Section: Golf

Golf: Rory McIlroy hits first competitive hole-in-one

Rory McIlroy made his first competitive hole-in-one as a professional in the second round of the Abu Dhabi Championship.

The world No.1 threw his hands in the air and high-fived playing partner Rickie Fowler after his nine-iron from 177 yards at the par-three 15th landed a yard from the hole, hopped right and trickled into the cup.

“It never left the pin,” McIlroy said after ticking off one of the few things he’d yet to achieve in his golf career.

A six-under 66 – completed with a 15-foot birdie putt at No.18 – moved McIlroy into third place at 11 under, two shots behind Kaymer, to set up a potentially thrilling duel over the weekend between two players who won three of last year’s majors.

McIlroy will do well to dislodge Kaymer, though. The US Open champion followed up a first-round 64 with a 67 to give himself a great chance of a fourth title at the National Course – where he won in 2008, 2010 and 2011.

Kaymer, who maintained his one-stroke lead from overnight, is a strong front-runner – as shown by his wire-to-wire victories in last year’s US Open and in Abu Dhabi in 2008. He is even threatening to challenge his own record-low total in this tournament, set in 2011 when he shot a 24-under 264.

“It’s one of the only tournaments where you stand on the first tee and you pretty much know you have birdied every single hole,” said Kaymer, whose second-round highlight came on his 10th hole when he chipped in for birdie from a greenside bunker.

Separating Kaymer and McIlroy on the leaderboard is Thomas Pieters, the 22-year-old Belgian who is starting to fulfil his potential.

Pieters, seeking a first European Tour win, shot a 67 for 12 under.

Among the players to miss the cut – at two under – in the first tournament in the annual Desert Swing were defending champion Pablo Larrazabal, world No.2 Henrik Stenson and Italy’s Matteo Manassero. Fowler shot a 75 to drop to two under and just make the weekend.

McIlroy recalled making 10 holes-in-one, the last coming in a pro-am two years ago. His first came at the age of nine and was also a nine-iron, on that occasion from 106 yards at his home course in Holywood, Northern Ireland.

But one of the most thrilling feats in golf had evaded him in competitive professional play until he stepped up at No.15, slightly downbeat after missing very makeable birdie putts on the 13th and 14th holes.

He stayed in his pose as the ball drew in, kicked right on landing and took a couple of small bounces before dropping in.

“I didn’t need to get the putter out on that hole,” said McIlroy, who walked up to the cup, repaired his pitch mark and scooped the ball out to cheers from the crowd.

McIlroy was delighted with his ball-striking on a day that revived memories of his stunning year in 2014, when he won two majors and returned to world No.1. He has quickly shaken off the rust following time off over Christmas.

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Golf: Rory McIlroy among the honours again

Rory McIlroy, Stacy Lewis and Bernhard Langer were overwhelming choices for 2014 players of the year by the Golf Writers Association of America.

McIlroy earned the top spot for male golfers for the second time in three years, as did Lewis in the female category. Both also won in 2012. Langer won the senior honour.

With four worldwide victories, two major championships and a three-tournament late-summer winning streak, McIlroy, 25, was named on 94% of the GWAA ballots.

“Truly a great honour for me,” McIlroy said in a statement. “This award is testimony to my best year as a professional golfer and something I can aim toward winning again as I go into next season.”

Lewis had 57% of the vote in the Female Player of the Year category, finishing ahead of Lydia Ko and Michelle Wie. Lewis won three times, led the money list and won the scoring title as well as being tops in the Rolex Player of the Year standings.

“It is tough to win one, let alone all three,” Lewis said. “It’s an honour to be recognised by the GWAA Player of the Year for the second time.”

Langer also won the senior honour in 2010. All three players will be honoured by the GWAA at its annual awards dinner on April 8 during Masters week in Augusta, Georgia.

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Golf: McIlroy named European Tour player of the year

Rory McIlroy may have missed out on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award but he has been chosen as the top European Tour player in 2014.

The Northern Irishman was pipped to the BBC prize by Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton on Sunday, but has been honoured by the European Tour after a season in which he won two majors, the Ryder Cup, and topped the money lists in Europe and the United States.

