Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott Have Finish to Forget at PGA Tour’s Honda Classic

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

“I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

“I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

“That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

“I feel like I’m really not that far away,” he said. 

To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

“He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”

Rory McIlroy believes United States Ryder Cup team is more cohesive due to copying European formula

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Rory McIlroy sees a more cohesive United States team and its approach to the Ryder Cup.

And he believes it is due to copying the European formula. In fact, he knows it.

“I had a good chat with Phil [Mickelson] about it at Pebble Beach [two weeks ago],” McIlroy said at the Honda Classic, where he begins play Thursday. “Obviously, Phil played a pretty big role in that. Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done. That’s what he told us.”

Rory McIlroy sees a more cohesive United States team and its approach to the Ryder Cup and believes its due to copying the European formula. Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

McIlroy noted the U.S. task force that was formed in the aftermath of a 2014 Ryder Cup loss that was the Americans’ third straight defeat and sixth in seven matches.

“[Mickelson] said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley, to all of them,” McIlroy said of the 2014 European captain.

“So they are copying what we do, and it’s working for them and it’s more cohesive; and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing … instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”

“It’s more, no this is the core of the team and this is what it’s going to be for the next handful of Ryder Cups and this is how we are going to do it,” McIlroy continued. “I think they have got it spot on.”

Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker were named vice captains by U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk on Tuesday for the 2018 team that will play in Paris. Both were assistants to Davis Love III two years ago at Hazeltine, where the Americans defeated Europe 17-11. Love also will be an assistant on this year’s team. And all were involved in last year’s Presidents Cup, where Stricker was the captain.

Mickelson, who along with Woods now makes up a U.S. Ryder Cup committee that includes the current captain, has played a big role behind the scenes. And Mickelson has played on every U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team dating to 1994.

“They have got a great team,” said McIlroy, who is from Northern Ireland and has played on four European teams. “A lot of young players that will be around for a long time. It’s always been evenly battled. It’s not like a whitewash every time. Europe won seven of nine or whatever it is, and I think that will be pretty tough to replicate in the next few years.”

Tiger Woods & Rory McIlroy fail to shine on day one at Genesis Open

McIlroy and Woods had one eagle, six birdies, seven bogeys and a double bogey between them

Former world number ones Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy made low-key starts to the Genesis Open at the Riviera Country Club in California.

Woods lost his ball in a double bogey at his second hole and, despite five birdies, returned a one-over 72.

McIlroy holed from 27 feet for an eagle at his 10th and finished level, one behind England’s Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy’s fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell picked up three birdies in his first seven holes for a 69.

American Tom Hoge took the clubhouse lead, the world number 194 posting five birdies to reach four under.

Compatriot Derek Fathauer was at minus five after 10 but double bogeyed his 14th hole and finished with a 68.

Woods and McIlroy were joined in an illustrious grouping by PGA and FedEx Cup champion Justin Thomas and all three birdied their first hole of the morning, having started at the 10th.

McIlroy’s birdie came by an unlikely route. Having gone through the green into a bunker, he holed from the sand for a three – but he then dropped shots at the next two holes, before rescuing his round with a majestic three at the 503-yard first hole.

Woods, yet to win at the Riviera and without a title since 2013, was wayward with the driver in the early stages at the narrow, tree-lined course and he also hit the trees at his third hole.

The 42-year-old, now ranked 550 in the world, finished the day having hit eight of 14 fairways, seven of 18 greens in regulation and needing 25 putts.

Thomas was the pick of the marquee three-ball, with five birdies in a round of 69.

Crowd favourite Phil Mickelson had a typically eventful round, mixing four birdies and three bogeys in a 71, rolling a birdie chance around the cup which inexplicably remained on the edge, despite half the ball appearing to be below the lip of the hole.

Former world number one Luke Donald, the 40-year-old without a win since 2013 and now ranked 177, returned a level-par round despite two double bogeys.

The man currently at the top of the rankings, Dustin Johnson, was among the later starters but opened with a birdie four at the first.

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Putting guru Dave Stockton confident Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy will quickly overcome putting issues

Genesis Open - Preview Day 3
Warren Little

Rory McIlroy during the Genesis Open Pro-Am, with the club giving him issues, the putter. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Jordan Spieth currently ranks 193rd in strokes gained-putting on the PGA Tour.

Rory McIlroy took 38 putts during his second round at Pebble Beach’s Monterey Peninsula Country Club last week, which included a four-putt.

Someone ring the alarm.

Of course, it’s only mid-February. Spieth has made just four starts, missing the cut in one of them, and McIlroy only one. He missed the cut, too.

RELATED: Jordan Spieth says fellow pros would still want him standing over big putt at the Ryder Cup

It’s easy enough to chalk up the poor performances to other factors — Spieth says he has been sick for much of the past month and McIlroy simply had a bad day on the poa annua and let it get to him.

But what can we expect this week at Riviera and more importantly beyond?

Longtime putting guru Dave Stockton has his thoughts. When it comes to McIlroy, they’re particularly insightful. He used to work with the 28-year-old.

“When he struggles, he gets mechanical,” Stockton said.

Not that Stockton thinks he is getting that way now, though he did notice that McIlroy has been trying to release his right hand through the stroke. Under Stockton, McIlroy often focused on drills with his left hand doing that.

It was also while working with Stockton that McIlroy had his best years, winning two majors by eight strokes and racking up a string of other impressive victories.

For McIlroy’s part, on Monday he went to TaylorMade’s headquarters in Carlsbad to work on a couple of things, specifically with the flat stick.

The result: He changed to a similar putter but one with more loft to help combat the poa annua greens.

“Results wise, last week at least wasn’t what I wanted,” McIlroy said. “But I still saw a lot of good stuff in there, which gives me confidence going into this week to think that I can do well.”

Stockton actually thinks McIlroy could do better than that. He thinks he’s on the verge of something big again.

“It’s just a matter of him getting comfortable,” Stockton said of McIlroy, who two years ago was in contention on Sunday at Riviera until a final-round 75. “His driving and ball-striking is just so good. He really needs to have just one good tournament to get him started.”

As for Spieth, being sick hasn’t helped, limiting how much time he has been able to practice.

Just observing Spieth from afar the few times he has this year, Stockton sees “zero” issues with his mechanics.

“People will make a big deal when he putts while looking at the hole,” Stockton said. “When you throw a dart, you look at the board, not the dart.”

But the biggest key to overcoming whatever small struggles each has had to this point has little to do with mechanics, Stockton said.

RELATED: Dave Stockton: Four tips to hole it

“Jordan and Rory both have the mental ability between the ears to mostly overcome whatever problems they’re having,” he said. “Tiger and Jack were the same way. They were smarter than us.”

Time will tell for Spieth and McIlroy. They still have enough of it — for now. But it’s worth observing in the days and weeks ahead. The year’s first major is less than two months away.