Woods, McIlroy rusty to start new season

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2013, 11:11 am

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – You’ve seen it by now. According to YouTube everyone in the free world has. That DreamWorks-like production that debuted this week featuring world Nos. 1 and 2 Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods trading shots and barbs on an undisclosed practice tee.

“You ever have one of those days when you just can’t miss?” the affable Ulsterman asked in the glossy new Nike Golf advertisement dubbed “No Cup is Safe.”

On Thursday at a windswept Abu Dhabi Golf Club, no scorecard was safe and it was one of those days when life went left where art powered ahead.

At the risk of jumping on the apologist bandwagon a tad early, the scrutiny, if not the sinister desert wind, was always going to be waiting for McIlroy when he walked off the ninth green (his 18th of the day) following a 3-over 75, and into the hungry arms of the media.

Abu Dhabi HSBC: Articles, photos, videos

Unfair as it all is, anything short of a course record and touchdown head start over the field at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship was going to be labeled a failure. It is the unsavory ground where lucrative endorsement deals meet unrealistic expectations and to McIlroy’s credit he fielded every leading question with characteristic calm and charisma.

“He never had to worry about what was going to happen out there (on the golf course),” said one longtime European Tour observer, “it was here (the crowded interview area) where he had to prepare himself. I really feel for him.”

Before we start a campaign to save McIlroy from those who demand instant analysis, let’s put Day 1 in perspective. For those scoring at home, he hit six of 14 fairways, 13 of 18 greens in regulation and needed 31 putts, leaving him him tied for 89th when he walked off the golf course.

If that doesn’t exactly sound like the card of a world No. 1, consider that his cast mate in that Nike commercial hit one fewer fairway, three fewer greens in regulation and came in with two fewer putts, the approximant margin of error so to speak.

While the gathered scribes wanted to talk about the new driver, and the Ulsterman’s inability to control his golf ball into a crosswind, the final analysis suggests it was a predictable lack of touch on the greens that cost McIlroy on Thursday.

Not that the Northern Irishman had much interest in making excuses.

“When you go out and have some new stuff you can be a little anxious,” he said.

The truth is, the entire round had a preseason feel to it. Sloppy would best describe the play of the game’s top two players – as an aside, whoever had Martin Kaymer as the marquee group’s low ball on Day 1, please proceed to the collection window.

The round included a left-handed punch out by Woods at No. 13, a painful reload for McIlroy at the third after hitting his tee shot into a car park and more shots from the desert than one would imagine even here in the Middle East.

“This is certainly a round where guys can lose their score,” said Woods, who signed for an even-par 72 after three-putting the last from 40 feet.

On a day of firsts, Woods carded his first bogey of the New Year at his fourth hole, McIlroy signed for one of two double bogeys just five holes into the round and hit his shot into the par-5 18th hole so far left they probably found the ball in someone's cocktail.

Little surprise then that the first question he fielded had to do with the 14 new tools he has in the bag following Monday’s much-anticipated announcement that he would be joining the Swoosh team.

“I’m thinking it’s the swing more than the clubs,” he said before admitting, “the first round with new equipment and the scorecard in my hand, it was a good day to learn something.”

So what did the 23-year-old glean from his opening effort? That he was as rusty as a 10-year-old sand wedge and may need some time to feel comfortable with a staff bag full of new implements. Predictable for sure, but hardly preventable.

Let’s don’t forget, it took Woods the better part of a decade to work his way into a full bag of Nike clubs. By comparison, McIlroy is learning on the fly.

The most telling moment in McIlroy’s postmortem came when he confirmed that he felt comfortable cutting his driver up against a right-to-left crosswind but still has some work to do with his draw when the breeze was out of the right.

But that’s nothing new (see Masters, 2011). As Lee Westwood famously pointed out, the Ulsterman can get a little quick with the driver and as a cold morning turned to a breezy afternoon that left shot stung him, like it did at the third hole when his tee shot ricocheted off a palm tree and into the G Lot.

“With my old equipment I was afraid to release (the club) because of the left shot, but that’s not an issue now,” he explained.

Late last year as news spread of McIlroy’s impending jump to Nike many cautioned that such a wholesale change could slow his meteoric rise. On Thursday those fears became reality, but – as is normally the case – McIlroy proved to be the calmest head in the room.

“I’ll go to the range and work on it. It will be fine,” McIlroy said with a signature shrug.

Despite the predictable rush to judgment, for the man behind all those new Nike sticks, Thursday’s opening act was just one of those days.

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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

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

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."