Epic Crossroads

By Randall MellJune 17, 2011, 8:22 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Something spectacular awaits this weekend.

History is in the making here at the 111th U.S. Open.

That’s the feeling Rory McIlroy brought to Congressional Country Club Friday with his bold march into the championship’s record book just half way through the event.

Whether it’s a spectacular runaway rout rivaling what Tiger Woods did in the 2000 U.S. Open or a spectacular collapse surpassing what Greg Norman did at the 1996 Masters, you feel the epic nature of this storyline building.

Is McIlroy built more like his generation’s Tiger or Shark?

While the former seems far more likely given the form of the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland, there’s enough doubt in McIlroy’s resume to prevent engravers from getting a head start on etching his name on the U.S. Open trophy.

The final-round 80 McIlroy shot to blow The Masters two months ago sits in the back of your cranium. So does the 80 he shot to derail his opening 63 at St. Andrews in the British Open last summer.

So even on this riveting Friday, there was reason to pause after McIlroy’s errant shot at the finish, his hooked approach into the water at the 18th. His closing double bogey was the only blemish on two otherwise beautiful scorecards.

Backing up his first-round 65 with Friday’s 66, McIlroy set the 36-hole U.S. Opening scoring record. His 131 total is one shot better than the mark Ricky Barnes set at Bethpage Black two years ago.

“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Steve Stricker said.

When McIlroy signed his scorecard, he was eight shots in the lead, two shots better than the U.S. Open record 36-hole lead Woods built at Pebble Beach in his historic romp 11 years ago. By day's end Y.E. Yang trimmed his lead to six.

Stricker was an accidental spectator for much of McIlroy’s run. He was standing at the ninth tee waiting to play when a roar erupted around the eighth green. That’s where McIlroy holed a wedge from 114 yards for eagle.

The hole out was historic because it got McIlroy to 10 under par, making McIlroy the fastest player to reach double digits under par in U.S. Open history.

Stricker, David Toms and Retief Goosen didn’t see who hit the shot, but they knew.

“We kind of had a feeling it was Rory,” Stricker said. “Players get in those kind of grooves or those kind of rolls where they start to make everything.”

McIlroy’s run is making more than just the paying customers marvel here at Congressional. Mickelson turned in the eighth fairway and applauded McIlroy after he holed out there. Though Mickelson turned in 33, he actually lost ground to McIlroy.

“He’s striking it flawlessly,” Mickelson said.

All day long, Stricker, Toms and Goosen heard the roars behind them. They didn’t have to see the leaderboards to know McIlroy was mounting a special run.

“Every time we turned around, he was 320 yards down the middle,” Toms said. “We knew how good he was playing. We talked about it a number of times during the round, about what he was shooting, what a good score it was for a U.S. Open. I mean, I’d be happy to be at even par and he got himself to 13 under.”

With a birdie at the 17th, McIlroy reached 13 under, a magical number nobody had ever reached in a U.S. Open.

“It’s funny to me,” McIlroy said. “It feels quite simple. I’m hitting fairways. I’m hitting greens. I’m holing my fair share of putts.”

McIlroy’s on quite the major championship streak in his bid to win his first major. He’s led five of the last six major championship rounds played. He’s led at some point in the last four majors. He’s now shot in the 60s in 12 of 38 major championship rounds.

“I put myself in great position going into the weekend,” McIlroy said. “But I know more than anyone else what can happen. So I’ve got to stay really focused and try and finish this thing off.”

Nobody’s giving McIlroy anything despite his stellar ball striking.

“There’s a long ways to go,” said Stricker, who trails McIlroy by 13 shots. “He’s got to come back. The way he’s playing now, it doesn’t seem like he’ll do that, but you’ve just got to keep fighting and see what happens. But it’s pretty incredible what he’s done.”

U.S. Open history has witnessed miraculous comebacks before. Lou Graham was 11 shots down after 36 holes and came back to win at Medinah in 1975. Arnold Palmer was seven back in the final round when he won at Cherry Hills in 1960.

In two rounds, McIlroy’s hit a staggering 32 of 36 greens in regulation. He’s hit 20 of 28 fairways. He’s made 11 birdies, an eagle and a double bogey.

It’s that double bogey that provides the field a ray of hope. After driving into the left rough, McIlroy tried to reach the 18th with a 7-iron but hooked it into the water.

It’s all about closing now and McIlroy will tell you that’s about more than skill. He learned that in his Augusta National collapse.

While McIlroy’s winning over a legion of new fans with his good-natured temperament, he’s trying to cultivate a cold heart between the ropes.

“I needed to be a little more cocky, a little more arrogant on the course and think a little bit more about myself, which I’ve tried to incorporate a little bit, just on the course,” McIlroy said. “I just try to have a bit of an attitude.”

Whether McIlroy’s found the attitude he needs to complement his ball striking prowess may determine whether this is a spectacularly memorable or forgettable weekend for the Ulsterman.

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.