A rugged start, solid finish for McIlroy

By Doug FergusonJuly 14, 2011, 3:24 pm

SANDWICH, England – For the first time in 11 months, Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in the early stages of a major championship and did not see his name atop the leaderboard.

That’s how good he has been at golf’s biggest events.

And the way he rallied from a rugged start Thursday in the British Open, McIlroy didn’t think his 1-over 71 was all that bad.

“Anywhere around even par was a good start,” McIlroy said.

Facing enormous attention coming off his wire-to-wire win at the U.S. Open last month, McIlroy made a few key putts in the middle of his round to steady himself against a stiff breeze at Royal St. George’s.

He was six shots behind Thomas Bjorn, who played extraordinary golf in the tougher morning conditions of wind and some rain, and English amateur Tom Lewis, who took advantage of better conditions in the afternoon.

Trailing by any margin can only be considered a strange spot for McIlroy based on his recent, amazing history. He has been in the lead after seven of the last eight rounds in the majors, the exception being the 80 he shot in the final round at The Masters to lose a four-shot lead.

This day was different. And if the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland didn’t know it, then he at least heard it.

The media has been building him up as golf’s next star after his record-setting performance at Congressional. And when he stepped on the first tee with a freshening wind off the Strait of Dover, the cheers resounded the length of the 444-yard opening hole.

“It was great,” he said. “I probably didn’t take it in as much as I could have. I was just trying to concentrate on that first tee shot and get that out of the way. But it’s nice to have that support out on the golf course. It’s fantastic. Hopefully, I can give them something to shout about.”

It took awhile in the opening round.

The biggest cheer came for 22-year-old Rickie Fowler, who holed a 75-foot putt from just off the back of the first green. McIlroy also went long, just a few inches in from of Fowler, and he rammed his long putt some eight feet past the hole and wound up three-putting for bogey.

Then came the par-3 third, where McIlroy got one of the wild, hard hops so often seen at Royal St. George’s and wound up in rough behind the green. The chip came out heavy, leading to another bogey. And his next tee shot went into deep grass in front of a large knoll.

Suddenly, this didn’t look like the U.S. Open champion. It looked like the kid who shot 80 the last day at Augusta National.

McIlroy powered a short iron out and onto the green, hit a superb chip from well left of the green at No. 5 to five feet to save par, and before long was back in his comfort zone.

It helped being paired with Fowler, an American of the same age, same style of play – they both waste no time hitting their shots – and with a history of playing together despite being so young. McIlroy and Fowler competed against each other in foursomes at the Walker Cup four years ago when both were teenagers at Royal County Down.

That was a home game for McIlroy, and this was not much different.

“The fans were great over here,” Fowler said. “Obviously, they’re cheering on Rory. It has a feeling like he’s a hero over here now. He’s had a pretty big impact, with impressive play recently and obviously at the U.S. Open. So it’s fun to play alongside him. I’ve always enjoyed it, and definitely felt like the crowd was in his favor today.”

Fowler looked to be the better of the two on this day, but not so much at the end. Fowler stalled in his round of 70. McIlroy rallied for a 71, starting with a smart approach on the eighth hole that rode up a ridge and trickled back toward the hole to four feet away for birdie.

Equally important was the short, tricky par putt on the ninth.

For all the hype outside the ropes, McIlroy clearly felt at ease doing what he does best. He was in his element, flashing that smile to the gallery as he bobs along the fairway between shots.

“I felt the par on 4 was big, but the up-and-down on 5 from left of the green was big for me, got me into it a bit,” he said. “I was a little disappointed I didn’t take advantage of the two par 5s – put myself in good positions off the tee there and only made two pars. But it was definitely a round after the start that could have got away from me, and it was nice to hang onto it.”

More media awaited after he finished up his round, to another rousing ovation. Everyone wants a piece of McIlroy these days. Everyone expects him to contend, especially in the majors.

“It’s a nice pressure to have,” McIlroy said. “I’m not complaining. I’ve put myself in this position, and it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I wanted to be under pressure to win tournaments. I mean, if that’s the worst complaint that I have, I’ll be doing all right.”

He was great Thursday. He didn’t shoot himself out of the tournament, either.

He was doing all right.

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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

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The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

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As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.