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Yep, Rory McIlroy struggled backing up a good first round ... again

By John Huggan

ABERDEEN, Scotland -- It is now, by a distance, the burning question in golf: Just what does Rory McIlroy do on Thursday nights?

For seemingly the umpteenth time this year the 25-year-old Ulsterman followed up a blistering opening round (seven-under 64) with one best described as blundering (78). Eight birdies and one bogey one day; one birdie, six bogeys and one double the next. It was a veritable catalog of disaster that could actually have been worse. On each of the last two holes in his second round at this Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, McIlroy bravely got up-and-down from greenside sand to save par -- and break 80.

loop-rory-mcilroy-scottish-rd2-518.jpgIt must also be acknowledged that the two-time major champion was far from alone in finding Royal Aberdeen's Balgownie links -- protected by the prevailing southeasterly -- a fearsome test. Take Russell Knox. Leading the tournament and eight under par for the first 30 holes of his professional debut in his homeland, the 28-year-old from Inverness in the Scottish Highlands finished alongside McIlroy at even par. Two double bogeys and four bogeys over the closing six holes will do that to a man.

There's more, so much more.

A player good enough to finish T-4 in last month's U.S. Open, Brooks Koepka, had a 10 on one hole. South African Darren Fichardt made a double bogey on the short 12th then made a quadruple on the next hole. England's Tom Lewis raced to the turn downwind in 31 then trudged home in 40. U.S. Amateur champion Matt Fitzpatrick stumbled round in 79, making but one birdie. And Ian Poulter, needing an unlikely birdie at the closing hole to make the cut, instead made a triple bogey.

And here's the bigger news: the wind wasn't that strong. Not by Caledonian standards. If it ever does get up beyond moderate, one can only imagine the carnage that will ensue. Largely raised on a diet of "hit-and-stick" golf, today's up-and-coming band of "superstars" seem generally ill-equipped to cope with anything out of professional golf's increasingly one-dimensional norm. Certainly, on a day when the ball had to be on the ground more than in the air, their shot-making limitations were savagely exposed by not much more than a zephyr.

"We older guys grew up playing more links golf than the youngsters do these days," said Nick Faldo, the 57-year old six-time major champion, after his second successive 73. "My contemporaries knew the value of hitting to the middle of the green and not being too aggressive when it isn't really smart or necessary. To achieve that in conditions like these, the old school had more shots in them.

"Older guys tend to 'see' more shots," Faldo continued. "In today's game, a lot of youngsters play one way. They hit the same shot over and over. Which makes them big checks most weeks. But to make the next step -- to make yourself a major champion -- you've got to have the ability and the trust to vary your attack. At the highest level and especially on a fast-running seaside links, that's what makes the difference."

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News & Tours

The real takeaway from Rory McIlroy's course-record 64 at the Scottish Open

By John Huggan

loop-rory-mcilroy-iron-aberdeen-280.jpgABERDEEN, Scotland -- On the eve of this Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen, Rory McIlroy was making strangely positive noises about a Round 1 weather forecast that promised much in the way of precipitation.

"You've got to relish the challenge," said the man who, three years previously, had openly expressed a deep and profound distaste for a similar combination of links courses and less-than-perfect meteorological conditions. "I'm trying to adopt more of that mind-set, especially for these two weeks of the year."

Well, it's working, so far at least. When the predicted rainfall failed to materialize -- there's a shock -- McIlroy took advantage. In a breeze that was strong enough to help him drive the green on the 436-yard 13th, the 25-year-old Ulsterman made eight birdies and one bogey in an opening-round 64. By two shots, it represented a new course record for the glorious Balgownie links.

"I was really pleased with how I controlled my game," he said. "To be able to go out and trust the shots I have been practicing over the last 10 days was great."

That it was. On a classic out-and-back links, McIlroy mastered the more difficult front-nine -- wind blow against and from the left -- to be three under at the turn: "That was a good score today, a really good nine holes of golf."

Four more birdies followed on an inward-half that Phil Mickelson's caddie, Jim (Bones) MacKay, described as "made for Rory." Indeed, it was the helping right-to-left wind that allowed McIlroy, a natural drawer of the ball, to produce that monster drive on the 13th and reduce many holes to "drive and kick."

The differences between the two nines were more than marked, of course, a fact McIlroy underlined with a variety of examples.

"I hit a really good drive into the wind on the seventh," he said. "And they measured it at 255 yards. Then on the 12th I drove it 373 yards. On the third hole I hit a 4-iron and it pitched at 187 yards and ran out another 40 yards. Then on the seventh I hit the same club 160 yards. That's nearly a 70-yard difference."

Most pleasing to the former U.S. Open and PGA champion, however, was his ability to control the flight on his shots, inevitably a key factor on a fast-running links.

