Monday Backspin: G-Mac can empathize with Rory

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February 28, 2013
Brian Wacker,

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Of all the names on the leaderboard going into Sunday's final round of The Honda Classic, one of them wasn't like most of the others. In the end, however, Michael Thompson proved he belonged and he’s now a PGA TOUR winner.

I'll get into Thompson's victory over some pretty stout competition, and the toughness he showed. But last week was also about Rory McIlroy, who withdrew midway through his second round, citing a bum wisdom tooth that’s been bothering him for three months.

On top of that, McIlroy has also been playing under a higher profile and more scrutiny since moving to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking and switching equipment in the offseason.

One person who can understand what McIlroy is going through, in relative terms at least, is Graeme McDowell, whose own profile was elevated after his 2010 U.S. Open win.

He also switched equipment that offseason and admitted he wasn't fully comfortable with everything, which included his new-found stardom, until the following August. It showed in the results with six missed cuts in his next 16 starts, including three in a four-tournament stretch at one point.

"I'm sure the guy has got a lot on his mind," McDowell said of his good friend McIlroy. "When you start trying to prove things to other people and stop playing for yourself, it's a very dangerous place to be. You need to get the monkey off your back."

McDowell was making the point that while any player in the game would have done the same thing McIlroy did in terms of switching equipment and becoming a more global brand, there is an adjustment period.

"It doesn't matter how many great shots you hit in practice, we all need to see them in competition to gain that confidence and momentum," McDowell said.

And momentum is something McIlroy has lacked after a missed cut in Abu Dhabi and a first-round exit at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, where he ran into a hot Shane Lowry.

Then came the withdrawal at PGA National.

"He's going to walk away from here having gained nothing," McDowell said. "It's just the hurdle of getting over playing for other people and getting back to playing for Rory McIlroy. Once he starts believing in himself again, he’ll be back."

McDowell noted that McIlroy isn't swinging the club the way he was last year with the right-to-left shape we're used to seeing. The point being it’s not the equipment, it's, as McDowell put it, his confidence, which is something McIlroy has acknowledged.

"His demeanor looks a little different," said McDowell, who warmed up next to McIlroy on the range Friday and noticed it wasn’t the same level of "flushery" as he was used to seeing. "There were a few moans and groans coming from the bay next to me and that’s not like him. It's normally a display, it's normally a clinic. It's normally superlatives being thrown out from the coach and the caddie. It was a little silent. That's a sign to me of a guy who’s lacking a belief in his game and a little belief in his technique."

Not that McDowell is about to dole out advice.

"When little brother starts beating up on big brother, I'd feel a little out of place giving him advice," he joked. "But we all experience moments of this in our career. This is only a mini crisis. We're 2.1 events into the season for Rory. There’s a lot of golf left."

And that's what we need to remember.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

"I was basically just telling the ball to go to the hole, get in there. Don't even think about missing that (pointing to ball in authoritative fashion). A little bit of frustration I guess." -- Michael Thompson on his par putt on the penultimate hole Sunday, which dropped to keep him a stroke ahead of Geoff Ogilvy.

"I think he's a little frustrated and he's frustrated with himself right now, and he's probably not playing his best, and also has a set of golf clubs that he's having trouble getting used to and one sort of plays off the other. He'll be fine." -- Jack Nicklaus over the weekend on Rory McIlroy's early-season struggles.

TWEETS OF THE WEEK

@MSlickThompson: If you want to see sunshine you have to weather the storm -- This tweet from Thompson actually came back in February after he finished last in L.A., but I’d say he’s seeing plenty of sunshine now.

@Brenden_Steele: I can call it a draw with the bear trap, but PGA National definitely won this week. -- Steele, who tied for 51st, was even par for the week on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 … and 10 over on everything else with six of his 14 bogeys for the week coming Sunday. He wasn’t alone.

@TrevorImmelman: A snowman on the back nine caused an abrupt halt to proceedings..... – Immelman after a final round that included a quad on No. 11 at PGA National. Guess it snows in Florida, too.


THE BACK NINE: 9 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. What was the most important shot Michael Thompson hit Sunday? "That's a good one," he said, pausing briefly to think about it. "I would probably say the second shot on 18." Thompson was 243 yards from the hole on the par-5 with sand left and water right. He hit what he called a "piercing" 5-wood into the bunker and got up-and-down for birdie. "Even though that's pretty comfortable for me, you still need to pull it off," he said. "It's like at Alabama, our motto when I was there was 'Finish strong' and I did that today."

