McIlroy 'ahead of schedule' after opening 65 in Dubai

By On January 25, 2018

McIlroy 'ahead of schedule' after opening 65 in Dubai

McIlroy 'ahead of schedule' after opening 65 in DubaiBy Will GrayJanuary 25, 2018, 1:40 pm

He's only five competitive rounds into his latest comeback effort, but Rory McIlroy is pleased with how his game looks in the early stages of 2018.

Coming off a T-3 finish in Abu Dhabi, McIlroy opened the Omega Dubai Desert Classic with a bogey-free 65. The score left him in a tie for fifth, three shots behind former Ryder Cup teammate Jamie Donaldson.

"I don't think you could have gotten better conditions out there. Greens in the morning are perfect, and there wasn't much wind for the first 12-13 holes," McIlroy told reporters. "I feel like I left a few out there. But at the end of the day, 65, you're not going to complain about that."

Full-field scores from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic

McIlroy continues to rebound from a stop-and -start 2017 campaign that saw him spend nearly the entire year trying to rehab a rib injury and ultimately finish the year winless and outside the OWGR top 10. Having rested for nearly three months, he returned last week poised and confident while challenging for the title before Tommy Fleetwood's electric close.

McIlroy built on that momentum Thursday, with all seven birdies coming over his first 13 holes. Despite closing with a stretch of pars, he's now firmly in the mix at the tournament where he won for the first time as a pro back in 2009, and again in 2015.

The Ulsterman explained that he was "very frustrated" with his inability to play his best golf last year, but in just his second week back he feels that this comeback attempt is "completely different."

"I didn't expect to play as well as I did last week, and it's been nice to continue that into this week," McIlroy said. "So I'm ahead of sche dule right now, but I don't mind that. That's nice. Just have to reassess everything and go from there."

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After tam ing the North, Finau eager to try the SouthBy Rex HoggardJanuary 26, 2018, 2:13 am

SAN DIEGO â€" There was a time when players would attack the North Course at Torrey Pines and then try to “hold on” when they moved to the South Course at the Farmers Insurance Open.

That narrative has changed dramatically following a redesign of the North Course prior to last year’s event. On Thursday, the scoring average was less than a half-stroke lower on the North than the South, compared to the historic differential of two or sometimes three strokes.

It’s why Tony Finau’s opening 65 on the North Course gave him plenty of reasons to be optimistic, particularly considering his recent play on the South Course, which hosts the final two rounds of the event.

Full-field scores from the Farmers Insurance Open

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“I look forward to playing the South, a golf course where I can use my length to my advan tage so hopefully I keep hitting it well off the tee,” said Finau, who was 5 under par on the South Course last year on his way to a tie for fourth place. “I know I can score on that golf course. You've got to keep it in the fairway on both courses and I'm happy I did that today.”

Half of the top 14 scores on Day 1 came on the South Course, and Finau, who leads the tournament by one shot over Ted Potter Jr. and Ryan Palmer, is uniquely equipped to play the layout having led the PGA Tour last season in driving distance.

“A lot of the holes you can hit a fade and I'm a fader of the ball, I like hitting the fade off the tee,” he said. “I think probably a combo of those things off the tee and playing this golf course, I have some momentum.”

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Rahm (68) playing the best golf of his young careerBy Rex HoggardJanuary 26, 2018, 1:58 am

SAN DIEGO â€" Nearly 24 hours after winning last week’s CareerBuilder Challenge in a playoff, Jon Rahm was still riding high on the emotion of the victory.

By the time he reached Torrey Pines, where he is the defending champion fol lowing his PGA Tour breakthrough last year, he was still so excited that he had to take a moment to calm things down.

“On Tuesday, I had this day planned, and my manager realized that I was a little too active, a little too amped up, and they told me, 'Listen, you still have the adrenaline way too high. You need to focus on this week,'” said Rahm, who can overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking with a victory this week. “We changed the press conference, played nine holes and got off the golf course as soon as possible to relax. Yesterday, just watched a movie, flipped the switch and got at it again.”

Full-field scores from the Farmers Insurance Open

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

It turned out to be exactly what the energetic Spaniard needed. After a relatively quiet start to his day, which included two bogeys and three birdies through his first 12 holes, Rahm birdied three of his next four holes for a 4-under 68 on the South Course and a share of fourth place at the Farmers Insurance Open.

