McIlroy eyes Grand Slam glory after latest major win

By Jay CoffinJuly 20, 2014, 8:01 pm

HOYLAKE, England – Who said these words?

“My game is suited for basically every golf course and most conditions, but these conditions I just don’t enjoy playing in really. That’s the bottom line. I’d rather play when it’s 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind.”

Three years ago at rainy, windy Royal St. George’s Rory McIlroy, just a month after his first major win at the U.S. Open, did not love his beloved Open Championship. It’s the championship McIlroy grew up dreaming of winning, but there he stood on that undesirable day and admitted he wasn’t mentally strong enough to battle the elements that this style of golf often presents.

“Just wait for a year when the weather is nice,” he said.

Well, the weather was mostly ideal for four days at Royal Liverpool and McIlroy won. The 25-year-old captured the 143rd edition of the game’s grandest championship to grasp his third major and the third leg of the career Grand Slam, something only Jack Nicklaus (23) and Tiger Woods (24) have done at a younger age. He’s the first European player, and 16th player overall, to win three different majors.

This one, however, wasn’t easy. Not by any means.

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It wasn’t an eight-shot romp like the record-setting performance three years ago at the U.S. Open at Congressional. It didn’t mirror the eight-shot dominance McIlroy displayed two years ago at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.

Sure, for three days it seemed this victory would be similar. McIlroy eagled two of the last three holes on Saturday to sleep on a six-shot lead but held off hard-charging Sergio Garcia (66) and Rickie Fowler (67) on Sunday to shoot 71, good for a 17-under-par 271 total and two-shot victory. McIlroy is the youngest player in history to win two majors wire-to-wire without any ties.

“I’m immensely proud of myself,” McIlroy said, jug in hand. “To sit here 25 years of age and win my third major championship and be three-quarters of the way to the career Grand Slam, yeah, I never dreamed of being at this point in my career so quickly.”

Don’t let the final-round 71 get in the way of the bigger picture. While the likes of Garcia, Fowler, Jim Furyk, Marc Leishman, Adam Scott and Shane Lowry were throwing darts into greens and collecting birdies like it was a weekend scramble, McIlroy did what he needed to do in the final round even though it wasn’t picture perfect.

The beautiful part was the first 54 holes, where McIlroy opened with a flawless 66, slayed the demons of recent poor Friday performances in Round 2 and closed with that eagle flurry in the third round. The common theme during that stretch was that he launched booming drive after booming drive, sent laser-like iron shots into greens at will and made every crucial putt. That deadly trifecta allowed McIlroy to build the massive lead and give him wiggle room on a Sunday with the revered claret jug on the line.

“Just envious and respectful and appreciative of the curly-haired kid,” McIlroy’s compatriot Graeme McDowell said.

Tiger Woods, who finished 23 shots behind McIlroy, said, “When he gets it going, he gets it going.”

For most of the week McIlroy teased media by saying he had two simple words that he kept repeating to himself that had him insanely focused. Some predicted it would be words like “claret” and “jug” but ultimately McIlroy confessed that it was “process” and “spot.” His goal was to focus on the process, no matter the result, and putt to a spot on the greens that would allow him to make putts.

“It’s going to be a big letdown for everyone,” he said before the big reveal. “That was it.”

True, it was a letdown, but no one particularly cares. Point is, McIlroy has won another major, and many more seem in the offing. In the past 18 months McIlroy has gone through an equipment change, a change in representation and an end to a high-profile relationship that seemed headed for marriage, among other snafus. He didn’t play his best golf during that span, but he’s back on top now with a renewed vigor for his craft. It’s good for the game that Rory’s got his groove back.

“I've really found my passion again for golf,” he said. “Not that it ever dwindled, but it's what I think about when I get up in the morning, it's what I think about when I go to bed. I just want to be the best golfer that I can be. And I know if I can do that, then trophies like this are within my capability.”

About those trophies, now we look ahead. McIlroy’s length and precision – or process and spot, I guess we should say – could prove handy on a massive Valhalla track that will host the PGA Championship in three weeks just east of Louisville, Ky. No one is going to hand him the Wanamaker Trophy but he’ll be the heavy favorite and it’d be a surprise if he’s not in the hunt at the very least.

“I want to be the guy that goes on and wins majors and wins majors regularly,” McIlroy said emphatically.

At the risk of getting way ahead of ourselves, there will be suffocating hype for McIlroy heading into the Masters next April as he looks for the final piece of the career Grand Slam. He’s had a chance to win there but crashed and burned for the whole world to see. Everyone remembers the 2011 debacle where he led after 63 holes but butchered the back nine with a 43 to shoot 80 and tie for 15th place. He tied for eighth-place this year. Augusta National suits McIlroy’s game as much, if not more, than any other major venue.

Five men have captured the career Grand Slam in the modern era, but the only man to earn the final piece of the puzzle at the Masters is Gene Sarazen in 1935. Hysteria awaits.

“That’s a pretty impressive thing for him to do, especially given that the one that he’s missing is the Masters,” Phil Mickelson said. “And you know with his length and the way he plays and how well he plays that golf course, that that definitely will happen and probably soon. And that just shows that he’s such a complete player at such a young age.”

Much like Mickelson wasn’t afraid to face career Grand Slam talk after last year’s Open win at Muirfield, McIlroy stepped up to the plate and didn’t duck similar questioning.

“I’ve always been comfortable from tee to green at Augusta,” he said. “It’s just taken me a few years to figure out the greens and figure out where you need to miss it and some different little shots that you might need that week. I’ll be going into Augusta next year pretty confident.”

And he’s leaving Hoylake as confident as ever before. Scary.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.