McIlroy the star of the show heading to British Open

By Doug FergusonJuly 8, 2011, 3:08 pm

There’s really nothing new at the oldest championship in golf.

The buzz at the British Open is mainly about one player, the obvious choice among bookmakers, who has become such a fascinating figure that it’s almost as though the rest of the field at Royal St. George’s is being ignored.

For years, that was Tiger Woods.

Now it’s Rory McIlroy, the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland, the face of golf’s next generation.

The last meaningful shot McIlroy hit was a tap-in for par on the 18th green to complete an astounding performance at Congressional, where he shattered U.S. Open records en route to a winning score of 16-under 268.

Now, his every move is charted.

McIlroy twice went to Wimbledon, once sitting in the Royal Box, also meeting with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He went to Germany for a heavyweight championship fight. Video of McIlroy went viral, showing him as a wee lad appearing on TV shows as he hit plastic golf balls into a washing machine and talked about his dream of playing golf for a living. Sound familiar?

There was a television interview with Piers Morgan on CNN. There was a letter of congratulations from Prime Minister David Cameron.

And there is no sign of Woods.

The 14-time major champion and fallen star had not been much of a factor even when he was playing, except for that 31 on the front nine at The Masters that briefly put his name atop the leaderboard. Now he’s not playing at all. Woods no longer wears a protective boot for his left Achilles, but he’s not wearing golf spikes, either.

The British Open, which starts on Thursday at Royal St. George’s on the southeastern coast of England, will be the fourth major that Woods has missed since 2008. There was a time when Woods’ absence would siphon the excitement from a major.

Times have changed.

The top four players in the world ranking are European, starting with Luke Donald and Lee Westwood of England, followed by PGA champion Martin Kaymer of Germany and then McIlroy, the brightest star of the bunch. Even though it seemed unlikely Woods would play in the British Open, ticket sales are ahead of what they were the last time the Open was at Royal St. George’s in 2003.

“With Donald and Westwood at the head, with Kaymer third and McIlroy doing what he did, the European story is extremely strong,” Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said. “That’s what has the crowd buzzing. Of course, we wish Tiger was here. But there is plenty of interest over here at the moment. A lot of that has been mitigated by McIlroy.”

McIlroy decided not to play in the three weeks between the U.S. Open and the British Open, wanting instead to take care of as many corporate and media obligations as possible so that when he does return, it will be all about his golf.

That’s not likely to happen with his next tournament a major, in Britain no less, with Boy Wonder suddenly under the burden of expectations. A victory would make him only the seventh player to win the U.S. Open and British Open in the same season, a list that includes Woods, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones.

“It’s going to be very hard for Rory when he turns up next week to be concentrating on the Open Championship,” said Graeme McDowell, speaking from the experience of his U.S. Open title last summer. “He’ll still be living three or four weeks ago at Congressional. At the same time, being at home, he’s had two weeks to get the celebrating out of the system.”

McIlroy has shown wisdom and maturity beyond his 22 years, and now comes another test. He did remarkably well to forget about that 80 he shot in the second round at St. Andrews last year, and the more nefarious 80 he had in the final round at Augusta National when he squandered a four-shot lead. Now, he wants to follow the same script even in victory.

“The time to reflect will be at the end of the season and not halfway through it,” McIlroy wrote on his blog. “So I won’t be looking over my shoulder any more, just straight ahead and concentrating on getting more wins in the second half of the year. It is very important that I put everything that’s happened behind me now.”

McIlroy already has spent a few days at Royal St. George’s, a tough links that appears to be much more gentle than it was eight years ago when Ben Curtis, at the time No. 396 in the world, was the only player to break par.

A relatively dry spring has kept the rough from getting out of control, and the R&A did its part by adding width to a couple of holes that were only rumored to have fairways. Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and McIlroy were among those who practiced on the Sandwich links the week before the Open, and they liked what they saw.

“I think they have set it up perfectly,” Westwood said. “Hopefully, the weather will be nice and it won’t soften up too much and it will be one of those memorable Opens.”

Soft was the operative word at Congressional, where a combination of heat and rain kept the rough from growing and allowed the greens to remain accessible even on the weekend. No matter. McIlroy still was eight shots better than anyone else, which is one reason expectations are so high that he can be golf’s next big star.

McIlroy is only part of a generational shift, however. Charl Schwartzel won the Masters, Kaymer the PGA Championship and the defending champion at the British Open is Louis Oosthuizen. All of them are in their 20s, the first time the majors were owned by such youth in more than a century.

It’s another example of how much golf has changed in the 18 months since Woods vacated his throne. Woods is No. 17 in the world ranking, and a dozen players ahead of him are all younger. Only four of those players are Americans, and that’s another dynamic going into the third major of the season.

Americans now have gone five majors without winning one, their longest drought since the Masters was created in 1934. The best American hope? Hard to say. Steve Stricker is the top-ranked American at No. 5, and while Mickelson remains the most talented of the group at St. George’s, he has only one top 10 in the British Open.

“We’ll make a push again, the Americans will,” Stricker said. “When Tiger comes back, I’m sure he’ll be getting right back up there again. And Phil, he’ll be back up there again. So I think it’s just a cycle, and right now they’re at the top.”

The return of Woods is no longer such a sure thing.

He commanded so much attention for so long – even without having won a major in three years, he still is on a chronological pace to break Jack Nicklaus’ career record – that his fall makes the climb back up to the top look even more steep.

Adding to the climb is the arrival of McIlroy. He still only has one major, but it was a big one.

“His performance at the U.S. Open was spectacular,” Mickelson said. “But what Jack and Tiger have done throughout the course of their career demands respect, too. And until somebody performs at that level for a decade, it’s not fair to Jack or Tiger to compare anybody with them.”

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.