It's McIlroy's time to shine

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2015, 7:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The stage looks like it’s all Rory McIlroy’s now.

Not just here at the Honda Classic this week, but stretching through the Masters and beyond.

With Tiger Woods out indefinitely trying to repair his broken game, McIlroy makes his first start of the PGA Tour season this week amid a growing sense that his time as the game’s preeminent star is fully arriving.

With uncertainty over Woods' future and whether he’ll ever regain winning form, with Phil Mickelson here but working through his own challenges, McIlroy steps more fully into the leading man’s role. With his world No. 1 ranking and run of terrific form, he’s beginning a run-up to what could be a historic Masters. He’ll be trying to win at Augusta National to join Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen as the only players to complete the career Grand Slam in professional golf.

Is McIlroy ready for all that comes with being the game’s leading man?

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“Yes,” McIlroy said. “It's what I've always wanted to do. I would be wasting my time if I was out there practicing as much as I do, and putting as much into it, if I didn't want to be in this position. And wasting the people's time around me, as well, that helped me get to this point.      

“Of course I want to be that guy. I said it last year. Golf is waiting for someone like that to step forward, put their hand up and win the big tournaments. Yeah, this is the position I want to be in, and I want to be in it as long as I can.”

McIlroy hasn’t played since he won the Dubai Desert Classic almost a month ago, but he’s on a tear that extends back into last summer, when he won the British Open, WGC-Bridgestone and PGA Championship in consecutive starts. He has a victory and four second-place finishes in his last five starts.

“I played with him in Dubai the first two rounds,” said reigning U.S. Open champ Martin Kaymer. “There’s no weakness. The only one who can beat him, I think, is himself.”

At 25, with four different runs at No. 1 over 69 total weeks, McIlroy appears better equipped to supplant Woods as the game’s top star.

“I feel like I can handle the position I’m in a lot better than I did a couple years ago,” McIlroy said.

Having his legal challenges resolved a few weeks ago, a settlement with his former management company worked out, McIlroy will make his run to the Masters without those distractions threatening to get in the way.

“It’s sort of like a clear road ahead,” McIlroy said. “It’s so nice just to be able to focus on golf and put all my time and effort into that.”

The Honda Classic is a good place for McIlroy to begin preparing for all the hype that will surround his drive down Magnolia Drive this spring. He has a home just down the road in Palm Beach Gardens. He won the Honda Classic three years ago and tied for second in it last year after losing out in a playoff. This is the seventh time he will play the tournament.

“Sort of like a hometown event,” McIlroy said.

McIlroy will play three events leading up to the Masters, heading down I-95 to Doral next week for the WGC-Cadillac Championship and then taking a week off before playing his first Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando.

“I feel like I’ve got a nice schedule going into Augusta,” McIlroy said. “I’m not playing too much, but I’m playing just enough that I should be as sharp as possible going in there.”

Count Gary Player among those expecting McIlroy to complete the career Grand Slam.

“The Masters is just made for him,” Player said. “There is no golf course I can think of that is made for him more than Augusta National.”

Victorious European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley also sees the green jacket being a good fit for McIlroy.

“I’d be very surprised if at the end of his career he hasn’t won more than one Masters green jacket,” McGinley said.

With the Masters six weeks away, McIlroy is in full prep mode to try to win his first.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.