than a half dozen “rivals” – from Mickelson to Vijay Singh to Sergio Garcia. But in the end, none have been able to sustain the challenge, which makes McIlroy’s ascension to the top of the heap that much more enticing to everyone, it seems, except Woods.

“It would be very similar to saying that I had a rivalry with Phil two years into my career. That wasn’t the case. It takes time,” he reasoned on Tuesday. “It’s only been a few years, so let’s just give it time and see how it pans out.”

The same could be said of Rory and Tiger’s friendship, a pairing that should only be nurtured by McIlroy’s recent move to South Florida. McIlroy plays out of the Bear’s Club while Woods seems entrenched at the nearby Medalist Club. If the small unspoken print between the lines is any indication, Woods and McIlroy’s friendship goes well beyond photo ops and business arrangements.

“I’m sure we’ll have a few dinners together and certainly hang out a bit more,” Woods said.

Tiger and Rory, BFFs – at least until Sunday at Augusta National.

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Tour investigating DeChambeau's use of compass

By Will GrayJune 24, 2018, 10:09 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Bryson DeChambeau’s reliance on science to craft his play on the course is well known, but he took things to a new level this week at the Travelers Championship when television cameras caught him wielding a compass while looking at his yardage book during the third round.

According to DeChambeau, it’s old news. He’s been using a compass regularly to aid in his preparation for nearly two years, dating back to the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in October 2016.

“I’m figuring out the true pin locations,” DeChambeau said. “The pin locations are just a little bit off every once in a while, and so I’m making sure they’re in the exact right spot. And that’s it.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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But social media took notice this weekend, as did PGA Tour officials. DeChambeau explained that he was approached on the range Saturday and informed that the Tour plans to launch an investigation into whether or not the device is allowable in competition, with a decision expected in the next week.

It’s not the first time the 24-year-old has gone head-to-head with Tour brass, having also had a brief run with side-saddled putting earlier in his career.

“They said, ‘Hey, we just want to let you know that we’re investigating the device and seeing if it’s allowable,’” DeChambeau said. “I understand. It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened.”

DeChambeau won earlier this month at the Memorial Tournament, and the Tour’s ruling would not have any retroactive impact on his results earlier this year. Playing alongside tournament winner Bubba Watson in the final round at TPC River Highlands, DeChambeau shot a final-round 68 to finish in a tie for ninth.

“It’s a compass. It’s been used for a long, long time. Sailors use it,” DeChambeau said. “It’s just funny that people take notice when I start putting and playing well.”

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Bubba fires 63 to win his third Travelers title

By Nick MentaJune 24, 2018, 9:52 pm

Bubba Watson fired a final-round 63 to storm from six back and steal the Travelers Championship. Here’s how Bubba came from behind once again at TPC River Highlands.

Leaderboard: Bubba Watson (-17), Stewart Cink (-14), Beau Hossler (-14), J.B. Holmes (-14), Paul Casey (-14)

What it means: This is Watson’s 12th PGA Tour win, his third of the season, and his third Travelers title. Watson picked up his first Tour victory at this event in 2010 – when he also came from six back – and won again in 2015 in a playoff victory over – guess who – Casey. Thinking he might need a round of 60 to scare the leader, Watson made eight birdies, the last of which came on the 72nd hole, giving him the outright lead by one. A short while later, Casey would bogey the 16th and 17th to end the drama and allow Bubba to breathe easy. With the win, Watson becomes the only Tour player to win three times this season. He moves to third in the FedExCup points race, behind two-time winners Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson.

Round of the day: Cink’s round was a stroke better, but Bubba earns this title for winning the title. The left-hander made the turn in 2-under 33 and then ripped off five birdies on his back nine to take the clubhouse lead, which he wouldn’t relinquish.

Best of the rest: Cink looked as though he was going to record the second sub-60 round at the Travelers in the last three years. The 2009 champion golfer of the year played his first 10 holes in 7 under par on the par-70 layout. Cink added three more birdies but also added two bogeys to settle for 8-under 62, tying the round of the week. The 45-year-old has finished T-4 and T-2 in his last two starts.

Biggest disappointment: Casey (2-over 72) began the day up four and couldn’t close. Even par on his round through 15 holes, he missed a 4-footer for par on 16 and found the water off the tee at 17, ending his chances. The Englishman, who ended a nine-year Tour winless drought earlier this season at the Valspar, is now 1 for 4 with a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour.

Shot of the day: Watson’s wedge from 77 yards at the 72nd hole, setting up his eighth and final birdie of the day.

