Hawk's Nest: McIlroy's power key to Open win

By John HawkinsJuly 21, 2014, 2:45 pm

At his best, he is capable of utter dominance, which tends to make all that lesser golf seem so puzzling.

There was a point during Saturday’s third round when Rory McIlroy held a 65-yard advantage over the rest of the field in average distance off the tee. Now there’s a stat you don’t see very often on the PGA Tour.

So he is outrageously long, especially for a guy who stands 5 feet 10 and weighs 160 pounds, but lots of players hit the ball a mile. What separated McIlroy at Royal Liverpool was his willingness to use his driver on holes where others were positioning themselves with long irons and fairway woods.

Irony, anyone?

Tiger Woods employed the opposite strategy to win a British Open on the same venue in 2006. Course conditions were quite different this time, but McIlroy’s driver frequency, particularly in the first two rounds, was far more the result of confidence in his swing than anything the ground was giving or taking away.

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The performance was reminiscent of Vijay Singh’s career-best stretch in 2004, when he won nine times by shortening courses with an ultra-aggressive mentality off the tee. Some fellow tour pros chuckled over Singh hitting a zillion drivers on the practice range, but he was grooving himself toward a comfort level that would ultimately serve him very nicely.

“I’ve been talking about it all year — driving is the foundation to any golf game,” McIlroy said last Friday. “If my driving is there, everything else sort of feeds off that in a way.”

If the long ball carried the Irish Lad to a four-stroke lead after 36 holes, his putter stretched it to six strokes after 54. A pair of lengthy par saves on Saturday’s front nine were easy to overlook after the eagles at the 16th and 18th — only two players would finish the week with more one-putts than McIlroy’s 34. Neither was a factor by Sunday.

“Momentum putts,” he would call them. “Some of those par putts were even more important than the ones for birdies or eagles.”

But enough data. Let’s return to the original premise: McIlroy’s fleeting dominance. Lots of things about Liverpool played into his ample skill set, most notably the gentle weather. All four days were, by British Open standards, very docile, and we all know the Irish Lad isn’t terribly fond of Irish-like elements.

As for the layout, Hoylake may not have been designed with a right-to-left player in mind, that’s how it shook out by the weekend. McIlrighttoleft, Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler all prefer a pronounced draw. While working with Butch Harmon, one of Fowler’s goals has been to reduce the curve on his ball, which has occurred, but he still turns it over more than most tour pros.

Garcia’s inability to hit a fade has been a problem at times over the years. He recasts the club on the downswing far less than he did in the early days, but he distinctly remains a player of right-to-left shape. I can recall watching Sergio trying to cut the ball on the range at Colonial years ago. Let’s just say things didn’t go well that morning.

Between the abundance of roll and absence of a hearty breeze, no wonder Dustin Johnson despised Saturday’s split-tee start — an unprecedented concession to a very gloomy third-round forecast. Johnson, a low-ball player who was four back at the time, wanted to get out there in the nasty and slop it around with McIlraingear, who hits it as high as anyone alive and might have been more vulnerable in the adverse conditions.

Come Sunday, despite the six-stroke lead, the Irish Lad appeared catchable. His iron play wasn’t nearly as sharp and the par saves weren’t going in, but with two of the game’s most talented majorless types doing most of the chasing, an intense threat never materialized.

Garcia’s valiant charge was derailed by his leaving a shot in the bunker at the par-3 15th.

Fowler performed very well and finished the day with a bogey-free 67, but he didn’t get off to the fast start that would have forced McIlroy to deal with heavier competitive duress.

No question, the best player won. The best player in the world, it should be added. Although Adam Scott held onto the top spot in the World Ranking — McIlroy jumped from eighth to second. The Irish Lad is an exceptionally gifted golfer, a prodigy loaded with physical skills that can’t be taught.

He’ll never be as bloodthirsty as Woods, however, and that is the biggest reason he mixes ineffective stretches with outstanding ones.

“Whenever you play this well, you always wonder how you played so badly before,” McIlreflction said last Friday. “And whenever you play so badly, you always wonder how you played so well.”

We’ve heard Tiger say a lot of things over the last two decades, but never anything that sensible. Or honest.

