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McIlroy, Woods start their road to the Masters
They made their debut in Abu Dhabi last month and both missed the cut. The next time they played in the same tournament was last week in the Match Play Championship, and both were eliminated in the first round.
The difference is that Woods returned to Torrey Pines the week after missing the cut. He left little reason for anyone to doubt his game when he built a lead that reached eight shots until the day dragged on and he won by four for his 75th career win on the PGA Tour.
McIlroy knew starting the year there would attention on his change from Titleist to Nike, and it only intensified with two bad results.
“It’s fine,” he said. “I knew coming into (the year) it was going to be a bit of a process and I knew there was going to be comments if it didn’t happen for me right away,” McIlroy said. “I’m only two tournaments into the season. I’ve still 20 to go. So it’s not like I’m in any rush. It’s not like I’m pushing for answers. Everything is there. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
McIlroy put it together much sooner a year ago.
He was runner-up in Abu Dhabi, tied for fifth in Dubai, lost in the final of the Match Play Championship and then won the Honda Classic, making one clutch par save after another to hold off a late rally by Woods. McIlroy went to No. 1 by winning at PGA National, and he has been atop the world ranking since winning the PGA Championship.
How much longer he stays there depends on his game _ and that of Woods, who is No. 2 and making up ground.
They are the featured players as the Florida swing gets under way Thursday in the Honda Classic, a tournament that has been rejuvenated in recent years with a couple of significant moves. One was the site of the tournament to PGA National, which has hosted a PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup and makes for good television with so much water in play over the closing holes.
The other was a vast improvement in the neighborhood. Woods moved to nearby Jupiter Island, while McIlroy, Lee Westwood and former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel are located at Old Palm just down the road. Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and others also have moved to south Florida.
The Match Play Championship is the most unpredictable event in golf, and Woods is a great example of that. He is the only three-time winner, yet he has yet to make it out of the second round since his last win. Woods played bogey-free on a course that still had traces of snow and was beaten by Charles Howell III, who played even better.
“Generally if you’re missing a cut, you’re probably not playing that well,” Woods said Wednesday after his pro-am round. “I actually played well, and only played one day. So I missed a few putts out there, but other than that, I really played well. And unfortunately, I ran into a guy who also played well _ better than I did.”
By John R. Bolton
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