McIlroy in a familiar spot in final major

By Doug FergusonAugust 9, 2014, 1:47 am

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Rory McIlroy is making this PGA Championship feel like 2000 all over again at Valhalla.

Back then, it was Tiger Woods who was making the game look easy as he started to pile up majors. Now it's McIlroy, the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland who produced superior shots with his long game and made all the right putts Friday for a 4-under 67 that gave him a one-shot lead over Jason Day and Jim Furyk.

''When I'm playing like this, it's obviously very enjoyable,'' McIlroy said. ''I can't wait to get back out on the course again tomorrow and do the same thing all over again.''

For Woods, such feelings are becoming distant memories.

He missed two short putts early - one for birdie, one for bogey - and looked as if he should never have tried to play the final major of the year with a sore back. Two birdies on his last three holes only kept it from being worse. Woods shot another 74 and missed the cut in a major for the fourth time.

''I tried as hard as I could,'' Woods said. ''That's about all I got.''

Oddly enough, McIlroy opened with the exact same scores (66-67) as Woods did 14 years ago at Valhalla, when he barely outlasted Bob May in a playoff for his third straight major of the season on his way to an unprecedented sweep of golf's biggest events.

McIlroy, who was at 9-under 133, isn't nearly at that stage. And his competition going into the weekend is a little more experienced.

Furyk, a former U.S. Open champion who was runner-up last year at the PGA, got up-and-down from behind the green on the par-5 18th for birdie and a 68. Moments earlier, Day capped off the best round of a soggy day with a birdie on the 18th for a 65. Day has three runner-up finishes in the majors.

Right behind were Ryan Palmer (70) and Rickie Fowler (66), a runner-up in the last two majors.


PGA Championship: Articles, videos and photos


Even so, McIlroy is dangerous when he gets in the lead, especially at a major. He learned his lesson at Augusta National in 2011 when he tried to protect a four-shot lead and wound up shooting 80. He bounced back for an eight-shot win at the U.S. Open, won the PGA Championship by a record eight shots a year later and only last month went wire-to-wire to win the third leg of the career Grand Slam at the British Open.

''My mindset has stayed the same since that day at Augusta,'' McIlroy said. ''If I'm two ahead going into the weekend here, I'm going to try to get three ahead. And if I'm three ahead, I'm going to try to get four ahead. ... I'm just going to try to keep the pedal down and get as many ahead as possible.''

He didn't take his first lead until the par-5 18th hole, the midway point of his round.

McIlroy blasted his driver and couldn't quite see where it went against a cloudy sky.

''Is it good?'' he asked caddie.

''Beautiful,'' was all J.P. Fitzgerald said.

McIlroy hit 4-iron to the front of the green, and his eagle putt rammed into the back of the cup as if it had nowhere else to go. It was a moment where the No. 1 player in the world looked as if he had just seized control of the PGA Championship.

Except it wasn't that easy. In sloppy conditions, McIlroy took bogey on the tough par-4 second hole, and then had to scramble for four straight pars. But on the par-5 seventh, after another big tee shot on the left side of the fairway, he hit a 5-wood over the water to 8 feet, a shot that reminded everyone why he's the class of golf. That was one of the few putts he missed - he still made birdie - and McIlroy finished with a 15-foot birdie on the final hole.

''When he hits the driver that straight and that long, and the short game is incredible, it's very difficult to beat him,'' U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer said. ''His iron shots, they are very solid. He doesn't miss many golf shots. So you just have to respect it a lot, how good he plays. There's nothing wrong with his game.''

Fowler saw it during the final round at Royal Liverpool last month. He knows what kind of work is left for the guys chasing him.

It can be done. But they might need some help from McIlroy.

''He's the best player in the world right now,'' Fowler said. ''And I would say a lot of that is his confidence right now with the way he's driving the ball. If he continues to drive it, he's going to continue to be in contention at a lot of golf tournaments and win a lot of times.''

Maybe. But the final major is only at the halfway mark.

Day has been battling injuries to his wrist ever since winning the Match Play Championship, and he was pleasantly surprised to be in the hunt at another major. He is explosive, much like McIlroy, minus the experience of winning. The Australian showed that on the final holes with a wedge to 6 feet on the 450-yard 17th hole, and a nifty up-and-down over a bunker on the 18th.

''I'm clearly not the favorite,'' Day said. ''It's going to be tough to beat him. But then again, there's a lot of great golfers behind us that are in form, as well.''

Woods had a one-shot lead over Scott Dunlap going into the weekend at Valhalla in 2000. Of the dozen players behind him that year, only Davis Love III had won a major. This leaderboard is more compelling. It even includes Phil Mickelson, who made eagle on the last hole for a 67 and was three shots behind.

It just doesn't include Woods, who ended a sixth consecutive season without winning a major. And lately, he hasn't even been close.

Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.