For Rahm, it’s an impressively familiar result from a game that might be the most consistent in golf at the moment. In his last three starts, dating back to the season finale on the European Tour in November, he’s finished first, second. and first.

Even he would tell you he is playing the best golf of his young career.

“I mean I just won, and I shot 4 under today, so yeah, I'm playing really good,” he said. “Last week, it was some of the best golf I've ever played tee to green and this week is still really high quality.”

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For Phil, the tinkering is done, and the fun is startingBy Rex HoggardJanuary 26, 2018, 1:48 am

SAN DIEGO â€" The time for tinkering is over for Phil Mickelson. Now is the time for fun, which in Lefty’s case means low scores.

He took a step in that direction on Thursday when he opened his week at the Farmers Insurance Open with a 2-under 70 on the North Course at Torrey Pines that left him tied for 35th place.

Full-field scores from the Farmers Insurance Open

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Despite a rough day off the tee - he hit just 6 of 14 fairways - Mickelson salvaged his round with his putter, needing 21 putts per green in regulation, and is back in the hunt at an event he’s won three times.

“I don’t need to worry about my swing now. I can just go out and try to have fun,” he said.

Mickelson hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since the 2013 Open Championship, and he failed to advance to the Tour Championship last season.

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'Wow me,' Reed said, and that's what Woods didBy Ryan LavnerJanuary 26, 2018, 1:31 am

SAN DIEGO â€" Never shy about needling his idol, Patrick Reed heard the glowing reports from Tiger Woods’ practice sessions and sent him a text message when he learned that they were paired together for the first two rounds at Torrey Pines.

“Hey, I expect you to wow me.”

And, all things considered, Woods did Thursday, shaking off a sluggish start to shoot an even-par 72 in his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“He looks good ,” Reed said afterward. “It’s baby steps.”

Woods sits in a tie for 84th at the Farmers Insurance Open, but a dose of perspective is desperately needed here.

After all, Reed said, he played last week’s CareerBuilder Challenge after six weeks away and, “I didn’t know what the heck I was doing out there. There were a lot of mental errors that happened. You’re just not sharp mentally around the course.”

Woods’ last official worldwide round? It was 356 days ago, and he returned Thursday on one of the most difficult courses on the Tour schedule â€" Reed: “Starting on the South course, it doesn’t get any harder than that” â€" under the brightest spotlight imaginable, with sports fans everywhere tuned in to watch another train wreck, like the rest of these aborted comebacks.

That didn’t happen this time. Woods was solid, and occasionally spectacular.

Playing primarily a cut off the tee, he found eight fairways. After a nerv y start, he hit nine of his last 10 greens. All three of his birdies were from inside 2 feet, after stuffed approach shots.

Full-field scores from the Farmers Insurance Open

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“I’ve got to hit my irons a little better than I did today,” he said. “It’s hard to make a lot of birdies when you’re not giving yourself any looks.”

Reed was more impressed by the quality of Woods’ play.

He shaped shots both ways. He flighted them high and low. He hit them hard, and he hit them soft.

“It seemed like he had control,” Reed said.

And there were glimpses of greatness, perhaps the biggest difference between this comeback and the myriad ones that preceded it.

Start with the drives that bounded past his playing partners.

“Some of the cuts that he hit today were insanely long,” Reed said. “You’re thinking a cut is not supposed to go that far, and he hit that flat cut out there 30 past your driver and you’re like, All right.”

And then there was the 239-yard bullet on the par-5 sixth, which led to a two-putt birdie.

And, finally, the near-ace on 16.

“It felt good, looked good,” Woods said, “and then we listened for some noise.”

Forty-five minutes later, Reed was still in awe.

“I thought I hit a pretty good 6-iron (to 14 feet) and he hit the same club and it came out a completely different window,” he said. “His was 30 feet higher than mine. It was monstrous up in the air. It came out like a pitching wedge. That thing was vertical. … Into the wind, you wouldn’t think that a ball could carry that far, and he was able to penetrate it through the wind at that height and be able to land it that soft, to a foot.

“There were some things out there that were pretty cool to see.”

Of course there are areas to clean up. Woods found seven bunkers. He played the par 5s in even par. He made only 34 feet worth of putts.

All of that … and yet Woods shot even par, in his first Tour event in a year, on the more difficult South course.

“For a guy that’s played one tournament in 365 days, for him to come out and play the way he did today,” Reed said, “I was impressed.”

Reed challenged Woods to wow him at Torrey Pines, and that’s exactly what he did.

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