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One Fine Day: McIlroy Wins Honda Classic, Captures World No. 1 Ranking

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By Pete Pappas

GolfWRX Staff Writer

Vince Lombardi once said, “You’ve got to be smart to be number one in any business.  But more importantly, you’ve got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body.”

And 2012 Honda Classic Champion Rory McIlroy showed Sunday, he has a heart the size of an Irish truck engine.

McIlroy shot a final round 69 (one-under) at PGA National, averted danger through the treacherous Bear Trap, and finished 12-under, 268 overall, to win the Honda Classic by two shots over Tiger Woods and Tom Gillis.

The thrilling victory was the 22-year old McIlroy’s third-career PGA Tour victory.  And the triumph also completed the talented young Irishman’s meteoric (and many have said inevitable) ascension up the world golf rankings to the top spot, No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Overcome the infamously back-snapping Jack Nicklaus “Bear Trap”, and outrival a rebellious Tiger Woods Sunday rally in the same day?  Not a bad way to become new World No. 1.

“It was tough, especially seeing Tiger make a charge,” said McIlroy.  “I knew par golf would probably be good enough, and to shoot one-under in these conditions, when you go into the round with a lead, is very nice.  I was just able to get the job done,” he said.

However McIlroy’s victory wasn’t quite the foregone conclusion many presumed it would be.  And it certainly didn’t follow preconceived notions of how the final day would play out.

The script was supposed to be McIlroy cruises, Gillis and Harris English wilt, and the rest of field lack the firepower to catch the young U.S. Open Champion.  Film at 11.

Only Tiger didn’t get that memo.

Woods hadn’t played the Honda Classic since he was 17 years old.  He hadn’t carded a bogey-free round on the PGA Tour since the 2011 Farmers Insurance Open.  And earlier in the week Tiger was visibly irritated by the cantankerous exchange with a member of the media who questioned him about an excerpt from Hank Haney’s new tell-all book, “The Big Miss”.

Pile on a towering nine-stroke deficit to start the day Sunday, and well, did anyone really expect to hear even a “meow” out of Woods?  Let alone the return of his legendary roar?

Well Tiger’s roar did return.  In fact, it roared at 2000-like, Tiger-Slam decibel levels.  And from tee to green, Woods was scorching in his Sunday red, and like once-upon-a-time, at his dominating best.

He led the field in driving distance.  His bogey-free, eight-under 61 (four birdies, and two eagles) was the lowest single day score of his PGA Tour career.  And he hit 11 of 14 fairways-in-regulation, 14 of 18 greens-in-regulation, and needed only 26 putts on the green.

“To me, it was the old Tiger back, the guy I remember,” said Ernie Els, who was paired with Tiger on Sunday.  “He never missed a shot or made a bad swing.” Els said.

A resurgent Woods went four-under through the first seven holes, and shaved the McIlroy lead to five strokes at the bend.  And when Tiger finished three-under on the final two holes, including his second eagle of the day at No. 18, he was leader in the clubhouse at 10-under.

Not known to be a leaderboard spectator, McIlroy nevertheless admitted to watching it on Sunday.  “Yeah if you see Woods on the board, obviously you’re going to take note of that.”

Even Nicklaus said during the broadcast, “I’d rather be Tiger at this point,” referring to the obvious and significant pressure McIlroy was feeling in those final five holes, not just to maintain his fragile two-stroke lead with Woods already in the clubhouse, but also with the merciless Bear Trap lying in McIlroy’s path to victory.

And that’s what makes what McIlroy did on Sunday, all the more impressive.

McIlroy didn’t win the Honda Classic because he was driving the ball with his normal superman-like precision and power (he hit only 9 of 14 fairways-in-regulation).  He didn’t win Sunday because of his stellar pinpoint iron play (he hit only 11 of 18 greens in regulation). McIlroy won on Sunday because, like he did all day, especially when he needed it most, he showed a veteran’s poise, an Irishman’s grit, and above all, a champion’s heart.

McIlroy did what a No. 1 player in the world is supposed to do.

McIlroy never gave in to his mistakes, he overcame them.  Need proof?  Every putt McIlroy attempted inside 10-feet, he made.  He carded a ridiculous number, seven, one-putts on the day.  And he was perfect in sand-saves, no. 1 in scrambling.

A tricky par putt on No. 14, was followed by a sliding 10 footer for par on No. 15.  And after yet another par on No. 16, McIlroy’s masterful up and down on No. 17, essentially settled the matter.

On the strength of a gutsy one-under 69 on Sunday, McIlroy was the 2012 Honda Classic Champion.  And the golf world had a its new reigning World No. 1.

Gillis (who considered quitting the tour in 2006) held his own for the better part of the front nine, coming as close as one shot of the McIlroy lead.  But back-to-back bogeys on No. 9 and No. 10,  pushed him four strokes back, and seemed to take away any momentum he had built up to that point.  Gillis’ one-under 69 on the day (10-under overall), was good enough for a tie for second with Woods), his best ever on the PGA Tour.

English, the third player in the final grouping, took his share of rookie lumps on Championship Sunday.  He’ll want to learn from this day certainly, but quickly forget it as well.  A seven-over 77 (three bogeys and three double-bogeys) destroyed any hope English had of contending, leaving him in a disheartening T-18 finish at two-under overall.

Other notable performances on Sunday included Lee Westwood, who finished with a seven-under 63 (5 birdies, eagle, no bogeys), which was the lowest single day score of his career. He finished alone in fourth-place at 8-under.

And Justin Rose, who was in contention until the first leg of the Bear Trap, finished T-5, with an even-par 70 on the day, seven-under overall.  At No. 15, Rose pulled out his 7 iron, hoping grab a share of the lead (at that point being nine-under, just one stroke back of McIlroy).  But his tee shot went right, into the water, and with it went his hopes of winning the Honda Classic.

