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Opinion & Analysis

A look back: McIlroy’s knockout year

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Rory McIlroy ended the past season as golf’s undisputed heavyweight champ. Any ideas to the contrary were put to rest when the 23-year-old captured the 94th PGA Championship by a record eight strokes.

The way McIlroy continued to win after bludgeoning the Ocean Course seemed almost matter of fact. He won two out of the four FedExCup events with relative ease, and claimed both money titles on the PGA and European tours before striking a single shot at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Having accumulated so much hardware and goodwill throughout the season, nobody would’ve blamed McIlroy for coasting in his last start. Instead, he reminded the competition that he was more than capable of outworking, outlasting, and yes, out-punching them.

Unexpectedly, the glory of capping off the 2012 season with one final victory almost belonged to Justin Rose. He woke up on Sunday six shots back of the leaders and seemingly out of contention. Instead of giving into any feelings of misfortune, Rose summoned his best tee-to-green game of the season, overtaking the leaders during a back-nine stretch that included four birdies and an eagle.

His watershed moment came on the 72nd hole, the 620-yard par 5.  As he had done all afternoon, Rose struck an impressive tee shot that found the center of the fairway, leaving himself a good angle for his second.  Needing to close out with no less than a birdie to stave off a pursuing McIlroy, Rose muscled his approach to the back portion of the meandering green, leaving himself a lengthy putt over a steep ridge to a downhill hole location.

While Rose has improved his ball-striking year after year, his putting has consistently straddled the line between average and mediocre, never cracking the top 50 in strokes gained putting. Whether it can be attributed to working with his new putting coach, David Orr, or some new found maturity, Rose had finally started to sink some meaningful putts, none more important than the one he administered to Phil Mickelson on the final day of the Ryder Cup.

Surveying his predicament on the 18th green, Rose once again had no margin of error to work with, describing the situation as a “hero or zero” moment. As it was, his putt for eagle came tantalizingly close to stopping at the crest of the ridge. Once the ball began rolling downhill, it held the line the whole way, but it couldn’t sustain the speed. A euphoric, if slightly dismayed crowd cheered a terrific effort that came up an inch short of giving Rose slightly more than a dreamer’s chance of winning the tournament as he headed in to sign his card.

Four days earlier, when no one had any inkling that Rose would post a 62 on the final day to break the course record and add some unexpected drama, tournament officials and European Tour Chief Executive Officer George O’Grady were deliberating future format changes that could potentially ensure that the Race to Dubai wouldn’t be decided with a few laps to spare. Over in the United States, the event in Dubai had the additional misfortune of competing with the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and the NFL. So it should come as no surprise that the tournament received less than stellar fanfare even with a stacked field and no opposing golf event to compete with. American golf fans that bothered to stay awake to watch the early morning telecast or caught up later when it re-aired watched Luke Donald post a fine opening round score and take the lead over McIlroy by a stroke.

Donald had a career-best season in 2011, where he ascended to the top of the world rankings and won four events worldwide. But he had, by comparison, been treading water in 2012. Statistically, Donald had improved his driving accuracy (ranked 37th), but was slightly worse off hitting greens and making putts (the twin pillars of his game). Although he ended up winning twice, Donald was a non-factor in majors and his season was for all intents and purposes a disappointment. A win in Dubai wouldn’t have done much to change how his critics perceived him, but it would’ve given him some much-needed momentum entering the new season.

Heading into the last round, Donald led or held the share of the lead all three days, an infrequent scenario for a golfer who has been much maligned historically for his back-door top-10 finishes. To his credit, there was nothing to suggest Donald was mailing it in during that final round. He hit all but one fairway and a respectable 78 percent of the greens. He didn’t force any shots until the last hole (he found the water), when it was clearly over for him. What Donald failed to do was make enough critical putts down the stretch, a disappointment for someone who went a staggering 102 consecutive holes at the Earth Course without a 3-putt. His invincibility with the putter and the streak itself didn’t last long into Sunday’s round. Donald’s approach on the third hole found the upper portion of the green and he compounded the mistake with a poor lag putt. His four-footer for par lipped out.

