Spotlight on Woods, McIlroy pairing at Tour Championship

By Doug FergusonSeptember 19, 2012, 7:43 pm

ATLANTA – With every week, and every win, Rory McIlroy gets a new moniker. Two-time major champion. The world No. 1. Heir apparent. The latest nickname was courtesy of none other than Tiger Woods.

''He calls me 'The Intimidator,' McIlroy said Wednesday as he tried to stifle a laugh.

Woods has never had much of a rival during his 17 years on the PGA Tour, at least not for long. Now, he can't escape the growing shadow of McIlroy, who comes into the Tour Championship as the undisputed No. 1 player – in the world ranking, the FedEx Cup, the PGA Tour money list and every other important category.

What triggered his one-liner at East Lake were comments Greg Norman made in an interview with FoxSports.com.

''What I'm seeing is that Tiger's really intimidated by Rory,'' Norman said. ''When have you ever seen him intimidated by another player? Never.''

For the longest time, Woods was said to have a two-shot advantage just by stepping on the first tee. He was the most prolific winner in golf, averaging about six wins a year and piling up 14 majors faster than anyone in history. The red shirt was blazing.

Now, the baton appears to have been passed over to McIlroy. He arrived at the Tour Championship having won three of his last four tournaments, starting with that record eight-shot victory at Kiawah Island in the PGA Championship for his second major. He won consecutive FedEx Cup playoff events in Boston and Indianapolis to stretch his lead in the world ranking and become the favorite to win at East Lake and capture the $10 million bonus.

It's an intimidating record. McIlroy doesn't see how that translates into Norman suggesting that he's intimidating.

''No, how can I intimidate Tiger Woods?'' he said. ''The guy's got 75 or 70 whatever PGA Tour wins, 14 majors. He's been the biggest thing ever in our sport. I mean, how can some little 23-year-old from Northern Ireland with a few wins come up and intimidate him? It's just not possible. I don't know where he got that from, but it's not true.''

There's no room for intimidation on either side at the moment. They've been around each other too much lately.

When they tee off in the final pairing Thursday, it will be the fifth time in the last four tournaments that Woods and McIlroy have played in the same group and the eighth time this year, including the Abu Dhabi Championship.

McIlroy is in his fifth full year as a pro, but he can't think of a time when he ever felt intimidated by Woods.

''I don't think intimidated is the right word,'' McIlroy said. ''More just in awe of what he's done, of his accomplishments, of his achievements. But never intimidated.''

Woods and Norman have never had much of a relationship, and Woods wasn't about to get wrapped up in an exchange of words Wednesday. Asked if he had seen Norman's comments, he replied, ''It's got to be the hair, yeah.''

That was a joking reference to McIlroy, who in an interview with the Times of London last week talked about the banter between him and Woods. The 36-year-old Woods makes fun of the kid's height. McIlroy, with his curly brown locks, fires back at Woods for his age and diminishing hair line.

The only time Woods ever felt intimidated on the golf course was when he was 11. It was a story he told a decade ago about competing against a 12-year-old in a junior tournament when the older boy drove the green on a 290-yard hole. Woods still wound up winning.

On this day, either tired or annoyed by Norman's comments, Woods gave an elementary response to this intimidation factor.

''This is a different kind of sport,'' Woods said. ''We go out there and we play our own game. And see where it falls at the end of the day. As I said, it's not like you go over the middle and some guy 255 pounds is going to take your head off. This is about execution and going about your own business and seeing where it ends up at the end of the day. It's just the nature of our sport, which is different than some sports.''

But if there's a 255-pound linebacker in golf at the moment, it's a freckled-face Boy Wonder who is on a roll that brings natural comparisons with Woods.

McIlroy has an average score of 68.1 in his last five tournaments, which dates to the Bridgestone Invitational where some swagger returned to his game. His confidence has never been higher. He showed up at Crooked Stick expecting to win the BMW Championship, and that's what he did.

Now he has to avoid falling into the trap of being overly confident, a nice problem to have.

As dominant as McIlroy has been over the last few months, the FedEx Cup title comes down to the Tour Championship. The points are reset to give all 30 players in the field a mathematical chance of winning, with the higher odds attached to the highest seeds.

Any of the top five seeds - McIlroy, Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker - only have to win the Tour Championship to claim the $10 million bonus. A year ago, Bill Haas was the No. 25 seed and won the FedEx Cup through a bizarre chain of events in which none of the top three seeds finisher higher than 20th in the Tour Championship.

Woods is the only two-time winner of the FedEx Cup, though this is his first time back at East Lake since 2009. He didn't qualify for the Tour Championship in 2010, and he didn't make any of the playoffs last year after missing a chunk of the season with leg injuries.

McIlroy is playing East Lake for the first time, a rugged test that puts a premium on fairways and greens. Lately, he's been doing just about everything right.

''The way I've played since Firestone, it obviously gives you a lot of confidence,'' McIlroy said. ''But I think you have to guard against being overconfident, as well. You have to still go in and work hard. You've 30 players in this field, 30 of the best players in the world, and I'd be very naive to think that I'm just going to come in here and contend again and have a chance to win.

''I know I'm going to have to play very well,'' he said. ''And hopefully, I can do that.''

Ryu, S.H. Park among winners at Rolex awards

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 5:51 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – The Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winners won’t be determined until Sunday’s finish of the CME Group Tour Championship, but seven other awards were presented Thursday during the LPGA’s Rolex Awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort.

The awards and winners:

William and Mousie Powell Award – Katherine Kirk won an award given to the player “whose behavior and deeds best exemplify the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.” Kirk won the Thornberry Classic this year, her third LPGA title. “Some people ask me if I feel obligated to give back to the game,” Kirk said. “I think it’s a privilege.”

Heather Farr Perseverance Award – Tiffany Joh, who had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma earlier this year, thanked the Farr family and all those who supported Joh through her diagnosis and recovery.

“I found a great quote from Ram Dass, `We are all just walking each other home,’” Joh said. “I’ve really come to understand the value of all my relationships, no matter how fleeting or profound they seem.”

The Commissioner’s Award – Roberta Bowman, outgoing chair of the LPGA Board of Directors, was honored for her service the last six years. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan called her “my friend, my boss and my hero.” Bowman deflected the praise for her back on to the tour, thanking Whan, LPGA staff, players, sponsors, fans and the media.

“The world needs more role models for little girls,” Bowman said. “And they don’t need to look much farther than the LPGA.”

Ellen Griffin Rolex Award and Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award – Sandy LaBauve, who founded the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf program, was honored as the first person to win both these awards.

The Griffin Award honors golf teachers and the Lopez Award honors an LPGA professional who emulates the values Lopez demonstrated. LaBauve is the daughter of Jack and Sherry Lumpkin, both teachers of the game.

“This program doesn’t belong to me,” LaBauve said of LPGA-Girls’ Golf. “I merely planted the seed. The fruit belongs to all of us.”

Rolex Annika Major Award – So Yeon Ryu won the award, named for Annika Sorenstam, for the best overall performance in women’s major championships this year. She won the ANA Inspiration and tied for third at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“It’s such an honor to win an award named after Annika Sorenstam,” Ryu told Sorenstam during the presentation. “It’s a special award for me.”

Rolex Rookie of the Year Award – Sung Hyun Park won the honor, telling the audience in a message translated from Korean that she was disappointed failing to win the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year Award and was grateful for a dream come true getting the chance to win it on the LPGA.

Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.


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Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

Joel Dahmen had a 64.


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''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told GolfChannel.com. “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.


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With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.