"I've always been a natural player in that I can hit a high fade or low draw," he explained. "But today I was hitting little 6-irons from 150 yards and 4-irons 165 yards with the aim of keeping the ball down. I feel very confident with those shots at the minute."

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News & Tours

Miguel Angel Jimenez avoids dead rodent in a bunker at Scottish Open

By Stephen Hennessey

As if getting out of a bunker wasn't hard enough at Royal Aberdeen. Throw in rodents around your ball in sand traps, and you're basically doomed.

And for some reason, the fact that this happened to Miguel Angel Jimenez makes it all the more comical.

Let the photos, elegantly captured by Getty Images' Andrew Redington, tell the story.

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First, Jimenez and his playing partner, Ian Poulter, check out the situation.

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Jimenez gets an up-close and personal look at the most famous rodent in Scotland on Thursday. "Hey, if you're alive, you want to join me for a Cohiba cigar after this round?"

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The Most Interesting Man in Golf then inspects the rodent's status. Rule 23-6 in the Rules of Golf state that a dead animal is a loose impediment and cannot be removed.

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Is the European Tour rules official checking the rodent's pulse? Laugh all you want, but probably. If the rodent was alive, Jimenez would be allowed to remove it from the bunker as it's considered an outside agency. Apparently that was the case since Jimenez ended up parring the hole.

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Looks like Poulter was worried. Who knew he had such a soft spot for rodents? 

It was quite the eventful round for Jimenez and Poulter. Rory McIlroy drove the green from 434 yards away while they were on the putting surface. Maybe all of this explains why they both finished the day over par and almost 100 spots out of first place.

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News & Tours

Getting into the World Golf Hall of Fame just got tougher ... and more prestigious

By Ron Sirak

WGHOF-Montgomerie.jpgORLANDO -- The World Golf Hall of Fame is one of the best-kept secrets in the game. A walk through the facility in St. Augustine, Fla., is an inspiring trip through time.

The problem is not enough people are making the walk.

In an effort to make more people aware of the institution and get more people involved, WGHOF chief operating officer Jack Peter announced Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational wide-ranging changes to the selection process.

The main revisions include:

* Instead of being an annual event, induction in the WGHOF will happen biennially beginning May 4, 2015.

* Instead of players being selected by a ballot involving hundreds of voters, including dozens of golf writers, a 16-person Selection Commission, with three writers, will choose the induction class. (Editor's Note: Sirak, the current Golf Writers Association of America president, will be one of the three writers on the committee for 2015.)

* To be elected, candidates must receive 75 percent of the vote from the Selection Commission, or 12 of 16 members. Both Fred Couples and Colin Montgomerie (above) were elected to the WGHOF's Class of 2013 with barely more than 50 percent of the vote using the old process.

Related: Varied responses to Fred Couples being named to WGHOF

* The International ballot, which always seemed out of place for a body with the word "World" in its title, has been eliminated. There will be four categories: Male and Female Competitors, Veterans and Lifetime Achievement.

To be considered in the Competitor category, a male needs 15 wins (up from 10) in International Federation of PGA Tours events or two victories in majors or Players Championship.

A woman needs 15 wins on tours that receive Rolex Rankings points or two victories in the five LPGA majors. The 27-point rule will remain in effect for the LPGA Hall of Fame. It is highly unlikely a woman would earn 27 points and not make the WGHOF.

Remaining the same from the previous selection process is the minimum age of 40 for induction or, for retired players, the need to be five years removed from active competition. That means Tiger Woods and Lorena Ochoa will be eligible for the 2017 class.

The revisions to the selection process come after the WGHOF announced last October it was suspending induction for 2014 to undergo a strategic review of the criteria and make sure it was properly defined to maintain the highest quality of candidate be added to the roster of the game's legends.

"The changes to the process and induction ceremony will serve the long-term interest of the institution well," Peter said. "The changes take the unique nature of the game and its candidates into account and, most important, will continue to allow the Hall of Fame to recognize worthy individuals."

If there is a real flaw in the WGHOF, it is that the public won't start taking it seriously until the players take it seriously. That is another reason for the changes.

Not enough active players and not enough members of the WGHOF show up at the induction ceremony each year. It was hoped that moving the induction from the fall to the Monday of Players Championship week, which was done in 2011 years ago, would fix that. It didn't.

WGHOF.jpgGetting current members of the WGHOF to return to the yearly induction has been a challenge, even after the ceremony was moved to May. (Photo: Getty Images)


The Selection Commission for the 2015 class will be chaired by four WGHOF members: Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Annika Sorenstam and Nancy Lopez. In addition to that four and the three writers, and a representative from the PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA, Masters, PGA of America, USGA, R&A and, for the 2015 class, the Japan LPGA and Sunshine Tour.

