McIlroy ready to take charge

By Randall MellApril 7, 2015, 10:40 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Rory McIlroy expects his heart to be thumping a little harder than normal Thursday when he steps to the first tee to start the Masters.

Yes, there’s history to chase, an epic challenge in trying to join legends Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player and Tiger Woods as the only players to win the career Grand Slam, but he says he would be nervous anyway.

“Probably the only first tee shot of a tournament these days that I still get nervous at, the one that you get butterflies and your heart races a little bit faster than it does usually,” McIlroy said. “So, yeah, still get that same feeling I did as a rookie back here in 2009.”

McIlroy may only be 25, but he’s making his seventh start at Augusta National. He knows this place. He loves this place, and yet he doesn’t seem comfortable here yet. At least, he doesn’t play like he really understands how the puzzle architect Alister Mackenzie created is supposed to go together.

Maybe this is the year.

“As much as this golf course is a second-shot golf course, it made me a little tentative over iron shots,” McIlroy said. “I had to learn to try to be a little bit more aggressive, aggressive to my spots here, instead of looking at a pin and sort of thinking about the places not to miss. Because there are places here where you can miss it, and you can give yourself a straightforward up and down. And there are places where you can't miss it.  I felt the first couple years, I was thinking more about where not to hit it instead of where to hit it.

“It’s such an intimidating place the first time that you get here, and I felt like I may have shown it a little bit too much respect at times, instead of playing my normal game, and playing the way I usually do. That's the biggest thing I've learned, just try and get it out of your head where you are, and what it means, and just try to execute your shots like you normally do.”

In six starts, McIlroy’s best Masters finish is a tie for eighth. He used the back door to get that one last year after shooting a 77 in the second round.

It’s almost like McIlroy’s courting Augusta National and isn’t quite confident yet that his advances are appropriate. Not in the way Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera and other perennial contenders are.

“The thing about Augusta is that for me, personally, I don't feel like I have to be perfect, so it relaxes me,” Mickelson said. “Even though I may not have my best stuff on any given day, I still feel like I can shoot in the 60s, and I still feel like I can make pars and birdie some holes to shoot a decent number.”

McIlroy’s a smart player. He knows better than anyone why he hasn’t put it all together at Augusta National yet. His lackluster play on the par 5s is a big part of that.

“If you look at the previous winners here, they've all played the par 5s well,” McIlroy said. “Bubba last year played them at 8 under par. I played them at even par and he beat me by eight shots. If I can just play the par 5s a little better, hopefully that will help me do better and obviously have a chance to win.”

Unlike Mickelson, McIlroy hasn’t fully come to understand that he doesn’t have to be perfect to put up a good score on this course.

Though he had that 54-hole lead at the Masters four years ago, McIlroy hasn’t returned looking like a guy emboldened by his chance to win. He has looked too much like a guy who remembers shooting 80 in the final round and tying for 15th. He has shot at least one round of 77 or higher in each of his Masters starts since his final-round collapse.

Ben Crenshaw said Tuesday that it takes a certain boldness to win the green jacket. He wasn’t talking about McIlroy, but the two-time Masters champion said something relevant to McIlroy’s evolution here.

“You cannot win this tournament playing safe,” Crenshaw said. “You've got to take chances. You have to take chances at the right times, and you have to bring those off, to buoy your confidence.”

Mickelson won in 2010 hitting that great escape with a 6-iron off the pine straw and through a narrow gap in the trees at the 13th in a dramatic Sunday finish. Watson won in 2012 hitting that crazy hook out of the trees in a playoff and won again last year hitting that risky bomb over the trees in the corner of the 13th on Sunday.

Of course, Crenshaw said there’s danger in being bold.

“You've seen spectacular runs, finishes, and you've seen spectacular crashes, too,” Crenshaw said. “We've all been on that side of the equation.”

McIlroy has the dynamic skills to be on the spectacular end every player dreams about. Tiger Woods sees that paying off for McIlroy here eventually.

“I'm sure he'll have many green jackets in his closet before it's all said and done,” Woods said.

McIlroy would love to add his first come Sunday.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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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. 

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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.