Posted on: March 5, 2012 11:44 pm

Rory McIlroy plays tennis with Maria Sharapova

By Shane Bacon

We know that Rory McIlroy has the chops to win on the links. His victory last week not only came over Tiger Woods, but it made him the No. 1 golfer in the world. And his girlfriend? A former No. 1 tennis player in the world, and she was taking place in the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden.

Caroline Wozniacki asked for a volunteer to play a point against Maria Sharapova, and she just so happened to pick her boyfriend, Rory.

Watch McIlroy win a point against Sharapova and celebrate more than when he won on Sunday.


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Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:42 pm

Rory and Tiger a smash hit for tour TV ratings

By Steve Elling

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Once again, the public appetite for Tiger Woods, even 30 months after his last PGA Tour victory, never seems to wane.

Rising star Rory McIlroy did his fair share, too.
With the two leading men trading shots down the stretch on Sunday, the Honda Classic pulled its best overnight rating in a decade, grabbing a 3.2 rating for the final round, where McIlroy held off the charging Woods by two strokes.

The rating is the best for the event's final round since 2002, when Matt Kuchar won the event. McIlroy held on and became the new No. 1 player in the world, withstanding a 62 posted by Woods, the best final-round score of his career.

In all, the network reported a Sunday rating that 78 percent higher than the mark at Honda. which managed a 1.8 overnight for the final round. The broadcast hit high tide with a 4.3 rating as McIlroy in the telecast's final minutes.

With the No. 1 ranking on the line for McIlroy, the reigning U.S. Open champion, NBC earned a 1.9 overnight rating on Saturday, marking the best third-round overnight since '05. NBC sister network Golf Channel averaged 1.04 million viewers for its coverage on Thursday, marking the event's most-viewed opening round ever.

On the ground, Honda officials claimed a 44 percent increase in fans, drawing 162,000 for the week.

Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:18 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 6:00 pm

Woods heading back to familiar haunts -- Bay Hill

By Steve Elling 

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- With these two in the field, it won’t matter much that many of the top internationals aren't heading to Orlando in two weeks.

Tiger Woods announced Monday that he will play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational later this month, joining another popular past champion, Phil Mickelson, in the event hosted by the legendary golfer and tournament namesake.

Woods has titles at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009. He was T24 last year and won the first of his three consecutive U.S. Junior titles there.

It's a busy stretch for the former world No. 1, now ranked 16th globally. He will have played four times in six weeks by the end of the Masters in April.

Mickelson posted on his website last week that he was playing at Bay Hill, where he won in 1997. The tournament starts March 22.

Though it won't be formally announced until Wednesday, Woods will play in Orlando's Tavistock Cup on March 19-20 at Lake Nona, representing the six-man team from Albany, a course in the Bahamas. There are four six-man teams in the event and the full rosters will be released Wednesday.

Rory McIlroy, the newly minted world No. 1, is taking three weeks off after competing this week at the Cadillac Championship outside Miami, where Woods and Mickelson also are entered. Several other top international players instead are playing the week after Bay Hill, in Houston, as a tune-up to the Masters, including Lee Westwood.

Woods and Mickelson were paired in the final round at Pebble Beach last month, where Mickelson shot 64 to come from six strokes back to win.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 11:29 am
Edited on: March 5, 2012 12:14 pm

MMSC: Rory, Tiger, and the art of closing

Rory McIlroy reacts after his final putt drops at the Honda Classic. (Getty Images)

By Shane Bacon

Golf is probably the hardest sport in the world to play, and play well, so it makes total sense that everyone is a critic, and that’s what we’re going to do here at Monday Morning Swing Coach. Cover just the PGA Tour? Nope. We're going to try to expand this Monday feature to anything and everything that happened the past weekend. 

Rory and Tiger most impressive at closing

A lot of things will be made about what happened on Sunday at the Honda Classic. Tiger Woods’ charge up the leaderboard. Rory McIlroy winning and becoming No. 1 in the world. 

But the thing that impressed me the most? How both were able to finish their rounds. 

So many times pro golfers will play great until the end, see what they are doing, and lose focus. You saw that with Brian Harman on Friday, when a holed bunker shot would have landed him in the 59 club, but instead of making the shot, he hit it three feet and then missed the putt for a 60. Sure, 61 is great, but that focus was lost for a second and a shot was dropped that would have allowed him his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour. 

Tiger has been struggling mightily in recent events he was in contention in with actually closing the round. The tournament that comes to mind first was the Masters a year ago, when Tiger made a run early in his round only to struggle on the holes he usually dominates. 

Not this Sunday. Tiger put together a fantastic round in swirling winds, and finished it with a birdie-eagle finish. 

McIlroy was no different. His scrambling and bunker play on Sunday reminded me of Retief Goosen back in 2001 at Southern Hills, but Rory kept missing his golf shots in the right spots, and kept hitting unbelievable chip shots in short range of the cup to give him chances at par, which he converted. 

