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McIlroy and Woods set to face off in Abu Dhabi

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The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship always features some of the strongest fields of the year. And every year since its 2006 inception, it’s been one of the biggest events on the European Tour.

This year however, Abu Dhabi will be bigger than the events of all seven prior seasons – combined.

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy and World No. 2 Tiger Woods emerge to make their highly anticipated 2013 season debuts at the place sometimes referred to as “an oasis of tranquility carved out of a desert.”

In five previous appearances at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, McIlroy has four top-5 finishes and two runner-ups (2011 and 2012). In his last 19 rounds, McIlroy’s shot in the 60’s 14 times. If there’s anyone in the field due for a win here, it’s McIlroy.

“It’s an exciting time and I’m very happy with everything that’s going on and just looking forward to getting out on the golf course and putting the new clubs and new equipment into play,” said McIlroy in a tournament press conference.

On an Abu Dhabi Golf Course with long, narrow fairways and well bunkered greens, McIlroy would seem to possess the vital ingredients needed to pick up a win. McIlroy ranked fifth in greens-in-regulation (77.8% percent) in 2012 and second in driving distance (302 yards). And on the 32 par-5 holes played in 2012, McIlroy carded 3 eagles and 14 birdies en route to a ridiculous 4.38 scoring average.

“It’s a golf course that I feel suits me,” McIlroy said.

Still, the question remains, will McIlroy be hurt by a departure from the Titleist equipment he used to dominate two major championships? McIlroy’s new Nike irons and wedges are the same style he’s played his entire career, with the same shafts he used last season. But the driver, 3 wood, 5 wood and putter are different, which could take time for the 23-year-old to get used to.

There’s a psychological benefit to having clubs you’re confident hitting because quite simply — you’re used to hitting them. That’s a luxury McIlroy will not have in the Abu Dhabi desert.

Woods, meanwhile, has an excellent track record in season openers. He’s won six times in 16 years as a professional in his first tournament out of the gate. And Woods nearly won in Abu Dhabi last year, firing three solid rounds (highlighted by a third round 66) before a final round 72 left him just short on Sunday.

Perhaps most importantly, Woods comes into the new season with the benefit of having finally played a full schedule last year (the first time he’s done that since 2007). And if you believe Tiger, that’s a big reason he turned the corner and returned to form in 2012.

“I was excited about being able to play a full schedule last year,” the 14-time major champion said. “I had not played a full schedule in a very long time. So for me it was a big year in that regard. Consequently I won a few times and [am] really excited about going into this year.”

If the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship comes down to who plays the par-5s best, Woods might be at a distinct disadvantage going head to head with McIlroy. Woods 4.81 scoring average on par-5s was nearly one-half stroke higher than McIlroy.

Robert Rock returns to defend his Abu Dhabi HSBC title, where he held off both McIlroy and Woods last season to earn his second professional career victory. And after a relaxing winter break, Rock is refreshed and ready to go.

“I had a nice time off [and got a] week’s worth of practice in,” Rock said. “The only goals I set are what I want to improve on in my own game. The rest will take care of itself.”

Rock finished in 24th place last week at the Volvo Golf Champions and is optimistic he can improve on that this week at Abu Dhabi. But overall, Abu Dhabi has not been kind to Rock. In four other attempts, Rock’s best finish was only good enough for 47th place.

A number of other marquee players looking to make noise are World No. 5 Justin Rose, 2012 Open Champion Ernie Els and three-time Abu Dhabi winner Martin Kaymer. Rose is making his Abu Dhabi debut this week, and has quietly developed into one of the game’s best players. Rose excelled in greens-in-regulation and driving accuracy stats in 2012, and he’s taken McIlroy and Woods down before. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him do it again this week.

At 43 years-old, Els remains formidable off the tee. And if Els can maintain a good greens-in-regulation number on the weekend, he should be at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday.

Kaymer won here in 2008, 2010, and 2011, and has put up the three best scores in Abu Dhabi history (24-under in 2011, 21-under in 2010, and 20-under in 2009). Kaymer obviously likes this course and you can expect him to finish no worse than top-10.

