Posted on: February 23, 2012 8:26 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 8:40 pm

Rory's road to top of mountain looks good

By Steve Elling

MARANA, Ariz. -- Don’t look now, but the week is shaping up rather nicely for world No. 2 Rory McIlroy.

After surviving his second-round match at the Accenture Match Play Championship on Thursday with a 3 and 2 win over Denmark's Anders Hansen, McIlroy will face 48-year-old Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez on Friday.

No knock on Jimenez, the oldest man in the field at age 48, but his magic seems destined to evaporate at some point and there's plenty on the line for McIlroy, who can ascend to world No. 1 with a victory.

More importantly, McIlroy might the lone guy on the property who isn’t grumbling about the greens at the Dove Mountain course, which are a shade on the severe side, in the minds of most.

"The greens are okay," he said. "To be honest, I feel pretty comfortable reading them. I don't feel like  I mean, it's very obvious, the greens. It's not like some of the greens you get where it's very subtle.  It's very obvious."

He might want to tell a few of the 16 players who were dispatched Thursday, including Tiger Woods, who raked balls around on the greens all week.

His bracket is probably the weakest of the four, with Jimenez, John Senden and Sang-moon Bae as the remaining four.

As for achieving the No. 1 ranking at age 22, he's been hearing it non-stop for a couple of days now.

"Everyone keeps telling me, so it's hard to put it out of my mind," he said. "It's a little bit of extra motivation this week knowing that if I can get through four more matches, I could go to the top of the world rankings, which is obviously a huge moment for my career."

Category: Golf
Posted on: February 23, 2012 11:32 am
Edited on: February 23, 2012 1:05 pm

McIlroy loaded for Bear this spring

Rory McIlroy hits a shot in his first round win at the Accenture. (Getty Images)

By Steve Elling

MARANA, Ariz. -- Like Jack Nicklaus' home haunt needs more star power.

With a high-end course in West Palm Beach, Fla., that already includes No. 1 Luke Donald and formerly top-ranked Ernie Els as members, the player anointed as a sure future No. 1 is going to be hanging around, too.

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, 22, has rented a home in the Jupiter area, through the Players Championship in May, and said he will be spending his time in the States working out of the Bear's Club, the place Nicklaus designed a few years back which serves as his Florida home base.

McIlroy said he will play three straight events starting this week at the Accenture Match play, followed by the Honda Classic and Doral, two events within a few miles of his new South Florida abode. He will take the next three weeks off before playing the Masters.

McIlroy is a member of the PGA Tour this year.

With Els and Donald, that's some serious firepower playing out of the increasingly famous Nicklaus club.

"We could do our own Tavistock [Cup]," Donald cracked earlier this week.

Based on a certain prescribed outcome, McIlroy could unseat Donald as No. 1 with a victory this week. After winning his opening match against George Coetzee, McIlroy faces Anders Hansen of Denmark on Thursday.

Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley and Camilo Villegas also play out of the Bear's Club. Not bad. Not at all. 

For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow Steve Elling and Eye On Golf on Twitter. 

Posted on: February 22, 2012 8:07 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 12:16 pm

With win, McIlroy at one with the world

By Steve Elling

MARANA, Ariz. -- All of a sudden, as he looked at the scoreboard, his future flashed before him.

OK, so he might not get there this week, but the possibility certainly exists, thanks to the first-round results at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy was on the course Wednesday afternoon when he saw a leaderboard which noted that world No. 1 Luke Donald had been upset in the opening round. That creates the very real possibility that, with a victory tis week, the 22-year-old U.S. Open champ could ascend to the rankings top spot with a victory Sunday.

God bless McIlroy, who freely admitted that he will use the ranking as a motivational carrot the rest of the way -- and there are another five matches he must win -- to climb to the highest rung in the game.  Many players would not allow themselves to think about it, much less discuss it, openly.

Donald was drilled by Ernie Els, 5 and 4, while McIlroy won his match, 2 up, against a surprisingly resilient George Coetzee.

You gotta love anybody who begins a sentence in this overly-protective, mind-games era with the words, "to be honest." Which is exactly what McIlroy did when I asked him about becoming numero uno.

"To be honest, I came in here yesterday and talked about if I play well and just win matches, that will take care of itself," he said. "But obviously, it's another incentive waking up each morning and knowing that if you win your match at the end of that day, at the end of the week you could be world No. 1.

"I saw the result on one of the scoreboards on No. 17, I think. So, yeah, we'll see what happens. I have to get through a lot of matches before that, but it definitely gives me an added incentive this week."

McIlroy, who rejoined the PGA Tour for 2012, could become the fourth player in a year to climb to the top spot, joining Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Donald.

