Rory McIlroy searches for form at the Honda Classic, more to watch this week
Rory McIlroy has driven it poorly and temporarily abandoned his new Nike putter (HSBC Champions in Abu Dhabi). He's hit a succession of bad iron shots that flared off to the right (WGC-Accenture Match Play), and bladed a bunker shot into a cactus (ditto). His best result with his new clubs and ball in 2013 -- which so far amounts to just three official rounds -- has been a split in a casual, 36-hole match with his new Nike stablemate and South Florida neighbor Tiger Woods at the Medalist on Sunday. Not that anybody cares. Google "McIlroy struggling with new clubs" and it spits out "about 652,000 results."
"Everything is fine," McIlroy said at the Honda Classic at PGA National, where he is the defending champion this week. "I knew comin' in it was gonna be a bit of a process. I knew there were gonna be comments made if it didn't happen right away [with the new equipment]. It's still an adjustment period."
PGA National isn't much more than a 10-minute drive from his South Florida pad, and the watery course is where McIlroy scrambled like Phil Mickelson to hold off Woods and assume the No. 1 ranking a year ago. Rain has softened the par 70 and we all know what McIlroy can do on a soft course. Still, he should have a modest goal: to make the cut and play all four rounds. That will begin to take some of the pressure off.
Here are five other things I'm thinking:
1. Tim Finchem's head must be spinning. Yes, Tiger and then Phil won, which is always nice to see on the West Coast swing, but the Tour was also snowed out (WGC-Accenture), fogged out (Farmers Insurance) and repeatedly blown off the course (Hyundai TOC). What's gotten into the Golf gods? And can they be mollified by any sort of ritual sacrifice? Mickelson skipped the Match Play, again, and Woods and McIlroy were bounced in the first round -- the only golf McIlroy has played in the States all year. Meantime, golf's ruling bodies are forming splinter groups in the debate over anchored putting. Other than that it's all good.
2. It's a long haul from Europe to Arizona if you only wind up playing one or two rounds of golf, but Welshman Jamie Donaldson and Swede Alex Noren each shot 5-under 66 to qualify for the Honda Classic on Monday. (Two-time Tour winner Vaughn Taylor and Darron Stiles were the other two qualifiers.) Noren, who throttled Dustin Johnson, 6 and 4, in the first round of the Match Play last week, lost to Graeme McDowell in 20 holes the next day. Donaldson, who won the HSBC in Abu Dhabi last month, lost to Norwegian sensation Thorbjorn Olesen, 3 and 2, in Round 1. Both felt a bit under-golfed, thus their Honda gate-crashing.
3. Golf can be a fast game, even for Tour pros. McIlroy said his 36-hole round with Woods at the Medalist on Sunday -- they were also joined by the NBC broadcaster Ahmad Rashad -- started at 8 a.m. and was over by 1:30 p.m. "He putts with the pin in," McIlroy said of Woods. "It was speed golf."
4. You've really got to want it when you're young. Peter Uihlein, the former Oklahoma State phenom, is ranked 379th in the world and will play in the European Tour's inaugural Tshwane Open in South Africa this week, alongside Edoardo Molinari, Darren Clarke, Michael Campbell and others. Uihlein is coming off one of his better finishes, a T22 at the Barclays Kenya Open two weeks ago. Jordan Spieth, who recently left Texas early, shot a final-round 66 for a T7, his first top-10 finish, at last week's Panama Claro Championship on the Web.com Tour. That gets him into this week's Web.com Colombia Championship.
5. It could be a challenging week for Paula Creamer and Ai Miyazato at the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore. They were part of what Creamer described on Twitter as "a high speed 5 car accident" on the way to the airport in Bangkok on Sunday night, and Creamer, who was in the middle car, may have got the brunt of it. She was in the front passenger seat and wearing a seatbelt when their car got hit from the back and the front, giving Creamer mild whiplash and an injured shoulder. Her airbag did not deploy. "I've felt better," she said at Sentosa Golf Club on Tuesday. Miyazato hurt her neck and hit only about 20 balls on the range before stopping. Suzann Pettersen was in the first car and was uninjured.