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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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in Web.com debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Web.com Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Web.com Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

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New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

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Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

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McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

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Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."