Tiger Woods worked all the way back to the #2 world ranking in golf throughout this past year, while young Rory McIlroy bounced back and forth between 1st and 2nd place. The two would be paired together along with a former #1 golfer, Martin Kaymer, as they opened their 2013 golf season at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in the United Arab Emirates. Woods would receive a $3 million appearance fee just for showing up to the tournament while Rory McIlroy would be sporting a whole new look after signing with Nike earlier this year.
The two now share a sponsor as well as the top two spots in the world but on Thursday and Friday McIlroy and Woods played anything like the best two golfers in the world. I was surprised to see Tiger interacting so much with Rory on the course, as usually he pierces through his competitors with his rigidness. The two have always had a different relationship but maybe now after shooting their newest Nike ad the two have become besties. The friendliness halted early on Thursday as both players struggled to hit good shots.
McIlroy was getting used to 14 new clubs in his bag, a new golf ball and it was the first tournament of the season. He has had rumors swirling all off-season long about an alleged engagement to professional tennis player Caroline Wozniaki. Not to say that there is leeway here for the young Irish golfer but it’s not like McIlroy has never missed a cut before. Last year at the U.S. Open McIlroy and Luke Donald both missed the cut and it seemed like for the first time since then both the #1 and 2 golfers in the world would miss a cut. Since 1992 the top 2 players have missed the cut in the same tournament just 5 times but after this it has happened in three consecutive years. McIlroy missed 3 cuts on the Euro Tour last season and missed another 3 events on the PGA Tour despite winning the money titles in both.
McIlroy’s 2013 debut with his new Nike equipment didn’t go well carding 2 birdies along with a bogey and two double bogeys. His tee shots were erratic and his putting was just not there as he worked his way towards a 3 over 75. On Friday McIlroy switched back to his Titleist putter in hopes of salvaging the tournament but he bogeyed 3 of his first 7 holes behind more errant shots off the box and a poor putting stroke. It seemed like he may get it together after carding back-to-back birdies on holes 8 and 9, the latter he chipped in from just off the green. He couldn’t take advantage and would bogey the very next hole. McIlroy would finish Friday with his 2nd consecutive 75, shooting 150 in the first two days, 6 over on the tournament and missing the cut by 5.
Tiger Woods on the other hand had a much more dramatic route to missing the cut at the Abu Dhabi. Woods has had quite a bit of difficulty getting over his transgressions with ex-wife Elin Nordegren. Now the National Enquirer, the same trash gossip magazine that broke his infidelities, are claiming that Woods is attempting to reconcile with his ex-wife. Tiger however does not want to comment on his private life, despite rumors that Woods is offering Elin a $200 million pre-nuptial agreement if she will remarry him. Woods has had a lot on his mind since their divorce in 2010 and maybe the thought of rekindling a relationship with her rattled his play this week.
Woods doesn’t have the built in excuse that Rory does about switching his entire bag from one set of clubs to another. Actually Tiger talked about how his game felt good coming into his debut round at Abu Dhabi but his play through the first 36 didn’t necessarily echo that message. Teeing off of the back 9 Woods scored 3 birdies on holes 15-18 but scored back-to-back bogeys on the next two holes. Woods would score a birdie on 8 but would bogey the 9th, his 18th, finishing the first round with an even score of 72. The most embarrassing moment came on the 1st tee, Woods 10th hole, when he topped his drive traveling just over 100 yards and burying itself in the rough before the fairway.
Woods knew that Friday had to be different but he started his round by bogeying 4 of the first 5 holes, but it was the bogey he carded on the 5th hole that was vital to his round. Tiger hit a shot that went into the vines and buried the ball, making Woods believe he was entitled to a free drop. He asked for his playing partner’s opinion, Martin Kaymer, who agreed with Tiger that he should get free relief from an imbedded lie. Tiger would go on to bogey the hole but was approached by the Euro Tour’s head official Andy McFee. McFee informed Woods that they were looking into the shot and that he may be penalized.
Tiger would start to feel the pressure, knowing that he was on the wrong side of the cut line. Woods did not want to miss his first cut on the European Tour; I mean Woods has only missed 8 cuts in his PGA career. Woods would play the next 5 holes 3 under but a bad missed putt on 17 forced him to card his 6th bogey of the round. Woods was also informed that he would be penalized 2 strokes, making that bogey 5 on the 5th hole actually a triple-bogey 7. McFee determined that Woods was in a sandy area to the right of the fairway and was not awarded a free drop. Rather he could have taken a one-stroke penalty for an unplayable lie or played it as it lay. That last bogey on 17 was the difference as his 73 became a 75 and Woods missed the cut line a 1 over with his 147 3 over.
The course has narrow fairways throughout and Thursday the players were faced with a lot of crosswinds but Friday was relatively calm. Woods and McIlroy both struggled to hit the short grass as Tiger was 5-14 on Thursday and 6-14 Friday, while Rory was 5-14 then 7-14. Missing the fairways led to both players missing greens in regulations and adding their putting woes on top of it missing the cut was the most likely scenario for both. McIlroy hit 12 GIR on Thursday and 11 on Friday and despite his switch back to the Scotty Cameron putter during the 2nd round he only cut his putts per round by a single stroke from 31 to 30. Woods had just 10 GIR in round 1 and 9 the following day putting 29 times on Thursday during his even round and 28 on Friday. That penalty cost Tiger the cut but it wasn’t the only reason why he missed advancing on to the weekend.
I guess I should inform you that Justin Rose is the leader at 8 under just a stroke ahead of his closest competition but without Rory or Tiger this will be the last story on the Abu Dhabi Championship.