McIlroy still trying to clear Masters 'mental' hurdle

By John FeinsteinApril 13, 2016, 1:00 pm

One of the more fascinating aspects about observing Rory McIlroy is watching him answer questions. Unlike many athletes, McIlroy actually listens to every question.

He never responds quickly, because he actually thinks about the question before answering. He will pause, tilt his head and then nod when he’s decided what to say.

Sunday, after he finished a roller-coaster final round at the Masters – seven birdies and six bogeys en route to a 1-under-par 71 – McIlroy was asked a simple question: Assess your week.

Most players react to that sort of broadly general query by looking at the bright side, trying to find the glass as close to half-full as possible. McIlroy didn’t go there.

“I was in great position going into the weekend and I just didn’t play the golf I needed to play when it really mattered,” he said. “I felt very tentative, played very defensively, felt very similar to how I played the last round at Doral playing with the lead.

“You’re just trying not to make mistakes instead of attacking and making birdies. Trying not to make mistakes is not my game. That’s not what I do.”

It absolutely isn’t what he does. And, it’s pretty clear watching him play at Augusta National that he is still trying to figure out the puzzle that the golf course can be. Five years ago, he made it look easy for three rounds, bolting to a four-shot lead after 54 holes before a final-round 80 dropped him to 15th place.

He admitted that day that he had played defensively, trying to protect the lead and said he had learned a lesson from it. Perhaps he did. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had the chance to put that lesson to use, since he hasn’t led at the Masters since then. He’s finished in the top 10 the last three years: T-8; 4th; T-10, but that’s not what he’s after. He wants to complete the career Grand Slam and he wants to do it soon. Before it becomes, ‘a thing.’

The question now is this: Has it already become ‘a thing?’ Clearly, McIlroy has given that some thought.

“I’ve been in position (at the Masters) before and I haven’t got the job done when I needed to and I don’t think that’s anything to do with my game,” he said. “I think that’s more me mentally and I’m trying to deal with the pressure of it and the thrill of the achievement if it were to happen. I think that’s the thing that’s really holding me back.”

Players would usually rather try to play standing on their heads than admit something may be grinding on them mentally. McIlroy isn’t like that. Prior to the start of the tournament last week, he readily admitted that he had been distracted by all the talk about completing the career Grand Slam a year ago and that had led to a poor start. He was 3-over-par for 27 holes, before playing the last 45 holes in 15 under. The rally got him to fourth place but never within shouting distance of the runaway train that was Jordan Spieth.

This year, he did exactly what he needed to do for 36 holes, hanging in under the sort of windy conditions that he doesn’t like. Five years ago at the Open Championship, he sent much of the British media into a tizzy when he admitted after the third round at Royal St. George’s that he didn’t like playing in adverse conditions. For someone from Northern Ireland to make such an admission was akin to someone from Kentucky saying they weren’t wild about college basketball. Or a New Yorker saying he wasn’t crazy about thin-crust pizza.

But, in spite of the windy conditions, he walked to the tee on Saturday afternoon one shot out of the lead and paired with Spieth in the final group. This should have been a challenge that McIlroy relished. He’s made it pretty clear that he has no desire to cede his spot as the world’s best player to Spieth or Jason Day. He’s always played well in the past when paired with Spieth and here was his chance to teach the kid a lesson or two on golf’s grandest stage.

Except he didn’t do that. He fizzled completely, hitting the ball all over the place, never making a putt and finally trudging up the hill to the 18th green to finish with a 77 that included zero birdies. Rory McIlroy playing 18 holes at Augusta National without a single birdie?

Impossible. Except, on Saturday, not only possible, but true.

He talked Saturday about still believing he could win thanks to the fact that Spieth’s bogey-double bogey finish meant he was only five shots back. As it turned out, he was only one shot behind Danny Willett, the man who ended up with the green jacket on Sunday, so if he had been able to go low, he still could have won.

But he didn’t go low. Every time he made a birdie, a bogey followed soon after. And so, he spent the day running in place. He began tied for 11th place and finished tied for 10th.

McIlroy won’t be 27 until next month. Plenty of players haven’t won a single major at that age – Phil Mickelson, remember, was 33 before he won one – but McIlroy doesn’t want to be plenty of players. He wants to be the player. He wants to be No. 1 in the world again and he badly wants the career Grand Slam.

The fact that he’s not in denial about the pressure he feels at Augusta is probably a good thing. So often, players try to claim they aren’t bothered by something when clearly they are. Colin Montgomerie repeatedly said it didn’t bother him not to have won a major. “If I never win one, I’ll still have had a great career,” he often said.

He did have a great career. And he never won a major.

McIlroy has already won four majors and his spot in the Hall of Fame is assured. But that’s not enough for him. He is still trying to become a more consistent putter and he very badly wants a green jacket. One with the Augusta National crest on it.

He still has plenty of time to take care of that one hole in his golf resume. There’s little doubt, though, that with each passing year he is more and more aware of the need to get it done – sooner, rather than later.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

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“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010.