NOTES:

McIlroy is the second youngest player to achieve the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings.

With the win McIlroy climbs to No. 4 in the FedExCup point standings, 120 points behind leader Kyle Stanley.

McIlroy’s other PGA Tour victories include the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship, and the 2011 U.S. Open.

Only McIlroy and Gillis carded scores in the 60s for all four rounds at Honda.

Defending Champion Rory Sabbatini finished a disappointing seven-over, 287, T-67 for the tournament, leaving Nicklaus as the only player in Honda Classic history to successfully defend his title.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

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Pete is a journalist, commentator, and interviewer covering the PGA Tour, new equipment releases, and the latest golf fashions. Pete's also a radio and television personality who's appeared multiple times on ESPN radio, and Fox Sports All Bets Are Off. And when he's not running down a story, he's at the range working on his game. Above all else, Pete's the proud son of a courageous mom who battled pancreatic cancer much longer than anyone expected. You can follow Pete on twitter @PGAPappas

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USGA, R&A to roll out new World Handicap System in 2020

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A new handicap system is here, or rather, it will be once the USGA and R&A begin to fully implement the World Handicap System in 2020.

The new system focuses on achieving three main objectives: 1) encouraging as many golfers as possible to maintain a handicap, 2) enabling golfers of different abilities, genders, and nationalities to compete fairly, and 3) determining the score a golfer is reasonably capable of shooting at any particular course anywhere in the world.

Currently there are six handicapping systems worldwide, owing to the existence of six handicapping authorities: Golf Australia, the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) in Great Britain and Ireland, the European Golf Association (EGA), the South African Golf Association (SAGA), the Argentine Golf Association (AAG) and the USGA.

The six handicapping authorities represent approximately 15 million golfers in 80 countries who currently maintain a golf handicap.

Under the new program, the USGA and R&A will oversee the World Handicap System and the governing bodies will be in charge of local administration.

The USGA presents the WHS as a better system that simplifies the existing structures. Not surprisingly, the organization believes the WHS will compel more golfers to maintain a handicap.

“For some time, we’ve heard golfers say, ‘I’m not good enough to have a handicap,’ or ‘I don’t play enough to have a handicap,’” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “We want to make the right decisions now to encourage a more welcoming and social game.”

Davis sees the new system marching arm-in-arm with the revisions to (and simplification of) the Rules of Golf.

“We’re excited to be taking another important step – along with modernizing golf’s rules – to provide a pathway into the sport, making golf easier to understand and more approachable and enjoyable for everyone to play.”

Key features of the WHS include:

  • Flexibility in formats of play, allowing both competitive and recreational rounds to count for handicap purposes and ensuring that a golfer’s handicap is more reflective of potential ability.
  • A minimal number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap; a recommendation that the number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap be 54 holes from any combination of 18-hole and 9-hole rounds, but with “some discretion available for handicapping authorities or national associations to set a different minimum within their own jurisdiction.”
  • A consistent handicap that “is portable” from course to course and country to country through worldwide use of the USGA course and slope rating system, already used in more than 80 countries.
  • An average-based calculation of a handicap, taken from the best eight out of the last 20 scores and “factoring in memory of previous demonstrated ability for better responsiveness and control.”
  • A calculation that considers the impact that abnormal course and weather conditions might have on a player’s performance each day.
  • Daily handicap revisions, taking account of the course and weather conditions calculation.
  • A limit of net double bogey on the maximum hole score (for handicapping purposes only).
  • A maximum handicap limit of 54.0, regardless of gender, to encourage more golfers to measure and track their performance to increase their enjoyment of the game.

The USGA and R&A conducted quantitative research in 15 countries around the world. 76 percent of the 52,000 respondents voiced their support for a World Handicap System, 22 percent were willing to consider its benefits, and only 2 percent were opposed.

The research also helped model the tenets of the WHS, but, as mentioned, don’t tear up your GHIN cards just yet: We’ve only just begun the two-year transition period prior to the implementation.

To provide feedback to the USGA on the new World Handicap System, golfers can email the USGA at whsfeedback@usga.org, or see usga.org/whs for more info.

Additionally, the USGA created this FAQ.

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Tuesday’s Photos from the 2018 Honda Classic

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GolfWRX is live this week from the 2018 Honda Classic at PGA National’s Champion course (par 70: 7,110 yards) in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

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The field this week is stacked at the top, and it includes defending-champion Rickie Fowler, 2017 FedEx Champion Justin Thomas, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, and reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who’s making his first PGA Tour start of 2018. Also in the field is Tiger Woods, who committed to play in the event just last week. Woods is coming off a disappointing missed cut at the 2018 Genesis Open.

Last year, Fowler won by four shots over Morgan Hoffmann and Gary Woodland, despite playing his final round in 1-over par.

Check out our photos from the 2018 Honda Classic below!

Tuesday’s Photos

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Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums.

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Monday’s Photos from the 2018 Honda Classic

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GolfWRX is live this week from the 2018 Honda Classic at PGA National’s Champion course (par 70: 7,110 yards) in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

The field this week is stacked at the top, and it includes defending-champion Rickie Fowler, 2017 FedEx Champion Justin Thomas, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, and reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who’s making his first PGA Tour start of 2018. Also in the field is Tiger Woods, who committed to play in the event just last week. Woods is coming off a disappointing missed cut at the 2018 Genesis Open.

Last year, Fowler won by four shots over Morgan Hoffmann and Gary Woodland, despite playing his final round in 1-over par.

Check out our photos from the 2018 Honda Classic below!

Monday’s Photos

Special Galleries

Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums.

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