Thursday 29 September 2016

Rory hoping to rev up season at Honda after Riviera misfire

Published 23/02/2016 | 02:30

Bubba Watson with daughter Dakota following his victory in the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club. Photo: Gary A. Vasquez / USA TODAY Sports
Bubba Watson with daughter Dakota following his victory in the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club. Photo: Gary A. Vasquez / USA TODAY Sports
Rory Mcilroy reacts after missing a putt on seventh green during the final round of the Northern Trust Open golf tournament at Riviera Country Club. Photo: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today Sports

Rory McIlroy's final-round slump in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club has not dented his delight at playing one of the most acclaimed courses on the PGA Tour schedule.

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A closing 75 was a damp squib for McIlroy who began the day just two shots off the lead, but the early promise of an eagle three at the first hole proved to be a false dawn.

Rarely does the world No 3 pass up an opportunity to make a challenge when he is in contention, but McIlroy had no excuses.

He now hopes for a bounce-back at the Honda Classic this week where Pádraig Harrington defends the title he won in a play-off against Daniel Berger last year.

"There's encouraging signs, but I turned a chance to win into a top-20 at the end of the day, so that wasn't too good," said McIlroy.

"Yeah, I'll have a nice day off, regroup, and get ready for next week and hopefully put myself in contention again."

Whatever about that fourth-round collapse, the course, known as 'Hogan's Alley' in honour of the legendary Ben Hogan's achievements there, lived up to his expectations.

"It's been fantastic. I really enjoyed it. This is definitely going to be a regular for me on the schedule going forward.

"I really enjoyed it so much. The golf course is great, but the area, staying in Santa Monica and having the beach there, there's so many great things to do.

"I'm glad I played this year and I'll definitely be back," he added, as he turns his attention to the Honda Classic.

McIlroy has a mixed record at the PGA National, venue for this week's event, winning in 2012, sparking "toothgate" after walking off the course mid-round in 2013, losing in a play-off in 2014 and missing the cut last year.

McIlroy finished nine shots behind the winner at Riviera, Bubba Watson, whose 68 for 15-under par was good enough to give the enigmatic left-hander his second Northern Trust win in three years.

Harrington went three-quarters of the way to giving himself a real boost going into PGA National for that title defence, but for the second successive week, his final-round performance let him down, with his Saturday 66 followed by with Sunday 75 at Riviera.

The previous week at Pebble Beach in the AT&T Pro-Am his 74 on Sunday was seven shots worse than his 67 on the Saturday.

At least he made the cut in the Northern Trust event, something Jordan Spieth failed to achieve and that begs the question: has the world No 1 hit the wall in terms of physical and mental fatigue?

The answer, as far as Spieth and the team around him is concerned, is a definite 'no'.

He refuses to publicly ascribe his opening 79 and missed cut at Riviera, and his 21st-place finish at the AT&T Pro-Am to tiredness or his extensive travelling.

"It's nothing out of the ordinary, and there's no excuse for me to say that right now, because I felt 100pc this week," he said.

Expectations

Credit to Spieth for that. The world No 1 doesn't do self-pity or blame anything or anyone else when his golf fails to match his own expectations.

That said, he has traversed the globe in the last few months visiting, in alphabetical order: Abu Dhabi, The Bahamas, California, Hawaii, Shanghai, and Singapore.

His Christmas break lasted less than three weeks as Spieth went to Hawaii early to prepare for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in early January.

That short rest period may not be sustainable long term, or maybe even in the shorter term for Spieth.

Tour veteran Harrington could well be on the money when he cites a 15-month cycle of high-level performance among the top golfers before they reach a hiatus.

Harrington, when I spoke with him recently, was reflecting on the packed tournament schedule available now compared with his early years on Tour from 1996 onwards.

"It was a much shorter (golfing) year back then when I started," he said. "It's a longer year with a shorter break. That's a big issue for golfers.

"That's why you tend to see that it's much more cyclical now with players who tend to play well for 15 months, and then they go back a bit."

Spieth may be levelling off after a fantastic 2015 but opponents cannot take anything for granted.

He prefers to look forward rather than dwell on his missed cut last weekend and will use the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral from March 3-6 to kick-start his run to the Masters.

Watson, meanwhile, contributed another unlikely picture to his rich tapestry as well as his ninth career PGA Tour title, seeing off Dustin Johnson, a resurgent Adam Scott.

He set the ball rolling with a kidney stone, the passing of which was described thus: "My baby came out, I guess."

The evacuation freed Watson to unleash the inner Bubba across Tinseltown. This he did with his usual enthusiasm, chilling with Steve Ballmer, the owner of basketball franchise the LA Clippers, and looking on as his three-year-old son, Caleb, played drums with Justin Bieber.

And when it came to the golf, it was the good Bubba that set about Riviera, holing a couple of late birdies to close out the PGA Tour's West Coast swing on 15-under par, his final-round 68 leaving him one clear of Scott and Jason Kokrak - whose name he could not pronounce - with Johnson two back.

"He's wearing the course out on the toughest day," was the considered commentary of Scott, who watched Watson complete his round on TV.

"I think he's hit 15 greens today, very tough to beat that when you have a couple of shots to make up."

Irish Independent

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