Of course it didn’t help Donald to have a view of McIlroy’s back all day. On average, Donald gave up 30 yards off the tee. On approach shots, McIlroy had as much as a two-club advantage — very handy when trying to land and hold a portion of a green only slightly larger than a shed.

The Earth Course played at a shade over 7600 yards. McIlroy got around it like a pitch and putt, especially on the par fives which he played 11-under. For the week, McIlroy ranked third in driving distance. Donald was a distant 50th.

McIlroy has always been freakishly long for his height and narrow build, but he recognized the need to keep pace with the current crop of players who were spending nearly as much time in the weight room as on the driving range.  He hired trainer Steve McGregor and made a serious commitment to increase his strength and durability. Although neither McGregor nor McIlroy would reveal specifics, the regimen they devised helped McIlroy get even longer off the tee. McGregor, in an interview with Golf Magazine, spoke candidly about their goals.

“Rory weighed 160 pounds [in 2010] and is now 170. That’s a 20-pound change in muscle composition, when you take into account loss of body fat. And he’s not done. He’s not where he wants to be . . . We’re talking about getting to 175 pounds or more. Why? When you increase muscle mass, you’re going to be hitting shorter irons into greens.”

The numbers support that assertion. McIlroy’s club head speed (120.21 mph) and ball speed (178.07 mph) are 10th and eighth, respectively, on the PGA Tour. It translates to him being ranked fifth in driving distance, first in birdie average and improved proximity to the hole in almost all distance categories from his averages in 2011.

McIlroy’s five worldwide wins and 16 top-10 finishes eclipse his career-best achievements in 2011. He did all of this in spite of his mid-season swoon that provoked snarky remarks about his high-profile relationship with tennis star, Caroline Wozniacki, which have since turned into engagement rumors. An apparently distracted McIlroy missed consecutive cuts at The Players Championship, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and the Memorial Tournament.  In response to the second round 79 he shot at the BMW, McIlroy acknowledged what members of the media had already surmised.

“I did not practice as hard as I might have,” he said. “I need to work hard and get it back to the level that it was leading into the Masters.”

Whether he needed the reps or perhaps out of desperation, McIlroy added the FedEx St. Jude Classic to his schedule just prior to his title defense at the U.S. Open.  He also flew in his longtime swing coach Michael Bannon from his outpost in Northern Ireland for range sessions described at the time as being very productive.

McIlroy had a respectable, if not remarkable showing in Memphis and was a non-factor at Olympic the following week. He also stunk it up at the Open Championship, but at least saw action into the weekend. He finally regained his old touch at Firestone in August, finishing tied for fifth, and setting up his historic run at Kiawah where he reminded everyone that in top form, he’s more Batman than Boy Wonder.

After torching the field at the PGA Championship, McIlroy’s putter got even hotter. He won back-to-back weeks during the FedEx Cup playoffs and his 11-consecutive rounds under par proved there was more to the two-time champion than natural ability alone. After the Ryder Cup, McIlroy flew to Asia to fulfill competitive and promotional obligations. He racked up frequent flyer miles with stops at Shanghai, Singapore, Zhengzhou (playing an exhibition against Tiger Woods in China) and Hong Kong before touching down in Dubai.

Whether it was sunstroke as cited, or general fatigue, McIlroy played at less than his peak in Dubai. His ball-striking was noticeably inconsistent and he missed a number of greens with short irons or wedges. He made up for it with his scrambling, recording only two bogeys over the first three days of competition.

McIlroy did not have an impressive start to his final round (going out in 35, -1), allowing Donald to draft him at the turn. A bogey on the par-3 13th gave Donald (and especially Rose) some hope that the top player in the world might be satisfied to sign off with another top-10 finish and a big check. That might have been an apt description for a younger, less determined McIlroy in years past — the same kid who was famously quipped, “It’s not my sort of golf” when asked to explain his inability to acclimate himself to bad weather conditions at the Open.

The older, gutsier McIlroy closed out the tournament with five straight birdies, none more challenging than on the par-3 17th that allowed him to take the lead. Playing more than 200 yards into the wind and over water, McIlroy’s tee shot landed pin high for a straightforward uphill putt.