World No.1 McIlroy claimed his first Open Championship by two strokes over Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia at Royal Liverpool in July, and made it back-to-back majors with a a second US PGA Championship at Valhalla, finishing a shot clear of Phil Mickelson.

Between McIlroy’s third and fourth major wins, he won the World Golf Championship event at Firestone for the first time, again with a two-shot victory over Garcia.

Overall, he took four big titles over three months, starting in May at the European Tour’s flagship event at Wentworth, where he edged Shane Lowry by a shot on a course where he missed the halfway cut the previous two years.

That victory came days after canceling a wedding and relationship with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.

At the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in September, McIlroy won three points as Europe successfully defended the title.

“If I had won any one of those four titles it would have been a good year, but to win all four, to win The Race to Dubai, and to be part of another fantastic European victory in the Ryder Cup, means it is a great one,” McIlroy said.

“The European Tour has always been good to me, so it is always special to be recognised in this way.”

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Golf: Teenager Charley Hull tops European Order of Merit in Dubai

England’s Charley Hull won the European Order of Merit after finishing tied for fifth at the Dubai Ladies Masters.

The 18-year-old went into the final event of the season with a lead of £18,000 over Gwladys Nocera, and the French player could only tie for 11th.

Hull took her prize money for the year to £208,599 after 17 events, with Nocera on £184,965 in 20 tournaments.

China’s Shanshan Feng won the Dubai title by five strokes with a closing 70 that left her on 19 under par.

Spaniard Carlota Ciganda finished second, one shot clear of Caroline Masson of Germany in third.

Hull, from Kettering, was joined by compatriots Liz Young and Melissa Reid on 10 under, while Amy Boulden of Wales finished 24th to claim the Rookie of the Year award.

Twelve months ago it was Hull who won the rookie prize, and a meteoric rise has now seen her top the overall money list within a year.

“I think I wanted to do that because you only get one chance,” said Hull. “I’m happy.

“Gwladys is a good player. Just on the back nine today, I thought ‘don’t make any silly mistakes.’ I double bogeyed the first but got two birdies on the bounce back, so pretty happy with myself there.”

Hull was in contention after three rounds of the Women’s British Open in August but closed with a 78, and is looking to add a major title to her triumphs in 2015.

“I’ll just try to win a tournament each week – that would be brilliant,” she said.

“But Majors are something special, especially this year, coming close to my home tournament, I didn’t finish off on the last day.

“I think my putting let me down but now I’ve got that sussed.”

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Ladies Golf: Charley Hull on course to top European Order of Merit in Dubai

England’s Charley Hull will head into the final round of the season-ending Dubai Ladies Masters seven shots off the lead but on track to win the European Order of Merit.

Hull, 18, shot a third-round 69 to move to 10 under par, with Shanshan Feng of China leading on 17 under after a 66.

Melissa Reid of England surged into second place with a 65 that included seven birdies and no bogeys.

Hull leads France’s Gwlayds Nocera by £18,000 in the Order of Merit.

Nocera will begin the final day three behind Hull on seven under after two birdies in the final three holes helped her to a 71.

Hull had been keeping in touch with leader Feng until a bogey on the 11th was followed by a triple bogey on the 12th, but three birdies in the closing holes got the English player back on track.

“I’m actually really happy to be honest,” said Hull.

“I got off to a fast start and I was three under through 10 holes, and just lost a little bit of concentration for two holes.

“I fought back after making a triple and a bogey with three birdies after that, so I’m really proud of myself for doing that.”

Cheyenne Woods, the niece of 14-time major winner Tiger Woods, lost ground with a 72 that kept her at five under par.

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Golf: McIlroy ‘wiped clean’ important data, court hears

Rory McIlroy deleted information from up to eight electronic devices that may have contained important data relating to his legal action against his former management firm, Horizon Sports, a court has heard.

Horizon’s lawyers said the devices, some of which belonged to other key figures in the case, including father Gerry McIlroy, were restored to their factory setting.

Senior counsel Paul Sreenan, representing Horizon, said the action seemed “incredible for a person in his position”.

Horizon has asked the court for further disclosure, including inspection of electronic devices, because McIlroy had failed to respond to requests for further disclosure.

Mr Sreenan added that McIlroy and three others close to him had also wiped their devices before passing them on to others or to charity.