DON’T LOOK NOW, but with Fowler and Jim Furyk winding up as the only Yanks with top-10 finishes at Liverpool — and our 64-year-old Ryder Cup captain outplaying several of America’s biggest names — you have my permission to start worrying about the U.S. squad Tom Watson takes to Gleneagles in September.

There was a bit of guffawing after the skipper beat Woods by five shots in England, but, hey, at least the Man Formerly Known as the Dude in the Red Shirt jumped from 72nd to 70th in the latest Ryder Cup standings. Across the board, America’s performance this past week was dismal.

Among the top 20 in U.S. qualifying, just six players managed top 20s at Liverpool. Five guys, including points leader Bubba Watson and the lead balloon formerly known as Patrick Reed, missed the cut. Most of the rest were sprinkled among the back half of those who completed 72 holes.

Nobody really cares how Webb Simpson’s doing, however.

“He needs to get into the mix to get some points to get some money to get in the FedEx Cup [playoffs],” captain Watson said of Woods. “That’s what I was hoping he was doing this week.”

Doesn’t sound like the skipper was thrilled about beating Eldrick by five.

Watson did reiterate that he would pick Tiger “if he’s playing well and in good health,” one of which definitely isn’t happening. The long-term problem is obvious: Woods might allow himself just two more starts before the playoffs, and if he doesn’t perform well at Firestone or Valhalla, he doesn’t qualify for the postseason.

At that point, Watson has to leave him home.

Stay tuned. Should get even more interesting.

MY SATURDAY CHAT was inundated by complaints about the split-tee start — the first such precaution ever taken in the British Open’s 143-year history. I’m guessing some of those gripes came from the West Coast, where people aren’t accustomed to waking up at 3 a.m. to watch a major championship.

If it makes anyone feel better, it did start pouring shortly after the completion of third-round play, but I’m thinking that only makes some of the dissenters angrier. At best, I would call the split-tee decision a pragmatically inclined risk. At worst, I would call it a foolhardy copout.

We’re talking about a tournament that has a longstanding policy of asking the participants to perform in whatever conditions Mother Nature deals them. Rain or shine, the British Open carries on without competitive compromise. By sending the players off in threesomes on the first and 10th tees, however, a compromise is exactly what occurred.

I’m left to wonder if the third round in 2002 had anything to do with the decision — Woods’ pursuit of the Grand Slam was derailed by horrible weather, and a considerable portion of the field was left without much chance of contending the next day. I’m also left to wonder if ESPN had a say in the matter, as a lengthy afternoon delay wouldn’t have done much for television ratings in a nation that has never made the British a must-watch event.

Golf from 6-10 a.m. Eastern is better than no golf at all, although no golf at all is pretty much the same as a 0-0 World Cup semifinal.

Oh, well. What’s done is done.

WE INTERRUPT THIS regularly scheduled diatribe to say a kind word or three about Sergio Garcia.

Yes, I know — many of you are about to click to another link, but I cannot help myself.

Sergio fought like hell to make a game of it Sunday. He brought a level of mild suspense to the final round, at least until he left that shot in the bunker at the par-3 15th, but even then, our balding El Nino did not quit.

“I felt like I did almost everything I could,” Garcia summarized afterward, “and there was a better player. It’s as simple as that. You don’t have to look for other things. It’s just that simple.”

My goodness, haven’t we come a long way? I was the only writer in the locker room at Carnoustie in 2007, when Sergio began sobbing in his father’s arms after losing in a playoff to Padraig Harrington. It was a powerful moment — Garcia asked me to leave once he noticed I was there, and I obliged — but then he came into the media center and whined about all the bad breaks he’d gotten.

That ruined it for just about everybody, and in the seven years since, a live microphone has basically been Sergio’s worst enemy. The I’m-not-good-enough-to-win-a-major lament at the 2012 Masters, which was actually said in Spanish to a scrum of European media, came off as both weird and sad, but it hardly ranked after Garcia’s racially inflected comments about Woods last spring.

To see Sergio walking up the 18th fairway Sunday — hand on his heart, blowing kisses to the crowd— was a genuine and touching moment. This might not have been the most interesting British Open ever played, but with the split tees, Tiger getting throttled and Garcia so gracious in defeat, it was a bit unique.

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

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It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.