Even with past champions and big name players with impressive pedigrees who can win this week, the story of course will remain Rory and Tiger. McIlroy and Woods will be grouped together for at least the first two rounds, and it’s quite possible they’ll be paired together on Sunday as well. And if that happens, how does Rory think his “friend” Tiger will handle it?

“[Tiger] is going to try to beat my brains out,” McIlroy said. “I know that. I’m trying to do the same.”

No, that doesn’t sound like a rivalry at all.

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

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. victor

    Jan 18, 2013 at 7:26 am

    I’m looking forward to watching these two play together. I think it’s either going to be a passing of the torch to Rory or a revitalization of Tiger this year. This match can set the tone. As far as the new clubs go, I believe they’ll be negligible. Rory’s a pro and any new clubs are taylor made for these guys.

  2. PJ

    Jan 18, 2013 at 12:12 am

    Better player like the other guys ranked 1st and second in the world right? Oh wait….

  3. Troy Vayanos

    Jan 17, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    As I expected Rory has started very slow in Abu Dhabi.

    Changing to new equipment is never an easy thing and he might take Rory a little while to adjust.

    Hopefully for his sake not too long because the big tournaments are not far around the courner.

  4. Tony Dunn

    Jan 17, 2013 at 2:24 am

    Why do we have to watch so mutch camera time when better player,s are leading the feild

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Tour Photo Galleries

Wedge Stamping Caviar: Have More Fun Edition

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Pop open a tin of the finest beluga, GolfWRXers… In all seriousness, it’s less jelly-like substance, more richness of intrigue than salt-cured roe at Wedge Stamping Caviar as we present to you some of the finest instances of hammer-and-stamp work on the PGA Tour.

In this initial serving, we’re mining photos from October and November at PGA Tour stops, including the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, the Cadence Bank Houston Open, and the RSM Classic.

So grab your mother-of-pearl spoon and dig in — with restraint, please.

The traditional K.I.S.S. stamping on a BV proto: first and last initial, demonstrated here by Andrew Landry. Bonus points for the bounce angle (8) stamp.

When your last name is something imposing/interesting, you’re definitely stamping it on your wedge as Cole Hammer has done here in a “University of Texas” colorway.

Simple, perfect stamping for Xuewen Luo. 

Patrick Cantlay is still rolling with a SM7. Ultimate K.I.S.S. to stick with a previous generation wedge with stamped initials. Bent loft (47 degrees) is a classy touch. 

Excellent #perspective on Kevin Roy’s 54-degree Vokey.

Anytime a custom grind wears off the loft number, it’s caviar. Lovely patina on Woodland’s Wilson, too. 

Another favorite motif: Tiny initials pattern (as demonstrated by Palmer Jackson). 

The Webb Simpson traditional. Maybe the longest-serving stamping on Tour. 

Not a stamping on Akshay Bhatia’s Jaws Raw, but we’ll serve it up anyway for reasons immediately discernible to the seasoned palate. 

 

 

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Tour Photo Galleries

Photos from the 2022 RSM Classic

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GolfWRX was live this week from the RSM Classic in Sea Island, Georgia, for the last event of the 2022 calendar year.

We saw a few pros testing some 2023 prototypes — Jason Dufner in Cobra Aerojet woods — and got a look at a few potential new putters from Toulon.

We have: Eight general galleries. 12 WITBs — including some lefty love for Akshay Bhatia — and a ton of putters for your perusal.

Check out links to all our photos below!                                           

General Albums

WITB Albums

Pullout Albums

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Equipment

Photos from the 2022 Cadence Bank Houston Open

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GolfWRX was on site this week ahead of the 2022 Cadence Bank Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course.

The year is winding down, but the wraparound 2022-2023 season is just getting underway, so players are poised to do a bit of tinkering ahead of January equipment launches. To that end, we got an in-hand look at Justin Rose’s new prototype “JR” irons. We also spotted new shafts from KBS and Mitsubishi as well as new grips from SuperStroke.

Check out all of our photos below.

General Albums

WITB Albums

Pullout Albums

See what GolfWRXers are saying in the discussion thread.

 

 

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