We'll see how McIlroy feels if the media asks him about the No. 1 ranking for the next four days in succession, but for now, he doesn't believe it will be a distration. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"I think, if anything, it gives you just a little bit of extra motivation, especially if you find yourself maybe a couple down through five or six holes that you say to yourself, come on, you've got to win this thing or you've got to win this match to give yourself a chance [at No. 1], at least.

"So in that way you can use it to your advantage, as well."

Posted on: February 22, 2012 11:59 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:54 pm

Accenture matches about aptitude, altitude

By Steve Elling 

MARANA, Ariz. -- According to the host venue's website, certain points of the Dove Mountain course are located at 3,200 feet above sea level. For those who watched the Accenture Match Play Championship's final pairing last year, when it snowed and hailed, that's certainly no news flash.

For a PGA Tour player, the territorial elements can create unique environmental issues. Or, in the case of this particular track, three of them.

Players teeing off early face the very real prospect that the ball will feel like a piece of desert rock. Temperatures overnight routinely dive down close to freezing. The first matches Wednesday started at 7:25 a.m. local time.

"It's so cold, the ball might even go shorter," Charl Schwartzel said.

So players have to plan around the environmental issues more than usual. Rory McIlroy intentionally waited to play his practice round Tuesday to that it was conducted during the same time frame as his first-round match, for instance. Because, as the weather warms up, the ball can really start to fly. The desert air is notoriously dry, which means the ball takes off like a rocket, especially at this altitude.

"I mean, all the par-5s are reachable," Schwartzel said.

They are listed on the card Wednesday at 573, 579, 599 and 583 yards. The course overall is listed at around 7,800 yards but can play 5-10 percent shorter, morning coldness and occasional winds notwithstanding.

Or even shorter than that, for some.

"It actually depends on how far you hit it in the air," McIlroy said.

Or how hot it gets. The forecast calls for a zero-percent chance of rain and temperatures in the mid-to-upper 70s.

"I think when it gets warmer, which it's meant to, and the adrenalin kicks in, it's close to 10 percent," defending champion and world No. 1 Luke Donald said of the flighting disparity versus sea level tracks like, say, Pebble Beach or Riviera.

"You take the sum of the elevations and the 10 percent difference, suddenly at 250 yards you're hitting a 4 iron, when usually that's a pretty good 3-wood for me. It takes a little bit of getting used to. [Caddie] John [McLaren] and I have done a pretty good job in the last couple of years."

Posted on: August 12, 2011 9:06 am
Edited on: August 12, 2011 3:44 pm

McIlroy bandages together decent day

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- If you cringed, join the club.

Lee Westwood, a former world No. 1 and a fairly accomplished guy on the global golf stage to say the least, watch the replays of a certain somebody whacking a ball from beside a thick tree root and had the same reaction as most of us.

He blanched, he blinked.

"A 22-year-old Lee Westwood probably would have is taken it on, yeah," the veteran said. "A 38-year-old Lee Westwood probably wouldn't. I guess that's why people turn up to watch him, don't they?"

They left a bit disappointed on Friday afternoon.

Rory McIlroy, the aforementioned player at age 22, taped up his injured right wrist and forearm Friday and fought his way through a 3-over 73 that left him 10 shots off the lead as the afternoon wave of play began at the 93rd PGA Championship.

McIlroy hurt the wrist while trying to execute an admittedly reckless shot when his ball came to rest against a tree root in the first round, giving him a stinger in his forearm that almost precipitated his withdrawal. With several feet of tape wrapping the injury, McIlroy managed to gut his way through his second round, but he lost ground on the leaders.

After sleeping on it -- both the decision and the wrist -- McIlroy conceded that having a go at the shot wasn't the best idea he's ever had. That notion was seconded by about everybody who has seen the defending U.S. Open champion play and were concerned about his career being cut short by a fairly inconsequential stroke ... on the third hole of the first round.

"Looking back on it and how close the root was to the ball, it probably wasn't the right decision," he said Friday. "But I felt at the time that if I could make impact, let go of the club, I could have got it up somewhere around the green. In major championships, every shot counts, and that's all I was really thinking about."

The result of that thinking became the focal point of the tournament Friday morning.

With most of the eyeballs in Atlanta upon him, the reigning U.S. Open champion teed off at 8:35 a.m., despite having the ailing forearm taped from the wrist to a few inches below the elbow. McIlroy gulped down a few Alleve before the round provided by his trainer Cornell Driessen, and tried to improve on his opening-round 70.