While McIlroy was being serenaded with cheers as he walked to the last tee, Rose sat in the clubhouse some hundreds of yards away. A large bucket of beer had already been brought out at someone’s behest. Rose sat beside it, with an expression that suggested he was more interested in sampling a cold one than contemplating improbable scenarios that would force a playoff. If anything, the look suggested an odd sense of satisfaction. Rose gave it his best shot. McIlroy’s counterpunch sent a clear message to his rivals — get ready for another long year.

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Rusty Cage is a contributing writer for GolfWRX, one of the leading publications online for news, information and resources for the connected golfer. His articles have covered a broad spectrum of topics - equipment and apparel reviews, interviews with industry leaders, analysis of the pro game, and everything in between. Rusty's path into golf has been an unusual one. He took up the game in his late thirties, as suggested by his wife, who thought it might be a good way for her husband to grow closer to her father. The plan worked out a little too well. As his attraction to the game grew, so did his desire to take up writing again after what amounted to 15-year hiatus from sports journalism dating back to college. In spite of spending over a dozen years working in the technology sector as a backend programmer in New York City, Rusty saw an opportunity with GolfWRX and ran with it. A graduate from Boston University with a Bachelor's in journalism, Rusty's long term aspirations are to become one of the game's leading writers, rising to the standard set by modern-day legends like George Peper, Mark Frost and Dan Jenkins. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: August 2014 Fairway Executive Podcast Interview http://golfindustrytrainingassociation.com/17-rusty-cage-golf-writer (During this interview I discuss how golf industry professionals can leverage emerging technologies to connect with their audience.)

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  1. Rusty Cage

    Jan 2, 2013 at 8:24 am

    Golf Channel is replaying the final round of the DP World Tour Championship on Wednesday, January 2nd at 1 PM EST.

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Opinion & Analysis

A Letter from the Editor: Big changes are happening at GolfWRX

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For those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Andrew Tursky. I recently went from the right-hand-man of former GolfWRX Editor-in-Chief Zak Kozuchowski, to running the show here at GolfWRX as the Editor-in-Chief myself. In my new role, I’m going to help GolfWRX fulfill its fullest potential as the best golf website in existence, and that means making a number of immediate changes, all of which I’ll highlight below.

First, a look back. Over a decade ago, GolfWRX started as a small community golf forum for golfers to discuss golf equipment, courses, instruction, rules, bargains, and everything else golf related. The forums continue to grow everyday, and they’re stronger than ever with over 250,000 members who are the most knowledgable and passionate golfers on the planet. They also helped us determine the Best Driver of 2018. Additionally, sometime around 2011, Kozuchowski took GolfWRX.com from simply a community golf forum to a golf media powerhouse by adding a front page section of the website, equipped with ultra-professional editorial. He built a team of Featured Writers — consisting of some of the biggest names in the golf industry — to help produce content that readers love and need. Since 2013, I’ve been helping Zak run the site by writing/producing original content myself, and working with the Featured Writer team. Currently averaging over 1.8 million unique readers per month, GolfWRX has been doing just fine. But I believe so strongly in the GolfWRX brand that I don’t want to settle for “just fine.” I believe we have more to offer, and I want every golfer in the world to garner entertainment or knowledge from our website.

As such, and building upon the foundation that is GolfWRX.com and the forums, I’ve been empowered by the “powers that be” at GolfWRX — you know, the guys who cut paychecks — to grow and shape the best golf website on the Internet.

So what does that mean going forward? Well, that’s what I wanted to discuss.

Here at GolfWRX, we’ve always been great at telling stories through the written word and images, and we will continue to do so with our Featured Writers team and legion of golf writers who love and know the game of golf. But after taking over the editorial direction of the website, I also wanted to help give GolfWRX a voice and a face. There are so many amazing people in the world of golf, and I wanted to provide platforms for us to help them tell their stories… to provide our readers the chance to see how golf clubs are made, how courses are designed, why professionals play certain equipment, and so much more. I wanted to bring readers where they’ve never been and hear from the people they’ve never heard from. Here at GolfWRX, we have the opportunity to speak with amazing people and play golf at amazing courses, and it’s about time the GolfWRX readers got to enjoy those experiences with us.

