Punch Shot: What will make McIlroy a Masters contender?

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 2, 2013, 3:00 pm

Rory McIlroy is playing in this week's Valero Texas Open, a late addition to his pre-Masters schedule after determining that he needed more tournament play. With two majors to his credit, McIlroy has the talent to win at Augusta, but his current form makes his chances questionable. So, what do you need to see from him this week to make you think he can win the Masters?

By RYAN LAVNER

How about four rounds, more encouraging signs?

More specifically, I’d like to see McIlroy sharpen his play with the short irons and wedges. For approaches from 50-75 yards, 75-100, 100-125 and 125-150, he ranks no better than 116th on Tour. That’s rust, plain and simple. And at Augusta, the PGA Tour’s driving-distance leader will have several approaches per round from those distances. Precision is a must.

His right-to-left ball flight will work well at Augusta, even if he’s finding barely more than half of his fairways. And he’s putting reasonably well, ranking 39th in strokes gained-putting.

But his iron game remains a work in progress. Four rounds at TPC San Antonio should help fine-tune that aspect of his game. It just might be the missing link.


By RANDALL MELL

I would like to see Rory McIlroy's teeth, make sure there's no more troubling dental issues before he heads to Augusta National.

Barring the presence of pulpal necrosis or a periapical abscess, I'm not ruling out the possibility McIlroy finds the form he needs to win the Masters regardless of whether he contends in Texas this week or not.

We've seen players find their best form almost overnight this year.

Michael Thompson (Honda Classic) and D.A. Points (Shell Houston Open) reminded us just how quickly players can go from wondering if they'll ever make another cut to winning. The light can go on when you least expect it, but I will say the odds aren't with a guy going to Augusta National who is still searching for his game. I want to see what isn't always obvious to the eye to persuade me McIlroy's ready to win the Masters. I want to see him playing with confidence. That's all he needs going to Augusta National, a little belief his form is there. 


By REX HOGGARD

Progress, however he defines it.

That’s what we expect from Rory McIlroy this week at the Valero Texas Open. Whether that means a victory, a top-10 finish or simply a steady start – which the Ulsterman has struggled with in 2013 – as long as he is trending in the right direction before he turns onto Magnolia Lane he should maintain his status on the short list of Masters contenders.

In practical terms, progress was measured with rounds of 68-65-72-69 and a T-7 at last year’s FedEx St. Jude Classic. Like the Texas Open, McIlroy’s start in Memphis was also a last-minute addition to his schedule following a similar competitive swoon and was followed a month later by an eight-stroke triumph at the PGA Championship.

Starting at last year’s Players Championship, the world No. 2 had missed four of five cuts, including a dismal showing at the U.S. Open. The only bright spot was his T-7 in Memphis – progress.

In 2013, McIlroy finds himself in a similarly competitive valley that features, in order, a missed cut (Abu Dhabi), T-33 (WGC-Accenture Match Play), WD (Honda Classic), T-8 (WGC-Cadillac) and T-45 (Shell Houston Open).

He doesn’t need a walk-off in San Antonio to prove he’s Masters ready, just a reason to be optimistic.


By JASON SOBEL

You know what Rory McIlroy needs to do in order to become a serious contender at the Masters? Show up.

Sure, it makes for good copy if we sit here and debate how his recent string of inconsistent results may affect him at Augusta, but form is fleeting anyway. The truth is, I’m less likely to pick a player who has peaked already (say, Brandt Snedeker) than one who’s about to hit that uptick.

If I were a close adviser to McIlroy, I’d sit down with him this week and tell him a little story about D.A. Points. Prior to this past week, Points looked completely lost on the course, with just two made cuts in nine starts this season and no finish better than T-63. And yet, he still went out and won the Shell Houston Open. Moral of the story? Past results are hardly a perfect indicator of future success.

OK, so maybe the Shell Houston Open isn’t the Masters. Fair enough. Then I’ll just point to a guy like Trevor Immelman, who not only had missed four of eight cuts before his 2008 Masters victory; he ranked near the bottom on the PGA Tour in nearly every major statistical category. In fact, many recent major winners hardly had their fastball working beforehand. Webb Simpson missed the cut by a mile prior to winning the 2012 U.S. Open; Darren Clarke was 45th or worse in his last five starts before taking the ’11 Open Championship; Keegan Bradley hadn’t placed better than 15th in seven starts leading up to his ’11 PGA Championship triumph.

When it comes to prognosticating the chances of top players at the majors, we tend to have selective memories. Having a hot hand may be preferable to being stone cold, but neither is a guarantee of certain results. All of which should give McIlroy plenty of confidence heading into the Masters – recent success be damned.

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.