"This is a great step for the Hall of Fame," Palmer said. "I was honored to be a part of the first Hall of Fame class 40 years ago in 1974, and it will be a privilege to serve on the Selection Commission with Nancy, Annika and Gary for the class of 2015."

The process to determine the incoming class will begin with a 20-person Selection Sub-Committee, which will review eligible candidates and pass 10 names along to all WGHOF members, who will whittle the list to five.

Any player receiving no votes from the sub-committee two consecutive years will be removed from the ballot.

The Selection Commission will pick no more than two candidates from each of the four categories and no more than five total for each class.

The hope of involving the WGHOF members in the voting is that if they feel more vested in the process, they might show up to the induction ceremony in greater numbers.

The intent of making induction something that happens every two years also is to generate greater turnout of both active and inactive players by making the event feel more special.

Photo: Getty Images
 


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News & Tours

Rory McIlroy eyeing a big year as he starts his U.S. swing at Match Play

By Stephen Hennessey

MARANA, Ariz. -- You can hear the difference in his voice. Instead of uncertainty, there's confidence. Rory McIlroy knows he could've -- maybe even should've -- won in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where he finished second and ninth.

McIlroy also knows that he has four top 10s in four official tournaments played in since November.

That's why when McIlroy addressed the media for the first time in the United States this year, on the eve of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, the 24-year-old had a completely different tone than at the start of the season in 2013, when a sluggish start and questions about equipment changes dominated the conversation.

"Yeah, I mean, definitely I'm much more settled [than I was last year]," McIlroy said Tuesday. "Just, yeah, everything is sort of in a good place. The game is in great shape, I feel. I haven't hit the ball this well for a long time.

"Compared to this time last year, it's so much different."

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McIlroy was all smiles today at Dove Mountain. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

McIlroy said he made an adjustment in his putting grip after working with Dave Stockton prior to this week's Match Play, where he will play Boo Weekley in Wednesday's first round. (They tee off at 1:25 p.m. EST.) So he's feeling more confident in his putting stroke after starting the European Tour season a mediocre 47th in putts per round (29).

Related: Huggan: McIlroy showing signs that 2014 is a different year

Stockton had McIlroy move his right thumb on top of his grip to help his left hand continue his stroke through impact, McIlroy said.

Since last October, McIlroy said he's also more comfortable with his overall swing, and his stats seem to prove him out. Currently he ranks second on the Euro Tour in driving distance and sixth in greens in regulation.

"Yeah it's been a long process," he said. "I've worked hard and I feel like I'm seeing the results of that."

Surprisingly, there were no questions about his engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki in the Tuesday press conference. But that's another part of McIlroy's life that is stable. It's unclear just how much that impacts the seventh ranked golfer in the world on the course. But when average Joes like us have stability in our personal lives, we tend to perform better, right? Why not McIlroy, then?

We're just a week away from the one-year anniversary of arguably McIlroy's competitive nadir -- his infamous toothache incident at the Honda Classic. It's hard to say how McIlroy will fare this week given the unpredictable format that is match play. But if he keeps his form going the way he has over the last four months, this could be the start of a standout year for McIlroy.

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News & Tours

Video: Miguel Angel Jimenez demonstrates his famous stretching routine

By Stephen Hennessey

PHOENIX -- You've seen it on the range at tour events. Miguel Angel Jimenez's warm-up routine is a spectacle to say the least.

Yesterday at Ping's headquarters in Phoenix, Jimenez gave a quick rundown of his stretching routine to a group of about 30 Ping employees.

Who knew that Jimenez has a method to the madness of this contorting motion? The 50-year-old Spaniard says he has been doing these stretches for as long as he can remember.

Related: Fitness: Activate your ankles

"The older we get, the more important your fitness is," Jimenez said after, before heading to Tucson for this week's WGC-Match Play. "You don't want to lose your flexibility with age."

Jimenez certainly hasn't. As he toured through the Ping headquarters after his stretching clinic, Jimenez showed off just how flexible he still is. In front of a cubicle of a group of Ping employees, the four-time Ryder Cupper threw his leg high onto their cubicle wall, with his foot almost reaching above his head.

"See, this is why you need to stretch," Jimenez explained.

Not many 50-year-old golfers can make ballet dancers blush with their warm-up routine. But this Spaniard still can.

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News & Tours

Buy Adam Scott's Abu Dhabi house, get a round with the Masters champ

By Keely Levins

Adam Scott, reigning Masters Champion and should-have-been Golf Digest Hottest Golfer Contest Champion, is selling his 'house' in Abu Dhabi, according to Abu Dhabi Week.