Therefore, we’re implementing our own original video and radio initiatives.

On the video-end of the spectrum, GolfWRX has recently hired Johnny Wunder full-time to the GolfWRX Staff. He’s a Hollywood producer (check out his new film Josie, starring Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones, that was recently in select theaters across the country!) and is also the new Director of Original Content at GolfWRX. If you’ve enjoyed the Bob Parsons interview, Paige interview, PXG Gen2 Editor’s Journal, or how PXG irons get built, you have Mr. Wunder to thank. Also coming soon are experiences with Mike Taylor at Artisan Golf, David Edel, Bert Lamar of Iliac Golf, the Criquet Golf team in Austin, a short game series with Gabe Hjertstedt, a new fashion series and much more. We’re extremely excited to bring our own original content to the world, and help highlight the people in golf who we think deserve a platform. See the things you’ve never seen, go places you’ve never gone, and meet people you’ve never met; that’s what we want to do with our new GolfWRX original video content. We truly hope you enjoy it, and learn a lot from the content we produce.

We’ve also started three great podcasts — the “19th Hole with host Michael Williams,” “Two Guys Talkin’ Golf,” and “Gear Dive” — with plans to expand in the very near future. Check all of them out here on SoundCloud, or here on iTunes.

The 19th Hole is hosted by Michael Williams, who was the PGA Mediaperson of the Year in 2014 and is a longtime titan in both golf media and radio in general; he has produced and hosted shows on CBS Radio, Fox Sports Radio and Voice of America. Michael is a true professional, knowledgeable golfer, and knows how to conduct one heck of an interview. So far on the show, his guests have included Greg Norman, Bob Vokey, Rees Jones, Robert Trent Jones Jr., Scott Van Pelt, Byron Scott, Michael Breed, Louis Oosthuizen, Jim Nantz, Roger Cleveland, Mike Taylor, and many more.

Two Guys Talkin’ Golf (TG2), is hosted by equipment expert Brian Knudson and myself, a former Division I golfer and GolfWRX Editor. Together, we discuss all things golf, but mostly focus on golf equipment… and the occasional hot take. TG2 welcomes guests on the show as well, ranging from GolfWRX forum members to club builders to Tour professionals to caddies. If you’re hungry for more equipment knowledge and high-level golf conversation, TG2 is your type of podcast.

The third, and all-new podcast, is called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder. What you can expect is a weekly podcast where Wunder interviews anyone who’s anyone “in the know” of golf equipment… and he’s going deep. To give you an idea, his first guest was legendary clubmaker Larry Bobka who made Tiger Woods’ old Titleist irons.

Also, as I discussed before, GolfWRX is great with telling stories via the written word. To make sure we continue to do so, we’ve hired Ben Alberstadt who’s been writing for GolfWRX for over 5 years now. He was previously a freelance journalist who worked with a variety of media and news outlets, and he now wears the GolfWRX hat full time. I cannot be more excited to have him aboard the ship because he’s a true, hard-working journalist and he’s great at telling a story in his own unique style. If you’ve read any of his stuff, you know what I mean.

And as for me, I promise to continue providing GolfWRX readers with the content they want and need to read/hear/see on a daily basis. It’s my duty to help our readers be the most knowledgable golfers and golf buyers, and be entertained while learning more about the sport we all love. I simply love GolfWRX and our readers/listeners/viewers, and I want you to have the best website of all time to visit every day… a website to be part of and proud of.

What do I ask from you GolfWRX readers? Your feedback! If we write a bad story, tell us why you think it’s bad. If we publish a video you like, tell us why in the comments or on social media. If you love the new podcast, tell us that you loved it and support by subscribing. (If you want all of our podcasts transcribed, we’re working on it!) We want to have the best website in the world, and we want to provide information to golfers in the way they want to consume it. We care deeply about your opinion. GolfWRX began as a forum community, and we will always be a community. Personally, I was a GolfWRX reader myself before ever writing for the site. So was Alberstadt and Williams and Knudson and Wunder. We love golf and we love GolfWRX. We want to see it thrive, and you, the readers, are a huge part of that success.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read this letter, and I hope you continue to be a GolfWRX reader and participant. And if you do, make sure to tell your golfing buddies how much you love the site… in real life or on social media. The more we grow, the better stories and podcasts and videos we can create. I love and appreciate the opportunity to be your GolfWRX Editor, and I won’t let you down!