The comparisons of Tiger and Rory are plentiful after Sunday, but the thing that Woods used to do that separated himself from the pack was play well with a lead, and Rory did just that on Sunday, closing his round out with solid pars when he knew that was all he needed. A less steady McIlroy might have let the Tiger charge ruin him. The new Rory didn’t, and his ability to make the important putts down the stretch allowed him to breeze up the 18th hole with a two-shot lead and an easy run at par and the win. 

A confidence boost week

There are so many names that will be looking back at the Honda Classic with positive thoughts. 

The easy ones are Rory and Tiger, both using this week as a springboard for the rest of the season, but look down the leaderboard and see all the big names that played well at the Champions Course. 

Tom Gillis almost quit golf at one point, but played steady all week, even in the final round, and made a clutch birdie on the last hole to tie for second with Tiger and earn some serious dough he can put towards his 2013 card. 

Lee Westwood was paired with Woods early in the week, and while Tiger always outshines the rest of the field, we shouldn’t forget that Lee fired a final round 63 before Tiger finished to jump 23 spots for a fourth place finish alone. 

And then comes Rickie Fowler. I had a discussion early in the week about the state of Fowler’s game and we decided the kid was regressing and maybe needed a swing change to get to more consistent. 

Maybe I was completely wrong. Rickie shot 66 on Sunday for his first top-10 finish of the season and showed he isn’t completely lost out there. 

The Nationwide Tour’s U.S. Open?

This past weekend, the Nationwide Tour headed to Panama City for an event at the Panama Golf Club, and I’m just going to toss this out there; you might want to avoid that golf course if you want to keep your pride in tact. 

The winning score was 4-under, courtesy of Edward Loar, but he shot a final round 74 to win the event and only six players all week finished in red figures. 

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 10:45 am

Video: Tiger Woods' entire round of 62

By Shane Bacon

It was his best final round ever and maybe the best round Tiger Woods has ever played when he actually needed to go low, so why not enjoy it once more with the brilliance of Internet TV?

The video below is all the good shots Tiger hit on Sunday on his charge up the leaderboard in hopes of taking down Rory McIlroy. Enjoy the fist-pumps!

Posted on: March 4, 2012 8:21 pm

Honda cherry on top of great start to '12 season

Tiger Woods reacts to his eagle on the 18th green at the Honda Classic. (Getty Images)

By Shane Bacon

The 2012 PGA Tour season has been absolutely nutty good, and we haven’t even had the first major yet. But how good? Check out some of the finishes we’ve had in just 10 events.

  • Farmers Insurance Open: Maybe not exactly the way you’d want to win, but the Kyle Stanley collapse at Torrey Pines is definitely a moment you won’t soon forget, and gave us our first “Is this really happening” moment of 2012. Brandt Snedeker’s reaction and eventual win will be forgotten here much like Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie, but is paved the way for collapses early in the season.
  • Waste Management Open: This one was great for so many reasons. You had Stanley bouncing back to win a week after the collapse you read about above. You had Spencer Levin leading by six shots heading into the final round and by seven shots after his first hole on Sunday only to fall apart. Oh, and you had the biggest crowd in the history of the TPC Scottsdale event. 
  • AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am: Probably the one you’ll remember out of all the ’12 events so far, with Phil Mickelson coming back against Tiger Woods with that sizzling 64. 
  • Northern Trust Open: Just the fourth tournament in a row that had scream-at-your-TV moments. Bill Haas was the eventual winner, but the birdie putts Mickelson and Keegan Bradley made back-to-back to join Haas in the playoff were so incredible it made this guy do whatever the heck that is.
  • Mayakoba Golf Classic: It went up against the Accenture so not as many people noticed, but a rookie named John Huh won in an eight hole playoff. 
  • The Honda Classic: You already know, but Tiger posting a 62 on Sunday was only the second coolest thing that happened just behind Rory McIlroy simultaneously winning his first PGA Tour event of the year and becoming world number one for the first time in his young career. 
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Posted on: March 4, 2012 7:27 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 8:46 pm

Woods throws scare into McIlroy, rest of golf

Tiger Woods tips his hat to the crowd after a final round 62. (AP)

By Steve Elling

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- After a 30-month run of news and blues that was notable almost exclusively for the career worsts that were piling up, Tiger Woods summoned the greatest final round of his career on Sunday.

He might have been the only one who saw it coming.

Woods, after starting the day nine strokes behind 54-hole leader Rory McIlroy, mustered dome of his former firepower that fans hadn’t seen since late 2009, shooting an 8-under 62 to finish in a tie for second to the Northern Irishman by two strokes at the Honda Classic.

With two eagles and four birdies, Woods actually trimmed his whopping overnight deficit to a shot as he knocked in an eight-footer for eagle on the 18th, but McIlroy never wavered, taking over the top spot as the new world No. 1.

But just as many eyes were on the former No. 1 as he looked very much like the guy in the red short that amassed 71 PGA Tour wins, including 14 majors. As the cacophony of cheers was blowing up around the back nine of PGA National, nobody could mistake what was happening.