This is the second real estate move Scott has made in the last three months. Gold Coast Bulletin reported he took a $2.5 million hit when he sold his Australia apartment on Surfers Paradise Beach in December.
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He bought the Abu Dhabi house in 2008 before it was built, the plan being to use it as a home base while he was competing on the European Tour. He didn't end up spending any time in it, citing that as the reason why it's now on the market.

The house is 10,000 square feet, has a pool, and views of the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and nearby ocean. It's listed at a cool $6.2 million. And if that's the kind of investment you're looking to make right now, you're going to get more than the house: Scott said he'll play a round of golf with the buyer.

You can put a price on most things -- but I'm pretty sure a round of golf with Scott just isn't one of them. Let the bidding war begin.

 

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Stats show Rory is playing about as well as at this time last year, and only a win in Dubai can change that

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

Rory McIlroy's opening round 63 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic seems to reaffirm that the slump the World No. 6 was in for most of the 2013 calendar year might be behind him ... or does it? Is it really a sign that good times are ahead?

Instead of waiting to see how the rest of this week's tournament -- or the rest of this year -- finished to answer that question, we decided to do some snap analysis that compares Rory at this point in his 2013-14 season to where he stood at the same time in the 2012-13 season.

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To do this, we specifically analyzed just the events where Rory was able to collect Official World Golf Ranking points, and only the four-month time frame from the conclusion of the FedEx Cup season to the end of January.

Here then is how Rory's results looked between his final 2012 FedEx Cup event and Jan. 29, 2013:

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And here's how his results look between his final 2013 FedEx Cup event and Jan. 29, 2014:

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Now for a side-by-side look:

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What can we gather from this solid stretch from Rory? Well, perhaps we shouldn't jump to any conclusions that this season will be remarkably different from a year ago since he's actually playing at a level almost identical to this point in 2013.

Despite competing in two fewer events a year ago, Rory finished with as many wins and top-three finishes as he has now. His scoring average, too, was a touch lower. And before Thursday's 63, Rory's low round in both time periods was a 65, shot once each time. 


What's perhaps more interesting is how Rory does when he plays poorly now compared to a year ago. In 2012-13, Rory finished either really good -- top three or better -- or really bad, as in missed cut. In 2013-14, his performances have been less erratic -- no missed cuts and more top 10s. That's why his average point total per start is slightly higher this year. Granted, it's a small sample size.*

(*The one thing we haven't touched upon here, of course, is the complicating factor of McIlroy's equipment switch from Titleist to Nike clubs at the beginning of 2013. How large a role that played in his subsequent struggles last year is subject for debate. Presumably, though, that factor potentially contributing to his 2013 slump isn't a variable he'll be fighting in 2014.) 

Either way, a win in Dubai would change some things. Most notably, it would give him about 48 World Ranking points, meaning that, on paper, he'd be playing better than at this point last year.

Anything outside of that, however, and the question of whether he's really playing better right now than he was 12 months ago remains.


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News & Tours

Video: Rory McIlroy puts on a show for Tiger Woods in Dubai

By Alex Myers

Unless you stayed up really late last night, you probably missed watching Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods playing in the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic. And if that's the case, you missed quite a show -- from Rory, as least.

Related: Like Tiger, like Rory? Their careers compared

McIlroy fired an opening 63 to dust his playing partner, the world's top-ranked golfer, by five shots. According to this highlight package, Woods was hitting the ball "sideways," but posted a solid round thanks to some remarkable scrambling. McIlroy needed no such help from his short game:

Clearly, the shot of the day was a McIlroy 5-wood that carried about 250 yards and then gently rolled out to about 10 feet to set up an eagle. Not that we should be too surprised. McIlroy has a win, a runner-up, a T-5 and a T-6 in his last four worldwide events entering this week. So much for that slump.

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Video: Phil Mickelson tries to hit a shot right-handed, accidentally hits the ball twice instead

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

Perhaps Phil Mickelson foreshadowed his Sunday fate after his round the day before.

"That was not a smart decision," Mickelson said, referring to his ultra-aggressive second shot from the bunker on the final hole. "But I don't know, that's just what I do."

That shot finished in the rough, about 100 yards from the pin, but close enough to wedge on and hole the putt (which he did). Maybe that was running through his mind on the 13th hole on Sunday. His ball stuck next to a bush, Phil flipped his club over so he could try to chip out right-handed.

The result this time? Not so good.

Lefty accidentally hit his ball twice, in all taking five strokes to get onto the green of the par 4. He would make a triple bogey en route to a T-2 finish, one back of winner Pablo Larrazabal.

And how did Phil respond when asked about it after the round?

"You know me, I've done some crazy s*** in my career. I go up and then I go down."

Oh, Phil.


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