Amid criticism, McIlroy in control of work-life balance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2013, 3:00 pm

GULLANE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy walked through the entrance of the media center, climbed onto the dais, sank into a dark leather chair behind the podium and buried his head in his iPhone, tapping out a quick message before his therapy appointment … no, his interrogation ... OK, really, his scheduled interview session. The moderator, as if it to drive home the point, introduced McIlroy not as the current second-ranked player in the world but as the “former world No. 1.”

When you’re mired in an 0-for-13 slump, everything seems like a slight.

Over the past few weeks McIlroy has taken heat from all corners, as if he’s locked in a sauna. And these aren’t just sideswipes from anonymous Internet commenters. These are boldfaced names, legends of the game, presumably some of the most authoritative voices on the subject.

Jack Nicklaus has weighed in. He thinks McIlroy has become a bit too “leisurely,” that a little pressure to perform could propel him out of his yearlong slump.

Johnny Miller, as is his wont, offered his opinion. He thinks Rory is in love, and that such a dizzying feeling can be “distracting.” (For what it’s worth, he also doesn’t like McIlroy’s open shoulder position at address.)

And, most recently, Nick Faldo shared his thoughts.

The only person seemingly untroubled by the world No. 2’s current struggles? That would be McIlroy himself.

“I think, 'What’s the big deal?'” he said Wednesday at Muirfield. “I haven’t had the best six months, but it’s OK. I’m fine. I’ve got a good life. You know, it doesn’t bother me. I’m in a good place. I’m working hard. I feel like I’m working on the right things. And sooner or later, it will turn around and I’ll be back lifting trophies.”

Faldo’s criticism, in particular, dominated much of the headlines here earlier this week. “You have a window of opportunity,” the six-time major winner said. “You have, say, a 20-year window as an athlete. Concentrate on golf, nothing else.”

That’s precisely what Faldo did. He approached golf like he would a business. He arrived at the course at 9 a.m., hit balls all day, and left at 5 p.m. To him, that was a productive day. To him, the fun could (and should) wait. He sought, in order, greatness and then happiness.

McIlroy isn’t wired that way, and that’s OK, too. Sure, he puts in the time with his game – he has played 108 holes at Muirfield since last Monday – but he also enjoys his charmed life. He spends time with his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. He travels the globe. He acts 24 years old.

“Nick should know how hard this game is at times,” McIlroy said, “and he’s been in our position before. He should know how much work that we all put into it.”

When asked if he could ever foresee a day when he approached golf like Faldo, McIlroy didn’t hesitate: “No. I’m not like that.”

Certainly he isn’t naïve enough to think that any downturn in performance wouldn’t result into a full-blown crisis. He’s the 2012 Player of the Year, the phenom who won two majors by eight shots, the kid who was made fabulously wealthy by Nike. Now, and for the foreseeable future, whatever he does will draw attention.

The only other golfer who has experienced such ultrascrunity: Tiger Woods. He’s been microanalyzed ever since he greeted us with “Hello, world.” Maybe earlier.

This week, Woods recalled being criticized when he changed his swing after winning the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, and then again in 2002, after a stretch in which he won seven of 11 majors.

Only eight months of sharp criticism? In Woods’ world, that’s a reprieve.

“Only (McIlroy) knows it’s for the betterment of his game,” Woods said. “People obviously speculate and analyze and hypothesize about what he should or shouldn’t do, but deep down he knows what he’s doing.”

Perhaps no player in the past few years has given more thoughtful remarks about McIlroy than Graeme McDowell. Not surprisingly, he offered a word of caution before dismissing his friend and fellow countryman either this week or this season: “I want to say this time 12 months ago Rory McIlroy’s form wasn’t very good either, and he proceeded to have an incredible last six months of the season.”

But that’s only partly true. McIlroy’s “slump” last year lasted only eight events, or 3 1/2 months, and during that span he had only one more missed cut (four) than top 10 (three). In other words, he showed signs of busting out of his summer swoon.

That hasn’t been the case this year, not yet at least. His only legitimate chance to win came at the Valero Texas Open, the week before the Masters, where only 11 players in the OWGR top 50 were in the field. Since then, he has produced only two other top 10s, and he has played just 36 holes since the U.S. Open. Depending on the week, he’s either completely lost or tantalizingly close to a breakthrough, the margin of error seemingly as thin as a scorecard.

142nd Open Championship: Articles, videos and photos

Which brings us to this week’s Open at Muirfield.

McIlroy described the current state of his game as “promising,” which sounds like neither a ringing endorsement nor a death sentence.

In truth, this week’s test of links golf may be what McIlroy needs to shake out of this malaise. Here, a player thinks not about positions or swing thoughts but about shot shape, ball flight and angles. His recent form has lowered expectations – currently a 25-1 favorite – and his Open record is poor, with just one top-20 finish (2010) in five career starts.

Rest assured, if McIlroy struggles at the year’s third major, the chorus of critics will grow louder still.

Another legend will step forward and explain, yet again, what is wrong with Rory McIlroy.

And how will he respond?

“I think the best thing is to try and stay oblivious about what people are saying about you, to try and wrap yourself in a little bubble,” he said. “It’s hard to avoid at times, but you just have to have the confidence and the self-belief that you’re doing the right things and know that what you’re doing is ultimately going to get you to the place that you want to be.”

Which is, of course, being a prolific major winner who can also enjoy the spoils of his success.

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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit