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Ten years after pro debut, McIlroy at crossroads

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2017, 4:12 pm

It was 10 years ago Monday that Rory McIlroy turned professional, and all he’s done since is win four majors, hold the No. 1 world ranking for 95 weeks and become the most electrifying player of the post-Tiger Woods era.

But perhaps it’s fitting that this landmark falls today, with McIlroy at a professional crossroads.

It’s been a transitional year, both on and off the course, and Sunday marked the end of a disappointing PGA Tour season in which he couldn’t even qualify for the Tour Championship a year after he captured the season-long title.

He battled an injury all year, leading to a stop-start schedule and compensations with his swing.

He dumped his longtime caddie and now heads into a long offseason in need of a full-time looper.

He got married in April.

And he plummeted to No. 8 in the world – interesting because it’s not only his worst position since spring 2014 (and figures to get worse, with an extended layoff), but four of the players ranked ahead of him are younger.


Photos: Rory McIlroy through the years


How McIlroy responds will dominate the run-up to next year’s Masters, but this is more a time for reflection than projection.

His evolution has been remarkable to watch.

After all, he arrived on the scene as a pudgy, mop-haired kid from Holywood. Now, save for an injured rib, he is arguably the most physically fit player on Tour.

Both of his parents, Gerry and Rosie, worked extra jobs to help fund Rory’s dream of becoming a professional golfer. Now, he is rich beyond his wildest dreams, raking in $50 million last year alone.

After signing his professional papers in ’07, McIlroy has won four majors (most of any player in that time frame), captured the PGA and European tours’ season-long title a combined four times, and starred on three victorious Ryder Cup teams.

Perhaps most interestingly, though, McIlroy is known now for more than just his sterling playing record.

In an era of aggressive over-management by p.r. reps, the 28-year-old has become one of the sport’s most refreshing voices, unafraid to sound off on a variety of topics – from the Olympics to drug testing, from a club’s exclusive membership practices to course setups, from Tiger to Trump.

His news conferences at majors often are appointment viewing, and McIlroy, like so many of today’s young stars, remains engaging, interesting and thoughtful.

Indeed, it’s a testament to McIlroy’s candor and likability that he’s been able to emerge relatively unscathed from a series of controversies over the past decade. The high-profile equipment changes. The nasty split with his management team. The wedding-invitation breakup.

His gaps between victories might vary, but rarely does he go weeks without a headline.

McIlroy plans to go dark this fall, however, after teeing it up at the British Masters and the Dunhill Links – his last chance to continue his streak of at least one win since 2008 – and there is much to consider.

Steve Elkington memorably questioned McIlroy’s motivation earlier this year, and there’s little doubt that the former Boy Wonder is at a different place in his life: happily married, in the process of renovating the couple’s new home in South Florida, and thinking about starting a family in the next few years. His health is now the top priority; the past few months he has played away from pain, relying mostly on draws to avoid discomfort. His wedge game and putting also need work if he’s to regain his rightful place as golf’s alpha dog.

Still, the landscape has changed dramatically since he won the most recent of his four majors, in August 2014. Jordan Spieth has won three majors; at times, Dustin Johnson has looked unbeatable; Jason Day, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka all have broken through, and players like Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm don’t appear far behind. The attributes that made McIlroy so dominant – the outrageous length, the red-hot putting, the swagger – now are shared by much of the game’s elite.

Only McIlroy knows what can give him an edge again. But here’s hoping that he finds that spark, that he makes his second decade as a pro as fruitful and entertaining as his first.

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McCarthy wins Web.com Tour Championship by 4

By Associated PressSeptember 24, 2018, 2:14 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Denny McCarthy won the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship on Sunday to earn fully exempt PGA Tour status and a spot in the Players Championship.

McCarthy closed with a 6-under 65 for a four-stroke victory over Lucas Glover at Atlantic Beach Country Club. The 25-year-old former Virginia player earned $180,000 to top the 25 PGA Tour card-earners with $255,793 in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals.

''It's been quite a journey this year,'' McCarthy said. ''The PGA Tour was tough to start out the year. I stuck through it and got my game. I raised my level and have been playing some really good golf. Just feels incredible to finish off these Finals. So much work behind the scenes that nobody really sees.''

McCarthy finished at 23-under 261.


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, closed with a 69. He made $108,000 to finish seventh with $125,212 in the series for the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200.

Jim Knous earned the 25th and final card from the four-event money list with $41,931, edging Justin Lower by $500. Knous made a 5-foot par save on the final hole for a 71 that left him tied for 57th. Lower missed an 8-footer for birdie, settling for a 69 and a tie for 21st.

''It was a brutal day emotionally,'' Knous said. ''I wasn't quite sure how much my performance would affect the overall outcome. It kind of just depended on what everybody else did. That's pretty terrifying. So I really just kind of did my best to stay calm and inside I was really freaking out and just super psyched that at the end of the day finished right there on No. 25.''

The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list competed against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. Sungjae Im topped the list to earn the No. 1 priority spot of the 50 total cards.

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LaCava pushed Woods to work on bunker game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 1:52 am

ATLANTA – Last week as Tiger Woods prepared to play the season finale at East Lake he sent a text message to his caddie Joey LaCava that simply asked, what do I need to do to get better?

Although when it comes to Woods his proficiency is always relative, but LaCava didn’t pull any punches, and as the duo completed the final round on Sunday at the Tour Championship with a bunker shot to 7 feet at the last the two traded knowing smiles.

“We had a talk last week about his bunker game and I said, ‘I’m glad you kept that bunker game stuff in mind,’” LaCava said. “I told him he was an average bunker player and he worked at it last week. There were only two bunker shots he didn’t get up-and-down, I don’t count the last one on 18. He recognized that after two days. He was like, ‘What do you know, I’m 100 percent from the bunkers and I’m in the lead after two days.”


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


For the week, Woods got up-and-down from East Lake’s bunkers seven out of nine times and cruised to a two-stroke victory for his first PGA Tour title since 2013. That’s a dramatic improvement over his season average of 49 percent (100th on Tour).

“His bunker game was very average coming into this week,” LaCava said. “I said you’ve got to work on your bunker game. If you had a decent bunker game like the Tiger of old you would have won [the BMW Championship].”

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For Woods, is this only the beginning?

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 1:42 am

If this is Tiger Woods nine months into a comeback, wait until he actually shakes the rust off.

This was supposed to be the year he kicked the tires, to see how his body held up after all those knives digging into his back.

To see if a short game could truly be rescued from chunks and skulls.

To see if a 42-year-old living legend could outfox the kids.

On the final breath of the PGA Tour season, it was Tiger Woods who took ours away.

Playing alongside Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club – and one group behind the current World No. 1 and eventual FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose – Woods bludgeoned the field and kneecapped Father Time. 

It was Dean Smith and the Four Corners offense.  Emmitt Smith moving the chains. Nolan Ryan mowing them down.

And all of a sudden you wonder if Phil Mickelson wishes he’d made alternate Thanksgiving plans.

Even if everybody saw a win coming, it was something else to actually see it happen, to see the man in the red shirt reach another gear just one more time.

Win No. 80 reminded us, as Roger Maltbie once said of Woods when he came back from knee surgery in 2009: “A lot of people can play the fiddle. Only one guy is Itzhak Perlman.”

It wasn’t long ago that Tiger Woods seemed headed toward a disheartening final chapter as a broken man with a broken body.


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


He would host a couple of tournaments, do some great charity work, shout instructions into a walkie talkie at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and call it a career.

There would be no Nicklaus 1986 Masters moment, no Hogan Mystique at Merion.

He would leave competitive golf as perhaps both the greatest to ever play the game and its greatest cautionary tale.

Willie Mays with the New York Mets. Muhammad Ali taking punishment from Larry Holmes.

But then Brad Faxon and Rickie Fowler started whispering at the end of 2017 that Tiger was healthy and hitting the ball hard. 

There was that hold-your-breath opening tee shot at the Hero World Challenge, a bullet that flew the left bunker and bounded into the fairway.

Rollercoaster rides at Tampa and Bay Hill, backward steps at Augusta and Shinnecock, forward leaps at The Open and the PGA.

He switched putters and driver shafts (and shirts, oh my!) and seemed at times tantalizingly close and maddeningly far.

That he even decided to try to put his body and game back together was one of the all-time Hail Marys in golf.

Why go through all of that rehab again?

Why go through the scrutiny of having your current game measured against your untouchable prime?

Because you’re Tiger Woods, is why, because you’ve had way more wonderful days on the golf course than poor ones, despite five winless years on the PGA Tour.

Suddenly, Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins is in jeopardy and Jack Nicklaus, holder of a record of 18 major championships, is at the very least paying attention.

Woods has put the golf world on notice.

It won’t be long until everyone starts thinking about the 2019 major schedule (and you’d better believe that Tiger already is).

The Masters, where he has four green jackets and seven other Top 5 finishes. The PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he won in 2002 by 3. The United States Open at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2000 by 15.

The Open at Royal Portrush, where his savvy and guile will be a strong 15th club.

But that’s a talk for a later date.

Tiger is clearly still getting his sea legs back.

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Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.