What We Learned: Daly, Grace and Love

By Jason SobelOctober 7, 2012, 10:26 pm

Each week, GolfChannel.com offers thoughts on 'what we learned' from the week. This week, we examine the ups and downs of John Daly, a lesser-known golfer putting up big numbers, and Davis Love being a stand-up captain.

John Daly is still some of the most compelling theater in golf - and he's easily one of the most compelling stories of the Fall Series. Entering the week at No. 132 on the money list, Daly appeared to be on the verge of getting inside that magical 125 number prior to theweekend. A second-round 63 put him into contention in Las Vegas, but an 86 the next day sent him careening down to the bottom of the leaderboard. Those two rounds should serve symbolically for a career that's seen more ups and downs than an elevator factory. Whether Dalycan enjoy more rounds closer to 63 than 86 these next few weeks remains to be seen. What we can be sure of is that they will indeed be seen, one of the game's most compelling stories enduring throughout his chase to earn full-time playing privileges once again. Jason Sobel

Aside from the infield fly rule applying 50 feet into the outfield, I learned Branden Grace should be considered the favorite for European Tour Player of the Year. Rory McIlroy is going to win the honor, because people will focus on his worldwide accomplishments (see Vijay Singh, 2004). But Grace has four wins in 2012, he's a true European Tour player and he's got four wins in 2012. That's kind of important since only two other players have multiple victories this season. There are still eight more events on this season's calendar, including a WGC event and the Tour Championship, but at the moment, Grace gets my vote.  Mercer Baggs

Much like head coaches in other team sports, Ryder Cup captains receive too muchblame for a loss and too much credit for a victory. Davis Love III is merely the latest example. Earlier this week the U.S. skipper penned a first-person column in Sports Illustrated in which he wrote, “If you need to blame somebody for this loss, blame me.” That’s honorable, but misguided. Love wasn’t the reason the U.S. team lost, despite all of the interrogation during the past week in Vegas. The onus should always fall on the players, even if it usually doesn’t in team sports. In the messy aftermath, though, Love shifted the focus off his players and onto himself. He never hit a shot at Medinah, yet he still shouldered the blame. Now that’s a good captain. – Ryan Lavner

That next year’s move to a split-calendar schedule may be long overdue. Maybe it’s the Ryder Cup hangover, or perhaps it was a dramatic lack of buzz, but this week’s Las Vegas stop had all the flair of a Sunday bingo marathon. Ryan Moore won, his second Tour tilt, but there was little by way of true drama. Not sure next year’s “fall start” to the new season will be any better, but we can’t imagine it would be any more mundane. – Rex Hoggard

The No. 1 player on the planet may be from Northern Ireland, and the United States might have the strongest tour in the world, but who has been on a better roll than the country of South Africa? After three straight years with a major champion (2010 Open champ Louis Oosthuizen, 2011 Masters champ Charl Schwartzel and 2012 Open champ Ernie Els) South Africa could be ready to crown a fourth straight in 2013. His name is Branden Grace. The 24-year-old South African claimed his fourth European Tour title Sunday at the Alfred Dunhill Links, displaying the kind of rhythmic swing that so many of his better known countrymen have. He is almost a lock to represent the International team at the 2013 Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village. He might even have a major by then.  Damon Hack

Ernie Els could be influencing the outcomes of major championships for decades to come. Branden Grace, winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Sunday, has the tools to step up in class and contend in major championships next year. Take the word of Els. He believes Grace is well suited to winning a British Open. He said as much this weekend watching Grace run away from him and other contenders in the European Tour event in Scotland. Grace, by the way, is yet another product of the Ernie Els Foundation, a program Els founded in his native South Africa in 1999 to identify and develop promising young talent. Louis Oosthuizen (British Open) and Charl Schwartzel (Masters) came up through the foundation and went on to win majors. With his terrific performance in winning the Dunhill on classic links courses at The Old Course at St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, Grace, 24, showed how well his game may fit British Open style golf. It was Grace's European Tour leading fourth title this year.  Randall Mell

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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”

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Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:11 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.

He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.

Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.

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McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.

“I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”

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A performance fit for a King

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:08 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 40 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.

So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just captured the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the scrum, he was asked instead to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.

“Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”

But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.

“Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.

But the connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.

Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.

Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.

Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”

McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.

“I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.

And entertained, of course.

Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy said.

“And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’"

McIlroy chuckled at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”

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McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.

During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.

But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, where he was admittedly searching.

“The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.

McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with former PGA Tour winner and putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.

“He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.

Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.

And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.

“The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career.  

Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.

Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.

Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.

“I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”

Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.

“He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, closing with a bogey-free 64 and winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

“It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.

But after a turbulent 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.

There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.

A kiss for his wife, Erica.

A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.

The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.

“Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”

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McIlroy remembers Arnie dinner: He liked A-1 sauce on fish

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 1:06 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Fresh off a stirring victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy offered a pair of culinary factoids about two of the game’s biggest names.

McIlroy regretted not being able to shake Palmer’s hand behind the 18th green after capping a three-shot win with a Sunday 64, but with the trophy in hand he reflected back on a meal he shared with Palmer at Bay Hill back in 2015, the year before Palmer passed away.

“I knew that he liked A-1 sauce on his fish, which was quite strange,” McIlroy said. “I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A-1 sauce?’ And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ He said, ‘No, for me.’”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

A few minutes later, McIlroy revealed that he is also a frequent diner at The Woods Jupiter, the South Florida restaurant launched by Tiger Woods. In fact, McIlroy explained that he goes to the restaurant every Wednesday with his parents – that is, when he’s not spanning the globe winning golf tournaments.

Having surveyed the menu a few times, he considers himself a fan.

“It’s good. He seems pretty hands-on with it,” McIlroy said. “Tuna wontons are good, the lamb lollipops are good. I recommend it.”