Quote of the day: “That’s the best shot you ever hit.” – caddie Ted Scott to Bubba Watson on his approach at 18

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McCarron (64) edges Kelly in Madison event

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 9:37 pm

MADISON, Wis. – Scott McCarron won the American Family Insurance Championship on Sunday, closing with an 8-under 64 for a one-stroke victory over hometown player Jerry Kelly.

The 52-year-old McCarron birdied Nos. 14-16 and parred the final two to hold on for his first victory of the season and seventh in three years on the PGA Tour Champions. He finished at 15-under 201 at University Ridge.

''All week, I drove the ball really well and I was hitting a lot of good iron shots,'' McCarron said. ''I hit a lot of greens. I think I made one bogey all week and that was early on Friday. Just missed a short putt, one of the par 3s and made bogey. Other than that, I really didn't have any other opportunities to make bogeys. I just kept putting myself in play.''

McCarron looked forward to the stretch of three straight major tournaments that begins Thursday with the U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado.

''Obviously, my game's pretty good, just won this week, so I'm pretty happy the way I'm hitting it.'' McCarron said. ''I started putting better this week. I've got to work on my wedge game. I've got to wedge it closer. I have a lot of wedges out here.''

Full-field scores from the American Family Insurance Championship

Kelly shot 65, also parring the final two holes.

''I'm disappointed, there's no doubt,'' Kelly said. ''I want those putts back. I want to just go ahead and hit them hard.''

Kelly joked about friend McCarron paying him back for a friendly match with McCarron's wife.

''My caddie, Eric and I, beat Jenny and Scott over at Maple Bluff Country Club earlier this week, beat them out of five bucks,'' Kelly said. ''I should have thrown that match.''

Fellow Madison player Steve Stricker, the tournament host and first-round leader, had a 65 to tie for third with 2017 champion Fred Couples and Colin Montgomerie.

''The way it ended up, couldn't have asked for anything more,'' Stricker said. ''Great turnout of people, the players loved it, and we got a great field and some exciting golf down the stretch.''

Couples had a 67, playing alongside McCarron.

''We all said it yesterday, with all those guys there, somebody shoots 7, 8 under will win - and I watched it today,'' Couples said. ''He was phenomenal. He played a stress-free, easy round of golf and I think I lost to him by two, but I was never going to beat him.''

Montgomerie followed a second-round 72 with a 64.

''I didn't play well at all yesterday, at all,'' Montgomerie said. ''So disappointing yesterday ... out here, 72, get trampled on.''

Paul Goydos (67) was 12 under, John Daly (67) topped the group at 11 under, and Bernhard Langer (69) was another stroke back.

University of Illinois coach Mike Small, Stricker's teammate with the Illini, birdied the final hole for a 68 to also tie for 10th at 10 under.

Steve and I have been best friends for 30 years,'' Small said. ''It's great to have him get me in the tournament and validate him helping me get in and getting an exemption. That's huge. I finished top 10 in Iowa at Des Moines two weeks ago. It was my first top 10 in a Champions event. So, to back up with this, and this was a strong field, it feels good to compete.''

Second-round leader Esteban Toledo had a 73 to tie for 24th at 8 under.

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Despite 'flattering' stats, McIlroy has work to do

By Will GrayJune 24, 2018, 9:13 pm

CROMELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy believes he has work to do on his swing, even if the stats don’t back it up.

McIlroy shot a 3-under 67 in the final round of the Travelers Championship, completing a week in which he shot 11 under and led the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green but was last among the 74 players who made the cut in strokes gained: putting.

While the Ulsterman lamented a number of misses from close range – 17 from inside 10 feet over the course of the week, to be exact – he contended that the strokes gained data may have been “flattering” his performance with the other 13 clubs.

“I don’t feel like I hit it that well tee-to-green,” McIlroy said. “It says that I’m probably No. 1 tee-to-green, but it didn’t feel like it. Yeah, obviously I would have loved to have putted better. But I felt like all parts of my game just needed to be a little bit sharper.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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McIlroy explained that he hasn’t taken a day off from golf for the last five weeks, and he plans to do that in the coming days as he and wife Erica continue construction on a new house in Florida. He’ll next tee it up at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, which is hosted by his charitable foundation, but that will be his final competitive start before renewing his quest for a second Open title at Carnoustie.

In between, he plans to take in some tennis at Wimbledon and get re-acclimated to playing links golf, although he doesn’t plan to play Carnoustie the weekend prior to tournament week like he did last year at Royal Birkdale.

“I’m not going to go there early. I know the golf course pretty well, I know how it’s going to be,” said McIlroy, who made is Open debut at Carnoustie in 2007. “I’ll do a little bit of practice over that weekend. Play some links golf, go to Royal County Down. And then head over to Carnoustie on the Monday.”