McIlroy still getting used to scrutiny as he climbs out of slump

By Doug FergusonApril 3, 2013, 12:31 am

HUMBLE, Texas – When the scrutiny becomes suffocating, it's a good time for Rory McIlroy to get as far away as he can.

So he went to a practice range on a public course.

Imagine the surprise of the paying customer at Miami Municipal Golf Course a few weeks ago who looked over to his left and saw McIlroy, still at No. 1 in the world and a two-time major champion, plop down a carry bag with a Manchester United logo.

''Why was that such a big deal?'' McIlroy asked with a mixture of amazement and bemusement.

This was Wednesday at the Houston Open, where morning frost had caused a two-hour delay in the pro-am. Instead of retreating to the clubhouse dining room at Redstone Golf Club to order from the omelet station, McIlroy found a spare booth in the caddie trailer, where the fare ranged from scrambled eggs to peanut butter on toast.

Just one of the lads.

He made the cut on the number last week – his first cut against a full field this year – and was making a run up the leaderboard in the third round when he three-putted for bogey from 5 feet on the par-5 13th hole. McIlroy dropped two more shots and returned toward the bottom of the pack.

After lunch, it was back to work. He could have sought privacy at the far end of the range. Instead, he set up shop in front of a grandstand where 30 people took a seat to watch. Tom Gillis, a runner-up to McIlroy a year ago at the Honda Classic, came over and gave Boy Wonder a playful push.

There were more smiles than drops of sweat in this practice session.

McIlroy was hitting driver toward the end, picking out a barren tree on the horizon as a target for his draw. He was getting dialed in when caddie J.P. Fitzgerald said, ''End it with a good one.'' The shape looked to be perfect, and the caddie said, ''Beautiful.''

''One more,'' McIlroy said with a smile, and then he hit that one even better.

He walked over to the railing where a dozen kids had gathered, took out a pen and began signing. One of them was a photo of McIlroy posing with the U.S. Open trophy from Congressional, brown curls spilling out from under his cap.

''I can't believe I looked like this,'' he said. His hair is much shorter now. He's more grown up. He turns 24 next month.

This is the state of McIlroy.

He tied for 45th in the Houston Open, and while that would normally be considered a pedestrian week, he considers it progress. He signed up for the Texas Open this week, wanting more competition before going to the Masters. Perhaps more telling was how much happier he looked than in recent weeks.



That wasn't the case at the start of the year.

McIlroy is no stranger to attention, and he brought that on himself. Winning the U.S. Open with a record score. A relationship with Caroline Wozniacki, who was No. 1 in women's tennis when they first started dating. Winning the PGA Championship by a record eight shots. Climbing to No. 1 in the world, and then winning three more tournaments against the strongest fields, made it look as if the kid would stay on top for years to come.

And yes, the Nike deal.

With blaring music and a laser show in Abu Dhabi, he was introduced as the latest global star to market the swoosh and made a commercial with Tiger Woods. Then, he plunged into a slump. That's not unusual for McIlroy, except the expectations have never been this great, the number of eyeballs on him never this many.

A year ago, there was one stretch in the late spring when he missed the cut in four of five tournaments, the last as defending champion at the U.S. Open. This year, he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, lost in the first round of Match Play and quit out of frustration after 27 holes of the Honda Classic.

In Houston, his shoulders never sagged even as he was on the verge of another weekend off.

''I learned from the last few weeks that I've got to keep my spirits up. There's no point in getting down on yourself,'' McIlroy said. ''I felt like I was doing that a bit too much at the Match Play and Honda, and you saw what happened there.''

If there was a moment that showed the state of his game, it was early in the second round at Houston. McIlroy was some 20 yards behind Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley off the tee as he played tentatively and tried to avoid bogeys. After back-to-back birdies, he swung more freely and blasted a tee shot some 15 yards beyond Johnson.

He's not that far off.

Asked what will be written about him at the end of the year, a smiling McIlroy said:

''Hopefully, the same things that were written about me at the end of last year.''

There's a phrase back home in Northern Ireland that goes, ''Catch yourself on,'' which loosely translated means wise up or don't get a big head. McIlroy concedes that has been put to the test this year.

''I've learned when you get into this position, you have to remember what got you to this point in the first place, which is practice and playing,'' he said. ''Sometimes, you have to do the right things for yourself.''

He also is guided by wise words from his father, Gerry, who tells him it doesn't cost anything to be nice to people. That remains his hallmark.

McIlroy was in a starter's tent next to the 10th tee Saturday, looking into a trash container where his caddie had dropped a piece of the shaker used to mix a protein drink. A volunteer interrupted by trying to speak a phrase in Gaelic.

McIlroy looked at him blankly and said, ''I don't speak Irish.''

There was awkward silence as the volunteer, sensing this conversation was going nowhere and probably shouldn't have been started, looked for a graceful exit. ''Play well,'' he said as he backed out of the tent.

McIlroy smiled and looked the volunteer right in the eye.

''Now that,'' he said, ''I understand.''

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


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There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”


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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''