Flying under radar may free up McIlroy, Day

By Randall MellApril 5, 2017, 9:41 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – They aren’t the guys this year.

Rory McIlroy and Jason Day haven’t been pushed off stage in this run-up to the Masters, but they don’t top the marquee, either. They aren’t the big stories leading into the year’s first major championship.

Dustin Johnson, 32, is the betting favorite. He’s the best player in the game as the world No. 1, the hottest player with victories in his last three starts, but he's also suddenly a question mark to even play the Masters after falling down a staircase Wednesday and injuring his back.

Jordan Spieth is the storyteller’s favorite. With his epic collapse last year, he’s the real protagonist coming into this week, the guy the most dramatic narrative is built around. The history Spieth has built in just three years at Augusta National is the best kind of Masters theater, with the 22-year-old Texan already filling the role of both the heroic and tragic figure as a big winner and loser of this championship.

As former world No. 1s and major championship winners, you know McIlroy and Day each want to be the guy again.

And they’d rather be the guy in the final scene.

They would rather be center stage Sunday donning a green jacket for the first time.

So maybe this is the better way for McIlroy and Day to get there.

Maybe there will be something more for them in reserve because they aren’t the favorites.

Maybe the room this affords sets up a freer approach.


Masters Tournament: Tee times | Full coverage


“I feel like it's been relatively quiet, which is quite nice,” McIlroy, 27, said of his Masters prep. “I don't feel like I can fly under the radar anymore, but at the same time, it's sort of felt that way to me. It been nice to be able to prepare and just go about my business and try to get ready for this tournament.

“It’s been a bit of a change from the last couple years, especially in ’15, coming off the back of two majors wins in a row and going for the career grand slam.”

Of course, McIlroy is still going for the career grand slam, and he’s a great story if he finally breaks through to get a green jacket.

A McIlroy win would make history; he would join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods as the only players to win all four professional majors.

McIlroy’s story would also be about how he finally overcame his own little collapse at Augusta National six years ago, when he blew a four-shot lead on Sunday with an 80.

It would be about how he slayed his Augusta National demon before Spieth did.

“I’d love to give you an answer and say my life is already fulfilled with everything that’s happened and everything that’s going to happen in the future, by starting a family and all that,” McIlroy told ESPN in a revealing admission. “But if I didn’t have a green jacket, there would be tiny piece that would just be missing. I wouldn’t be fulfilled if I didn’t get it.”

Day, 29, would have his own meaningful story to tell if he wins this week.

Two weeks ago, his mother, Dening, had a cancer mass removed from her left lung. He flew her from Australia to live with his family in Columbus, Ohio, so they could help her in her fight.

If Day wins, he will shed even more tears than he did when he won the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits two seasons ago.

“I think that you can just multiply that by a hundred,” Day said of the emotion he would feel. “Hopefully, it would be nice to have my mom here. Even if I don’t win, it would be nice to have my mom here. She has never been here before. Hopefully, she’s healthy enough to fly down. It’s great to even think about it.”

McIlroy and Day aren’t lacking purpose in being further from the larger media focus of this year’s Masters.

“I don't know how articulate the words to you about how I feel, and the purpose.” Day said. “But I feel plenty, and I feel good about everything.  I'm just, once again, I'm happy to be here."

Getty Images

Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

Getty Images

Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

Getty Images

Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – 

Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Web.com Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.

Getty Images

Mickelson 'displeased' with iron play; 10 back

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:18 am

All of Phil Mickelson’s offseason work on his driver has paid off through two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

His iron play? Not as sharp, and it’s the reason why he heads into the weekend 10 shots off the lead.

“I’ve been pretty pleased, overall, with the way I’ve been driving the ball, and very displeased with the way my iron game has been,” said Mickelson, who shot 68 Friday on PGA West’s Nicklaus course. He has hit only 21 of 36 greens so far this week. “Usually my iron play is a lot better than what it’s been. So I’ll go work on it and hopefully improve each round in this tournament and build a solid foundation for the upcoming West Coast events.


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


“I feel like if I continue to drive the ball the way I am, and if I got my iron play back to my normal standard, I should have the results that I’ve been expecting.”

Mickelson, of course, is always bullish this time of year, but he has been able to find 10 of 14 fairways each of the past two rounds, including at narrower La Quinta Country Club, which doesn’t always fit his eye.

“This is actually the best I’ve driven it in a lot of years,” he said.

Currently in a tie for 67th, Mickelson will need a solid round on the more difficult Stadium course Saturday to ensure that he makes the 54-hole cut. He hasn’t missed a cut in his first West Coast event of the new year since 2009.