Woods summoned the thunder and joined the back-nine mix for the first time in months at an official event, McIlroy completed his coronation, and with Phil Mickelson off to a tremendous start in 2012 as well, the plot has definitely thickened.

"Regardless of what happens today," former U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell said as the Woods-McIlroy duel was playing out, "this golf season just got a lot more spicy."

Nobody was hotter than Woods, who finally found his putting stroke and pieced together all 14 clubs on the same day. He was within a shot of his all-time best score, 61, which he has recorded three times over the years.

Woods psyched himself up by relating the day's blustery conditions to when he played in Australia three months ago at the Presidents Cup, and scored what proved to be the winning point on the final day.

"I just kept telling myself, I played great in Australia and they are the same kind of conditions," he said. "There's no reason why I can't do it today. Took some pretty good comfort in that."

Caused some pretty good discomfort elsewhere as a result.

McIlroy didn’t much notice, or really care, what Woods was doing until the latter eagled the 18th. AT that point, McIlroy faced an eight-footer on the 13th and answered, restoring a two-shot lead he would not surrender.

It's debatable whether the Woods of a few years ago would have seemed so relieved to have finished in a tie for second, but given the water under the bridge of late, it was a huge step forward. It represents his best finish in a PGA Tour event since he won the BMW Championship on Sept. 9, 2009. He shot 62 in that event, too.

"It feels good, because I felt like I was close," he said, repeating his mantra of earlier in the week. "I've been close to shooting this score, or scores like this, and it was just a matter of time before things all fell into place.

"Maybe I just needed the wind to blow or something like that today to feel comfortable with it."

He blew some brain fuses. In the toughest weather of the week, he came within one of the course record, which had been set earlier in the week. When Woods saw the winds howling in the morning, he figured a 64 would get him in the competitive picture, but then the breeze softened and he had to stomp on the gas.

"I had to change that game plan because the wind was not blowing as hard," he said, "and I knew the guys were not going to back up as much."

McIlroy didn’t back up at all, and while Woods has never been one for moral victories or consolation prizes, this near-miss won’t hurt too badly. He will climb four spots to No. 16 in the world on Monday.

"I think I just need the time," he said. "I switched coaches and I got hurt for most of last year, and I started putting the pieces together. Overall, my finishes have been pretty good since Australia on. It was just a matter of keep building, keep sticking with it, the process is coming, I'm hitting more solid shots, I'm making more putts, my speed is getting back. 

"It's just everything is coming, and I just need to keep progressing, just keep sticking with it, and it's going to turn."

If this was a glimpse of what Woods can summon on a regular basis, then the rest of 2012 ought to be positively dizzying. Knowing he needed an eagle at the last, he nuked a 325-yard drive and hoisted a 5-iron from 205 yards to within eight feet.

This after he'd canned a 25-footer on the 17th for a birdie. It was, at long last, vintage stuff.

"It's great to have Tiger Woods back playing the kind of golf we know he can play, because he's exciting for golf," McDowell said. "Let's all be honest about that. Great to have him back on the leaderboards and we all want to win majors with him in the field.

"It's exciting to be part of golf right now."

Category: Golf
Posted on: March 4, 2012 5:37 pm

Rory McIlroy's world ranking by the numbers

Rory McIlroy walking into the history books at the Honda Classic. (Getty Images)

By Steve Elling

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- In the United Kingdom, they call it a CV, which is shorthand for curriculum vitae.

In the United States, we'd more commonly call it a resume.

By whatever title, when Rory McIlroy officially climbs to the top of the new world rankings issued on Monday, it will be a watershed achievement and yet another juicy item worthy of note on his individual highlight chart.

Here are some fast statistical, biographical and geographical facts about his rapid ascendance:

* Since the ranking was established in 1986, he's the 16th player to climb the ratings mountain, and the second-youngest at 22 years, 9 months and 29 days. 

* Only Tiger Woods, who was 21 years, 5 months and 17 days old when he first reached the pinnacle on June 15, 1997, got to the summit faster. 

* He's parked on a hot seat, to be sure. McIlroy is the fourth different player and fourth European to be ranked No. 1 since England's Lee Westwood supplanted Woods as No. 1 on Oct. 31, 2010. In this particular span, Woods held the position for 281 weeks in succession. 

* Of the 16 players to be ranked No. 1 since the ranking was first formulated, McIlroy is the eighth European and first from Northern Ireland. Only four Americans have topped the list -- Fred Couples, Tom Lehman, David Duval and Woods. 

* With his victory at the Honda Classic, McIlroy nudges aside England's Luke Donald, who held the No. 1 position for 40 weeks, the seventh-highest total number of weeks at the top since the OWGR began. Donald took over on May 29, 2011. 

* His dinner-table chatter just took a turn for the better. McIlroy and his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, have both been ranked No. 1 in their respective fields of battle.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or