Driessen said the MRI on McIlroy's arm showed strained tendons and flexor muscles, and some fluid buildup and that McIlroy was having trouble rotating his forearm, particularly in getting the club square at impact. Chandler said McIlroy was feeling the injury in his fingers.

"That's what they call a stinger," Driessen said.

McIlroy drew a huge crowd on the range at 8:07 a.m. when he began warming up. After a few tentative swings, he started getting loose and the issue didn’t seem to be affecting him much at all, though he was flexing his wrist and fingers between warmup shots.

"I think he's feeling a little bit better," said Gerry McIlroy, Rory's father, as he watched the proceedings.

Chandler said his MRI results were reviewed by a slew of medical experts in Atlanta and overseas and was told that by playing, he would be risking adding another week to the recovery period, Chandler said. That was good enough for McIlroy.

"As Rory said, there isn’t another major until April," Chandler said.

McIlroy sustained the injury with a reckless, and perhaps ill-advised, shot on the third hole of the first round, when his pulled tee shot came to rest against a tree root. He bent his 7-iron while bashing the shot out toward the fairway, prompting analysts to second-guess the decision.

Plenty of golf careers have been wrecked by wrist injuries in similar situations, and the tournament wasn't exactly on the line on the third hole of the Thursday round. Even J.P. Fitzgerald came under fire for not calling McIlroy off the shot, a criticism that drew laughter from Chandler. He called the caddie criticism, "bullsh*t."

"He doesn’t listen to anybody," Chandler said.

Chandler ought to know. Against Chandler's advice, McIlroy has twice elected to take up his PGA Tour card, including a move back to membership on the U.S. tour for the 2012 season.

Later in the first round, after McIlroy had driven his ball on the 12th hole into a depression in the dirt, Driessen and Fitzgerald advised him not to hit the shot because he might be risking further injury.

"All we could pick up was Rory has his back to the physio, the physio told Rory 'no,' Rory turned his head and shrugged," PGA rules official David Price said afterward. "Then he turned back around, grabbed a club and hit the shot anyway."

Chandler declined to second-guess his client's course management and decision-making on the course, though the shot against the tree root could have been career-altering.

"If he thinks he can do it, he'll have a go," Chandler said.

McIlroy was asked after the second round about flack that Fitzgerald was taking from media and got downright defensive.

"He's my caddie, not my father," McIlroy shot back.

All in all, McIlroy said the most painful part of the day wasn't his injury -- it was the pain and suffering administered by his putter. He had a trio of three-jacks.

"Even with a broken arm I should be putting better than this," McIlroy cracked.

All in all, McIlroy's swing wasn't too badly affected -- he had some trouble rotating through the hitting zone -- but it wasn't anything he couldn’t handle.

"It's more uncomfortable instead of painful," McIlroy said.

That doesn’t mean there wasn't plenty of doubt and concern when he really let it rip early in the round.

 "It's always in the back of your minds and you're always trying to protect it in some way in the subconscious," he said. "So even if you are going after one halfway down on the downswing, you're like, 'oh, maybe not.'"

If only he'd had that thought when the ball was against the root, right?

"Yeah, it's frustrating but hopefully I can get a bit of treatment on it tonight," he said. "Hopefully it will feel a little better tomorrow."

Category: Golf
Posted on: August 11, 2011 7:31 pm
Edited on: August 11, 2011 7:33 pm

McIlroy injures arm, but avoids rules twist

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- Would this have been adding insult to injury, or injury to insult?

Two hours after sustaining a painful wrist injury that required on-course medical attention, Rory McIlroy had a conversation with a trainer before a shot that resulted in an inquiry into whether he violated a rule at the 93rd PGA Championship.

Early in the day, the reigning U.S. Open champion hit a risky shot while his ball was resting against a tree root on the third hole, his hands flying off the club, which spun through the air on his follow-through as he let go of the grip. Because of the impact of his club against the root, McIlroy injured his right forearm, which was stretched and treated for several minutes by physio Cornell Driessen, who was called to the scene. McIlroy had the injury taped, and continued to play his round.

On his back nine, McIlroy hit a tee shot into the trees on the 12th hole and found his ball sitting in approximately a six-inch depression in the soil. There was an exchange between McIlroy and the trainer, who was seen on the TNT television feed shaking his head and talking to the world No. 4.

A television viewer phoned the PGA of America at Atlanta Athletic Club and said he believed McIlroy had broken a rule barring outside advice. The caller didn't leave his name or explain himself very clearly and the issue wasn't immmediately investigated.

After several viewers raised the question of a possible violation on Twitter, the PGA's top tournament official, Kerry Haigh, viewed the exchange on a video-tape replay in a TV truck.