2. Thompson has certainly had his ups and downs since his days at Alabama, which included shooting 78-80 at Riviera to finish dead last at the Northern Trust Open earlier this year in what was his third missed cut in four starts. A few weeks ago, Thompson was practicing with his alma mater's team when the coach there, Jay Seawell, pointed something out. Seawell reminded Thompson that when he was there he hit the fewest number of fairways and greens but made the most birdies. "I think I've always been a scrappy player," Thompson said. "That's a perfect example of just who I am." That scrappiness was needed on Sunday.

3. The move to the U.S. in the offseason by Lee Westwood seems to have helped his game, but he struggled on Sunday, shooting a final-round 74 to tumble six spots into ninth. "I haven't won enough over in the States," Westwood said. "I've put myself in position a lot but just haven't finished it up. Having moved here and giving myself more opportunities to play here, I can start winning more." Easier said than done. Westwood is 15th in scoring average before the cut, but he ranks 155th in third-round scoring and 137th in final-round scoring. He has two wins on the PGA TOUR compared to 22 on the European Tour. Said Westwood, "I need to try and change that."

4. The bad news for Geoff Ogilvy was that he needed to do laundry and didn't have a hotel room Sunday night because he figured he would be going home after the final round. The good news is his runner-up moved him inside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking and got him into the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship -- a tournament he’s won before and feels good about. As for the other stuff? "Half the TOUR lives in this area, so I'm sure I can find somewhere to stay," he said.

5. Thompson also got into this week's event at Trump Doral, moving to 45th in the Official World Golf Ranking after his victory. It will be his first WGC event. Others who got in by virtue of being in the top 10 in the FedExCup standings who otherwise weren't eligible: Russell Henley, Brian Gay, Charles Howell III and John Merrick.

6. Whenever someone mentions Erik Compton, often the first thing that comes to mind is the two heart transplant surgeries he’s had. After a career-best tie for fourth on Sunday, he’s hoping to change that perception. "It's hard for me to get too sentimental about it, because I've turned the corner on my story," he said. "I really want to be one of the top 50 players in the world, and I have to the game to do it." It's still one of the best stories out there, however, and impossible not to root for guy given all Compton has gone through.

7. Stat of the Week I: This one is actually a couple of stats, starting with the number five. That's how many players broke par Sunday. The other stat? One, which is the number of bogey-free rounds over the weekend at PGA National, including zero on Sunday.

8. Stat of the Week II: The toughest hole of the week at PGA National? It wasn’t any of the three that make up the Bear Trap (in part because they played downwind). Nos. 10 and 11 ranked first and second.

9. Stat of the Week III: Thompson is the first American to win The Honda Classic since Mark Wilson in 2007. I'm not sure what to make of that other than maybe it just being a statistical anomaly.


MONDAY BACKSPIN MAILBAG
mail

Tiger and Rory both seem to be struggling lately. Who gets back on track first? -- Ben Thompson

Since Woods has already won once this year, I don’t see how he hasn’t already gotten on track. Yes, he struggled at The Honda Classic last week, but so did most of the field. McIlroy will find his rhythm, too, but it’s pretty clear he needs more time with his new equipment judging by comments.

Do you think a South African will finish in the top 5 at the Masters? -- Ryan Hunt

Given the way Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuzien have played this year and last, it’s hard to imagine one or both won’t be in contention. Schwartzel has won there before and Oosthuizen nearly did a year ago.

Have a question for the mailbag? Email your question to brianwacker@pgatourhq.com, or tweet it to @pgatour_brianw.

 

Forward Spin: Who I like this week
Cadillac-88

Michael Thompson and Geoff Ogilvy both moved into the top 50 in the world after The Honda Classic, and I think Ogilvy could be a factor again this week at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. He's won at Trump Doral before, in 2008, and finished third the year before. Certainly the Florida Swing seems to have been a boost to him, anyway.Speaking of players getting a boost, Matt Kuchar has finished in the top 8 each of the last three years at Trump Doral and I think that trend continues -- maybe even with a win.

For those who didn’t qualify for the Cadillac Championship, there’s the Puerto Rico Open, which also has a Trump connection since it's played at the Trump International Golf Club. It's hard not to like Michael Bradley's chances since he’s won this tournament twice before. I also see Justin Leonard playing well this week, too, even though it's his first time there.

 

 

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