 

Hit em between the tree line,

Andrew Tursky

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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Just as in 2017, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will once again provide a change in format for the players this week. Players will team up once more at TPC Louisiana for a combination of Best Ball (Rounds 1 and 3) and Alternate Shot (Rounds 2 and 4). Unfortunately, the change in format means that there is no DraftKings this week.

The course is long at over 7,400 yards, but it’s also very generous off the tee. TPC Louisiana offers the opportunity to go low, and players took advantage last year despite the inclement weather conditions. It took a Monday playoff to separate them, but eventually Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt pipped Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown by making birdie on the fourth playoff hole to take the title after both teams had posted 27-under par in regulation.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson 7/1
  • Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay 12/1
  • Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley 14/1
  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer 14/1
  • Jon Rahm/Wesley Bryan 16/1
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello/Sergio Garcia 22/1

For the first time, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar (14/1) will team up for this event. Last year, Watson played alongside J.B Holmes. The two performed well, finishing in a tie for fifth place. TPC Louisiana has been a course that has suited Watson’s game over the years, his prodigious length being a significant factor. Along with his T-5 in 2017, Watson has a victory and three other top-20 finishes at the course when the event was an individual stroke-play tournament.

While Watson can be feast or famine at times, Kuchar is Mr. Consistent. He hasn’t missed a cut in over a year, and he has been a top-10 machine over the past few years on the PGA Tour. Despite this, Kuchar hasn’t been able to convert many of his top-10 finishes into wins, but playing alongside Watson this week — who has already notched two victories in 2018 — may help his cause. Over their last 24 rounds, Watson ranks third for Strokes Gained-Off the Tee and eighth in Strokes Gained Total. Over the same period, Kuchar has been predictably consistent, ranking in the top third in the field in every major Strokes Gained category. It’s an intriguing partnership, with Watson’s explosiveness combined with Kuchar’s consistency, and it’s a cocktail that should prove to be a formidable force at TPC Louisiana.

Two men with the hot hand coming into this event are fellow Americans, Jimmy Walker and Sean O’Hair (25/1). Last week at the Valero Texas Open both men excelled, posting the highest finishes of their year thus far. Walker finished solo 4th, while O’Hair grabbed a T-2. It’s the pairs first time playing TPC Louisiana together, but Walker has some good course form to lean on. Back in 2012 and 2013, he posted back-to-back top-20 finishes, which shows that TPC Louisiana is a course that fits his game. Accuracy off the tee has never been Walker’s strength, but the generous fairways may be one of the reasons that he has performed well at this course.

O’Hair has been in good form as of late. The Texan has three top-15 finishes in his last six events, and last week he recorded his highest Strokes Gained Total at an event in years. Walker also seems to have turned a corner with his game. Along with his excellent performance last week, he managed a top-20 finish at the Masters, and his Strokes Gained-Total at the Valero was his highest since his 2016 PGA Championship victory. With both men coming off their best performances in a long time, they should be confident. The duo looks to be a decent value to mount a challenge this week.

Last year’s runners-up Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown (40/1) are hard to ignore at their price this week. Brown has struggled mightily for form in 2018, missing six cuts out of 11 events played so far this year, but the prospect of playing alongside Kisner may be the boost that Brown’s 2018 is needing.

Kisner’s form has been strong as of late. He backed up his runner-up finish at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with a T-28 at Augusta before grabbing a T-7 at the RBC Heritage. At Harbour Town, Kisner’s iron play was especially sharp, with his Strokes Gained-Approaching the Greens total being the highest since the Memorial last year. Despite Brown’s slump, in a highly tricky format to predict, the pair showed enough chemistry last year and an ability to excel in the format, which is enough for me to consider their price a little undervalued this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair 25/1
  • Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown 40/1
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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argolf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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