Euros hope to improve major performance at St. Andrews

By Brandon TuckerJune 24, 2015, 5:21 pm

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – The only real noise Europe’s top golfers made at the U.S. Open was with their mouths and thumbs.

Shocking, frankly, as Americans have been entirely too accustomed to Europeans walking off with their biggest trophies lately.

Entering the week, four of the last five U.S. Opens had gone to Europeans, and the dominance has been equally, if not more, impressive in Ryder Cups.

And as the sun set at Chambers Bay, what was so remarkable was not one Euro in the field contended on a golf course built by jealous Americans who adore the 200-plus true links courses to be found in Great Britain and Ireland.

Instead, Ryder Cup rivalries be damned. The leaderboard, with three South Africans and two Aussies in the top seven, was Presidents Cup-esque.

A sour week for Europe

Spend some time in a clubhouses in Europe and eventually you’ll hear a member suggest the average American golfer is spoiled by bent grass greens reading 11 on the Stimpmeter and soft fairways you can scoop a ball with a lob wedge straight into the air when a little 5-iron bump-and-run would suffice.

And yet, here was a course with conditions maligned more than any tournament venue in recent memory. And rather than Europeans embracing its imperfections, they seemed derailed from the start.

It began on Thursday with Sergio Garcia’s suggestive tweets the USGA could have done better. On Friday, Henrik Stenson fanned the flames by calling the greens "broccoli." The largely-diplomatic McIlroy was soon pulled into the muck and dropped "cauliflower." Lee Westwood, whose time is running out to win a major, had his cheeky moments online as well. On Sunday, Ian Poulter broke his silence on Instagram around the time the leaders made their way to the back nine with 327 words of indignation going so far as to suggest an apology from the USGA ( who put up a $10 million purse) was in order (a sentiment Billy Horschel echoed just hours earlier on the podium).

No doubt, it’s been a golden age for European golf, a high council of all-stars led by their rosey-cheeked four-time major champion. We've seen it in their recent major and Ryder Cup dominance. McIlroy, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell have all won U.S. Opens on a variety of setups.

Yet top-10 players like Rose and Stenson were non-factors on the weekend, leaving McIlroy and lesser-known Shane Lowry as Europe’s last grasps. McIlroy made a spirited charge on Sunday, but he never threatened past his birdie on 13 and suddenly it was apparent Europe would leave Chambers Bay empty-handed.

Americans do the talking on Sunday

When Jordan Spieth hit the par-5 18th hole in two shots, it became clear an American was poised to win back the U.S. Open.

Spieth and Dustin Johnson were hardly immune to their criticisms of Chambers Bay. But, perhaps because they were in contention from the start, their tone seemed less defeatist than their disgruntled peers on both sides of the pond.

Spieth, when asked about the greens early in the week seemed more analytical than upset, describing in detail different paces on different holes and the misleading speed on the practice green.

His caught-on-camera critique of the par-4 18th, later elaborated on after the round, was a savvy, veteran-lobbying session, like Phil Jackson at the podium ensuring Shaq gets his room in the paint. The USGA will never admit Spieth and others' analysis of the hole swayed their decision to make the 72nd hole a par 5, but the setup committee did know the winds would be shifting to the north on Sunday for days, yet made no word of their intentions to change their plans until last minute.

Meanwhile, Johnson, carrying himself with his usual nonchalant stride and back page-worthy quotes all week, preferred to speak of his ball-striking clinic, highlighted by hitting 14/14 fairways on Saturday including two greens on par 4s.

On Sunday, he could have blamed the greens but instead took the high road; humility normally reserved for his father-in-law, Wayne Gretzky.

"I thought I was hitting them pretty good and they just weren't going in," was all he could explain – and that’s something we hear from runner-ups when most majors are over.

No excuses at St. Andrews

Now, the scene shifts from a modern links "on steroids" to St. Andrews, a place where any disparagement of the grounds in all certainly results in a lifelong condemnation from Old Tom Morris and his fellow souls in golf’s high kingdom.

It’s the purest test in the world with turf conditions as fine as you’ll ever walk; enormous, smooth greens, perhaps the truest 18 surfaces (or, 11 to be correct) on Earth. Unfortunate bounces from humps and bumps are viewed not as manufactured from the mad mind of Mike Davis but rather an appropriate sentence by the Alpha and Omega of our grand game.

A European hasn’t won on the Old Course since Nick Faldo in 1990. White-hot Spieth heads here for the first time in championship conditions having proved he doesn’t need much experience with a complex golf course to win. McIlroy, meanwhile, hopes to defend his claret jug and retain his weakened hold of the No. 1 position in the world.

Twitter will be quiet, there will be no pictures of poa annua on Instagram. The only chatter will be of what might the heavens deliver in terms of wind, rain and luck.

Leave it to the Old Course to bring a little civility back to this game.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.