McIlroy, Woods start their road to the Masters

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McIlroy didn’t look sharp at all when he was eliminated by Shane Lowry. His weakness was iron play, leaving several shots out to the right. So was it his swing or his new equipment? The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland suggested a little of both.

“I guess it’s still an adjustment period,” he said. “It’s going to be a gradual thing. There’s obviously a bit of an overlap there and you have to just try and get your way into it the best you can. But as I’ve said the last few weeks, it’s more about how I’m swinging the club. That’s the real concern _ not concern for me, but I would like to get back to where I was the middle of last year. That’s the real thing I’m working on.”

Even so, the switch to new equipment has been a factor.

McIlroy took a big break at the end of the 2011 season, nearly two months before starting a new year. But with an equipment change, he only took a few weeks off before getting to the practice range with his new clubs. Somewhere along the way, he says some bad habits got into his swing.

He said the golf ball was an easier adjustment than he expected. The driver was more difficult, though McIlroy is confident he has that dialed in.

Now it’s a matter of taking it to the golf course.

He is playing three times before he gets to the Masters _ PGA National and Doral in back-to-back weeks, and then a two-week break before he plays the Houston Open.

Whether the Florida swing starts with the Honda Classic or Doral, as it once did, the feel of that warm, tropical breeze, palm trees, white bunkers and blue water hazards signal the first step toward the first major of the year. Only 34 players in the 144-man field are currently in the Masters.

The Honda Classic has five of the top 10 players in the world, including Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Rose.

Not all the focus is on the road to the Masters. A divisive issue hanging over golf is the proposed rule that would ban anchored strokes used with long putters. The PGA Tour said last week it was opposed to the plan. Woods was among those who said the club should be swung freely, without being anchored to the body, and he stood by that.

What he doesn’t know is whether the governing bodies will go ahead with the rule, and how the PGA Tour responds.

“Hopefully, we don’t have to bifurcate or adapt a local rule like we sometimes out here on tour with stones and bunkers and things of that nature,” Woods said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to do that with our putter.”

He said he understood PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem’s position to oppose the ban, “but I still feel that all 14 clubs should be swung.”

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