The Week in Golf: McIlroy Still The Man To Beat
While former No. 1 Tiger Woods made his first appearance of 2015 in Phoenix, the current leader in world golf was setting the standard in Dubai. Sports Gazette reviews the past week's tournament action.
Rory McIlroy may have clinched the Omega Desert Dubai Classic on Sunday, but Pablo Larrazabal was quick to congratulate second-placed Alexander Noren, too. For Noren, as Larrazabal poignantly pointed out, had won the “humans tournament.”
The Northern Irishman has made a habit over the past nine months of treating adversity as though it were a twig on his line of putt. His brilliance under pressure almost leaves you rooting for run-ins with ladders and cracks in pavements if his form is so good amidst bad fortune.
Wins at Wentworth, the Open, the U.S. PGA Championship and an ensemble part in the Ryder Cup victory in September capped a remarkable year in which off-course issues could have sent him to the bunker, the rough or, even worse, home by Saturday morning.
The formidable presence of a court case involving former management company Horizon was separated from his game with the swagger of a world No. 1. He could afford a 70 on the final day in Dubai following rounds of 66, 64 and 66.
He has the chance to clinch the career Grand Slam at Augusta National in April. However, he will need to do more than just work Amen Corner to his advantage and hit greens in regulation. Bubba Watson has form there, winning twice in the last three years, but McIlroy has history to make. It’s on occasions like that that Larrazabal and company feel the presence of something extraordinary.
McIlroy and Rickie Fowler’s proximity last season was intriguing, with Fowler finishing tied for second at the Open and finishing in the top five at McIlroy’s second PGA Championship victory. Fowler was the perennial bridesmaid last year, particularly to McIlroy.
The notion of a rivalry has been touted, but lacks genuine substance. Fowler holed a superb long-range putt at the Waste Management Phoenix Open this week, highlighting his capability and capacity to stay in touch with McIlroy’s runaway train. It’s another thing entirely to draw level or overtake it.
The former world No. 1, Tiger Woods, endured a couple of days to forget in Phoenix. In the last few tournaments, Woods’ attempts at up-and-downs and chipping has left Sunday morning amateurs feeling a lot better about life.
His 82 in the second round on Friday was his worst score as a professional and has cast even more doubts over whether he will overtake Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors. The black cloud certainly looms large over Woods. He’ll need its shadow to spur him on in the same way McIlroy deals with such austerity.
While the teenage Woods and McIlroy made long-suffering golf players sick with envy, there is another name to induce cold sweats in the country clubhouse. The women's tour's Lydia Ko became the youngest world No. 1 after the 17-year-old finished tied for second at the Coates Golf Championship.
Ko may have lost a four-shot lead on the final day in California, but the bigger picture suggests the New Zealander could be on the verge of something special. No pressure, youngster.