By the time McIlroy finished his round, PGA rules official David Price was waiting in the scoring trailer. If the name sounds at all familiar, it's because Price was the man who broke the news to Duston Johnson that he had committed a violation on the 72nd hole of the PGA that cost him a spot in a playoff for the title..

Not a guy you want to see lurking after the round with a stern look on his face and a rulebook in hand.

Ultimately, no penalty was assessed. The PGA reviewed the replay and determined that the advice was unsolicited and did not materially impact the way McIlroy played the shot, either.

"It was a casual comment," Price said. "In order for it to be advice, he would have to have asked for it. It didn't affect the way he played the shot."

Price said they listed to the audio playback, too.

"All we could pick up was Rory has his back to the physio, the physio told Rory 'no,' Rory turned his head and shrugged. Then he turned back around, grabbed a club and hit the shot anyway.

"Essentially, it was a casual comment meant to avoid injury."

McIlroy had a similarly confusing rules issue three years ago at the Masters, where tournament officials had to decide whether he had improperly tested the sand while smoothing out his footprints in a bunker at Augusta National. Ultimately, officials elected not to assess a penalty, which likely would have resulted in a disqualification because McIlroy had already signed his scorecard.

McIlroy gutted out an even-par 70 and said Friday's second round is a wait-and-see proposition depending on how his arm feels and the follow-up exam goes.

"As I said, it's a very important tournament, and I'm still even par," McIlroy said. "I'm still in the hunt. So we'll see what the results are tonight, and if I can strap it up and play again tomorrow, I will."

Category: Golf
Posted on: August 3, 2011 2:55 pm

McIlroy reverses field, may head back to PGA Tour

AKRON, Ohio -- Hello, America.

Defending U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy said Wednesday that he is strongly leaning toward rejoining the PGA Tour in 2012, a development that would not only raise the marketing stock of McIlroy, but the tour itself just as television rights-fee negotiations are set to commence.

In a story that generated ripples on both sides of the Atlantic, McIlroy dropped his tour card in 2010 and skipped the Players Championship this spring, creating a controversy that gave the U.S. tour a minor black eye.

But after winning the Open in June and being received by American fans as a conquering hero, McIlroy has reconsidered -- for a variety of reasons.

"I'm leaning towards taking my card up again definitely," he said. "I feel as if I play my best golf over here.  I'm very comfortable in this country."

That feeling's reciprocal.

McIlroy, 22, who has won two of this three career titles in the U.S., will be eligible to join for the season opener in Hawaii next season, without restriction, PGA Tour official Andy Pazder said.

In something of a surprise, McIlroy approached tour official Ross Berlin on Wednesday and inquired about re-joining, and the pair met with Pazder at Firestone Country Club to hash out the particulars -- not that there are many as it relates to 2012.

Somewhere, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is surely dancing an Irish jig. McIlroy has flash, panache and charisma, is ranked No. 5 in the world, and would immediately leap to the fore as one of the tour's most indispensible players, especially with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson laboring to keep their footholds at the top.

"Obviously, we're ecstatic about that [possibility]," Pazder said. "Rory is an immense talent, and for a person to win the U.S. Open by eight shots, he captivated certainly the fans in the U.S. and frankly around the world. So to have him potentially as a member next year is very significant."

It's been an interesting career track already for McIlroy, who was advised against taking up his PGA Tour card two seasons ago by his management firm, ISM, and ignored that counsel. McIlroy won a few months later at Quail Hollow in Charlotte with a spectacular closing 62, one of the best rounds of the year.

But after playing in the grind of the FedEx Cup series last year -- top players face a stretch of six huge-money events in an eight-week span -- McIlroy retreated to the European Tour and dropped his U.S. card. Later, when he and fellow ISM stablemate Lee Westwood elected to skip the Players Championship last May, it caused a considerable stir at the so-called fifth major.

There were no indications that a chance was imminent. In fact, ISM stable mate Darren Clarke -- McIlroy's hero as a boy -- turned down his chance to rejoin the U.S. tour last month after winning the British Open.

From a technical standpoint, McIlroy's game is better suited to the American style because he hits the ball miles in the air, a la Mickelson and Woods, though that wasn't the primary consideration in re-evaluating his future. McIlroy got himself into some hot water with European fans last month at the blustery and wet British Open when he said he didn’t like playing in foul weather and preferred the calm climes of the States.

He still feels that way.

"No, it was the weather," he said, drawing laughs. "I mean, I just thought about it. I feel as if my game really suits playing courses over here.  I love Quail Hollow, Memorial, Akron.  You play Match Play, Honda, Doral, the Masters.  You have your favorite events, and most of my favorite events seem to be on this side of the pond.  And my game suits it over here.  I'm very comfortable over here.