McIlroy, in an affidavit sworn in Florida on Monday, said he had already provided significant amount of detail for the case, in compliance with a previous court order.

He said he had not been advised it was necessary to back up material before factory resetting his phones, which he changed regularly to have the most up-to-date model. He added that he used the internet-based ‘iCloud’ storage system to transfer data between phones, but he reset the old phones to preserve his privacy and avoid unsolicited calls.

McIlroy is suing Horizon, claiming a representation agreement signed by him in December 2011 is invalid and unenforceable on a number of grounds including alleged undue influence.

Horizon deny this and have counter-claimed for £1.9m they claim is outstanding under the agreement for off-course revenues.

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Golf: Willett overtakes Donald and strolls to victory in Sun City

Danny Willett spoiled Luke Donald’s birthday with a final-round 66 to charge past his English compatriot and win the Nedbank Golf Challenge by four shots.

Willett claimed his second European Tour title ahead of Ross Fisher (68), while overnight leader Donald slipped to third in an all-English top three at Sun City.

Willett had an impressive amateur career but had won just once on the tour – at the BMW International Open in 2012 — before his £800,000 payday at the first event of the 2015 European season. The 27-year-old Willett made six birdies and no bogeys on the final day and finished with weekend rounds of 65 and 66 for an 18-under-par total of 270 at Gary Player Country Club.

“Just one of them weeks where the swing felt good and it came off,” said Willett, who had just three bogeys all week.

Former world No.1 Donald, seeking a first title in more than a year, couldn’t quite celebrate his 37th birthday in style and ended with a 73 with four bogeys. He was six shots behind Willett.

“A lot of positives,” Donald said. “It’s nice to put myself back in position. I could have played a bit better but I still would have had to shoot five under just to tie with Danny.”

Willett trailed Donald by one heading into the final round, but had three birdies in his first five holes on Sunday to surge ahead and he led to the end.

Willett’s chasers had a glimpse of hope when he missed the green at 14, leaving himself with a tricky chip over a bunker back to the hole. But he recovered so well that he still made birdie, and Fisher and Donald saw their hopes slip away.

Willett shoots to the top of the new European Order of Merit standings.

Behind Donald, Germany’s Marcel Siem was alone in fourth on nine under, Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat was fifth and Spanish veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez completed a solid weekend with back-to-back 69s for sixth.

Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer – both former Sun City champions – finished two over and four over respectively, well off the pace.

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Golf: Spieth wins in Sydney with ‘best round’ of career

Jordan Spieth played the best round of an already impressive career with an eight-under 63 on Sunday to win the Australian Open by six strokes, making his first trip Down Under a successful one.

Spieth’s 72-hole total of 13-under 271 on the tough, windy Australian Golf Club made him the first American to win the Australian Open since Brad Faxon in 1993, when the 21-year-old Spieth was four months old.

“It’s the best round I have ever played, especially considering the conditions,” Spieth said. “It was just kind of one of those rounds when you’re in the zone and you’re not sure what you’re at. It’s nice that it came on a Sunday.”

Spieth birdied four holes on the front nine – three of them in a row – to lead by three strokes after nine holes, then made light of the challenging, windy conditions by adding four more on the back nine, never threatening to lose his lead.

“You don’t want any kind of crack in the door to be open and I felt like we kept it shut from the front nine on,” Spieth said.

Spieth’s score was a record for the revamped Jack Nicklaus-designed layout which was being played as a par 71 for the first time. On Friday, Jamie Lovemark of the United States shot 65.

Adam Scott shot 71 and finished fifth, nine strokes behind. Defending champion Rory McIlroy, who shot 76 on Saturday, finished with a 72 and was two-over, 15 strokes behind Spieth.

Three Australians who finished closest to Spieth earned trips to next July’s Open Championship. The Australian Open is the first qualifying tournament for the major and offers three spots to the top finishers not already exempt.

Rod Pampling shot 68 to finish second, while former two-time Australian Open champion Greg Chalmers (71) and Brett Rumford (70) were third and fourth, respectively. All three will play at St. Andrews next year.

Gusty northeasterly breezes played havoc all week with scores, and only eight players finished under par.

