McIlroy Quiros share Masters lead

By Doug FergusonApril 8, 2011, 2:35 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The flair of Rory McIlroy. The sheer power of Alvaro Quiros. These are but two of the fresh faces in golf who offered more evidence Thursday at the Masters that a new generation is on the way.

And that’s only going to make it tougher on Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

The 21-year-old McIlroy, who opened with a 63 at St. Andrews last summer in the British Open, again delivered exquisite shots on one of golf’s biggest stages for a 7-under 65. It was such a clean round that he didn’t make a bogey and was left wondering how much lower he could have gone if not for missing five birdie chances inside 10 feet.

“It wasn’t maybe as exclusive or spectacular as the 63 at St. Andrews,” he said. “But it was very solid from start to finish.”

Then came Quiros, a 28-year-old Spaniard whom many consider the longest hitter in the game. Blasting away on a course where he had never shot better than 75, he spun an approach back to 3 feet on the 18th hole to catch McIlroy atop the leaderboard.

They had a two-shot lead over a pair of South Koreans, former PGA champion Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi.

Mickelson and Woods, with six green jackets between them in the last decade, blended in more than they stood out.

Woods played in the morning in only a moderate breeze, ideal conditions for scoring. But he lost his way starting the back nine with consecutive bogeys, made only one birdie on the par 5s and had to settle for a 71.

“I would rather be where Rory’s at,” Woods said. “But, hey, it’s a long way to go. We have a long grind ahead of us. The temperature is supposed to warm up and I’m sure they will start making the pins a little more difficult as the week goes on. I’m right there in the ballgame. I’m only six back, and as I said, we’ve got a lot of golf ahead of us.”

Mickelson was far more erratic off the tee, hitting tee shots into the Georgia pines and spraying one so far into the azaleas left of the 13th fairway that he looked like he was on an Easter egg hunt as he searched for his ball. He hit only four fairways, last in the field of 99 players.

As always, his superb chipping kept him from dropping shots on three straight holes around the turn. His only mistake came on the 18th, when he hit his approach into the gallery left of the green and chipped too hard, missing a 7-foot par putt for a 70.

“I scrambled well today, but I let four or five birdie opportunities slide,” Mickelson said. “I’m going to have to capitalize on those opportunities to go low. I didn’t shoot myself out of it, but I didn’t make up ground on the field like I wanted to.”

The top Americans on the leaderboard were Matt Kuchar and Ricky Barnes at 68. Another shot back was a group that included former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, Brandt Snedeker and Sergio Garcia, who is slowly showing signs of a revival.

The good news for McIlroy was not only a great start to the Masters, but a great forecast.

Last summer in Scotland, the freckle-faced kid from Northern Ireland followed his record-tying 63 with an 80 when he got caught up in the blustery conditions of St. Andrews. He eventually rallied for a tie for third at the Open, and hopes he gained some experience.

“Obviously at the time, I was very disappointed to come off the course and shoot 80 after shooting 63,” McIlroy said. “But looking back on it, it was a very valuable lesson in my development as a golfer. It’s possible that I can go out and shoot another 65, but I know that it’s also very likely that I’m not going to do that.

“So if I do find myself in a bit of trouble, I’m going to have to stick in there, grind it out.”

This was not a day to grind, not with weather that only enhanced the garden beauty of Augusta, and not with hole locations along the front nine that allowed for such good scoring.

Retief Goosen started out by holing an 8-iron from 161 yards on the opening hole, the first player in 24 years to make eagle on the first hole of the Masters. He reached 5 under at the turn, only to get tripped on the back nine for a 70.

McIlroy fired off three straight birdies starting the par-5 second, the best of those a pitch from just outside 60 yards that skipped and stopped a few feet from the hole at No. 3. He hit 7-iron just left of the pin on No. 9, then picked up another birdie on the 11th with a 5-iron that flirted with the pond left of the green and settled 8 feet away.

Two more birdies followed, and McIlroy had another stellar round in the majors. Despite being only 21 – he is the youngest player atop the leaderboard after one round at the Masters – he already has six rounds at 68 or better in the majors on some of the tougher courses, from Carnoustie to Bethpage Black to Whistling Straits.

“Sounds simple,” he said. “But it wasn’t.”

Quiros was in the final group of the day, and it was as explosive as there is in the game. He was joined by Gary Woodland and Jhonattan Vegas, two Augusta newcomers who qualified in recent months with their first PGA Tour win – more examples of a shift toward youth, two players built more for football and basketball than for golf.

They all bash it, and did they ever put on a show.

They combined to make 10 birdies and two eagles over the last six holes, enough reason for the gallery to stick around even as Woods was long gone and Mickelson was on the practice range in the fading sunlight.

Woodland, who played Division II basketball for one year, played his final six holes in 6-under par for a 69. Vegas, such an exciting young player that his colleagues call him “Johnny Vegas,” three-putted for bogey from 12 feet on the 18th for a 72.

Augusta still showed some teeth if players got too careless.

PGA champion Martin Kaymer, the No. 1 player in the world, struggled again at the Masters and shot a 78. He has never made the cut, and it looks as though this might be another short week. Lee Westwood, runner-up to Mickelson last year, opened with a 72.

“It’s not my game at the moment,” Westwood said. “If you can’t hole it out from 4 feet, you’re going to struggle.”

No one struggled more than Henrik Stenson, who shot an 83.

Quiros used to know that feeling. He made his Masters debut with rounds of 78-75 two years ago, and the lanky Spaniard couldn’t do better than 75 in two rounds last year. So when he came to the course, he only checked the scores of his countrymen.

As for that 65 that McIlroy posted?

“You have to see, this is my third appearance, and my best score was 75,” Quiros said. “I cannot be pretending to see the leaderboard. It would be stupid.”

But he made up ground quickly with his length, making birdie on all the par 5s and staying out of trouble. He doesn’t have the secrets unlocked at the Masters, and despite being tied for the lead, he still is thinking only of making the cut.

“The two previous years, I came to the Masters thinking that I can play well, shoot low. And this one was my main mistake,” he said. “Because it’s a golf course … it’s too tough. And today, I was very happy making pars. This is why probably I shoot 65.”

Then again, maybe it’s wise not to think too far ahead.

In the last 25 years, Trevor Immelman is the only Masters champion who was atop the leaderboard after the opening day.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

 

 

Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."


Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout


Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.