"I'd like to give it a go again, and obviously last more than one year, and really see how it goes."

There was a less-obvious factor as well. McIlroy has been going through an on-again, off-again relationship with his live-in girlfriend, and has recently been dating tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. McIlroy just built a huge practice area near his home outside Belfast, and will be leaving it behind for huge chunks of the year.

McIlroy didn’t deny that his personal issue played a role in his decision to, effectively, consider relocating for much of the season.

"Maybe a little bit, yeah, definitely," he said.

Pazder said McIlroy doesn’t have to make a formal decision on taking up membership until 30 days after the official season finale at Disney World, which ends Oct. 23.

McIlroy said he will begin looking for a U.S. base in Florida, after the PGA Championship next week. He plans to spend some time with PGA Tour veteran Graeme McDowell at the Lake Nona community in Orlando, where a stable of European Tour regulars have homes, and then go house hunting in South Florida. He might just rent a condo for now, he said.

"I don’t need that much," he said. "It's maybe 40 or 50 nights a year?"

If it comes to fruition, U.S. fans will be seeing a lot more of him than his Florida neighbors. That's all that matters.

Category: Golf
Posted on: June 23, 2011 11:53 am
Edited on: June 23, 2011 12:54 pm

Rory, Goose and the Open's Golden Egg

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Oh, to be a certain 22-year-old from Northern Ireland.

He not only is poised to grab the golf world by the throat, but by the wallet.

For those who wonder what winning a U.S. Open title is worth in actual dollars, please look beyond the prize money. Well beyond.

In light of the IRS issues faced by two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, exact numbers relating to endorsement monies earned after his first National Open have been detailed in court filings. Down to the dollar, in fact.

We're setting aside the mind-numbing minutiae of the Goose's beef with the feds, and the fact that the U.S. government says he underpaid his taxes a decade ago. Contained in Goosen's argument are the specifics of his earnings with TaylorMade, Titleist, Izod, Upper Deck, EA Sports and Rolex.

The period detailed is for 2002 and 2003, following immediately on the heels of his U.S. Open victory at Southern Hills in mid-2001. So, what's a major championship worth to a player with no previous pedigree in the States?

Plenty, as it turns out. Here's a detailed look at the endorsement deals and what was expected of Goosen in return:

TaylorMade: The Goose signed a four-year deal with the manufacturer in 2002 and was required to use company clubs, logo bags and headcovers, and wear company hatwear. Goosen made $400,000 annually from the company and was required to provide two days of his time for TV commercials and print ads, and six corporate days. He was required to play in 20 PGA Tour events and 11 on the European circuit and the pact contained bonuses for winning designated events (such as majors) or reaching certain heights in the world ranking.

Titleist: Goosen signed a two-year deal with Acushnet after the Southern Hills victory. In exchange for using Titleist balls and gloves and supplying four days of time for TV and print spots to be photographed and filmed, Goosen received a base of $350,000 in 2002 and $375,000 in 2003, which does not include stipulated performance bonuses. For a ball-and-glove deal? No wonder ProV1s cost $50 per dozen.

Rolex: He signed a pact with the watchmaker after the U.S. Open win that required him to make a "reasonable effort" to wear the company's watches when making public appearances. He was paid $50,000 annually.

Izod: The apparel company signed a three-year deal with Goosen in 2001 and paid him $45,000 for the first year and $50,000 in the second for wearing its line of clothes. Performance-related bonuses also were attached but not detailed in the tax filing.

Upper Deck: He signed a 14-month contract after the Open win, allowing his likeness to be used in trading cards and the like. He also was required to autograph "3,500 trading cards per year, provide five shirts, five pairs of gloves, two hats and one golf bag, each of which he used during practice or in a golf tournament." He was paid $42,500.

EA Sports: The video-game maker signed the Goose in 2003 to a three-year pact, allowing the company to use his name and likeness in the Tiger Woods 2004 video game. He made $34,000 the first year.

Gentlemen, start your calculators.

Add it all up and Goosen, almost completely unknown before the Southern Hills breakthrough, was assured in the neighborhood of $920,000 before he made a dollar in on-course earnings, not including and performance-related bonuses that might have kicked in.

That's a nice neighborhood. This was in 2002 dollars, for a charisma-challenged player who generates only moderate excitement among fans, mind you.

In other words, it's a nice time to be Rory McIlroy, who, his agent confirmed, had performance bonuses for winning a major in his existing multi-year deals and will be in line for a nice raise when they are up for renewal.

Category: Golf
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com