Chalmers and Spieth were tied for the lead at six-under after four holes, but Spieth birdied the par-five fifth where Chalmers made bogey for a two-shot swing. The American also birdied the sixth and seventh holes, made a fine par save on the ninth, then did the same on the 10th from about five feet, pumping his fist as he edged closer to the title and the Stonehaven Cup trophy.

It was Spieth’s first win of 2014, and second of his pro career – he won on the John Deere Classic in a play-off on the PGA Tour in 2013. Although he hadn’t won this year, he was runner-up in the Masters and had eight top-10 finishes in 24 PGA tournaments.

He was reminded that last year’s Australian Open win by McIlroy was his only victory that year, and the Northern Irishman went on to win two majors and have an outstanding 2014.

“If I had the follow-up year that Rory had this year, I’d be pleased this time next year,” Spieth said.

McIlroy’s 76 all but ended the defence of the title he memorably won in 2014 with a birdie on the last hole to deny Scott the Australian Triple Crown.

“It’s been tough all weekend,” McIlroy said. “I was trying to get something going but with the pin positions and the wind, it was just very hard to get the ball close to the hole. It just wasn’t meant to be this year.”

There were tributes around the golf course Saturday and Sunday for Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, who died Thursday after being hit by a ball during a match at the nearby Sydney Cricket Ground.

The number 63 was used in many of them, as that was the number of runs Hughes had scored before he was fatally injured. Spieth provided the final reminder – and an unintentional tribute – by finishing with a round of 63.

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Golf: Stenson defends Tour Championship title

Henrik Stenson has successfully defended his Tour Championship title at the European Tour’s season-ending event.

Stenson shot a final round 2-under 70 on Sunday to win by two strokes with an overall 16-under 272 on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.

Although he admitted he was not on top form throughout the tournament, late birdies on the 17th and 18th holes sealed victory for the Swede.

“It felt great,” Stenson said. “I did not play my best and had a shocking hole on 11 which knocked me back, but I did not give up. I just had to dig in there and wait for something to happen.

“I had a couple of close calls this year to get my win and it was not to be. It has been close but eventually you get something if you stick around and I surely did that.”

Three of Stenson’s team-mates on Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup team – Rory McIlroy (68), Victor Dubuisson (68) and Justin Rose (69) – shared second on 14-under 274. The victory means Stenson finishes second to McIlroy in the Race to Dubai.

World No.1 McIlroy conceded he did not play well enough to win but remained encouraged by his final standing.

“It seemed like no-one took it by the scruff of the neck,” he said. “If I had won playing like that, it would have been a surprise. And that’s a really big positive, not just going into next year but going into the rest of my career.

“Because in seasons gone by, a bad week for me would have resulted in finishing in the middle of the pack and not in contention like this week. That consistency in results is something I’ve really been pleased with this season. Yet all credit to Henrik. He deserved it.”

Rafa Cabrera-Bello (75) was leading with three holes to play but the Spaniard tumbled down the board with back-to-back double bogeys at Nos.16 and 17 to finish tied for ninth with an overall 277.

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Golf: Tour Championship: Stenson and Cabrera-Bello take advantage of McIlroy blip

Defending champion Henrik Stenson and Rafael Cabrera-Bello will take a three-shot lead into the final round of the Tour Championship after both players moved to 14-under-par at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.

Stenson carded a bogey-free 68 while Cabrera-Bello ended with four birdies in five holes to record a round-of-the-day 65.

The pair lead Justin Rose, whose 68 moves him up to third at 11-under, while Rory McIlroy is in a cluster of four players on 10-under.

McIlroy rolled home three straight birdies from the fifth and added another at 10 to briefly reach 12-under-par, but back-to-back double-bogeys at the par-four 12th and par-three 13th saw him fall away.

The world No.1 recovered with further gains at 12 and 13 to join Victor Dubuisson (67), Tyrrell Hatton (68) and Thorbjorn Olesen (69) in a share for fourth place.

McIlroy’s mini meltdown began when he drove into a fairway bunker at and compounded the error by three putting, before duffing two chips from right of the green on the 13th.

“That ruined the scorecard a bit,” said the 25-year-old, who is already the Race to Dubai champion.

“It makes life a little more difficult for me tomorrow. I need to be aggressive, I need to go at pins, hit it close and make some putts.

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