Rory tops Tiger, rolls to Honda title and No.1 ranking

By Randall MellMarch 5, 2012, 1:07 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy didn’t blink.

He didn’t flinch.

He wouldn’t be wobbled, staggered or even distracted in his bid to win the Honda Classic on his way to seizing the world’s No. 1 ranking. That was half the twin marvel this thrilling Sunday finish gave us at PGA National.

It was Tiger Woods making like the champ of old, finding his lost powers in a brilliant charge, and it was McIlroy refusing to get out of his way.

A terrific start to the PGA Tour season just keeps getting better.

This Sunday finish gave us the rise of a new No. 1, a 22-year-old wonder boy from Northern Ireland who looks determined to claim a new era as his own.

It also gave us the promise of the return of Tiger.

That’s one hell of a 1-2 Sunday punch.

That raises the grand possibility that the game may be racing to exhilarating new heights again.

With McIlroy’s rise, with Woods’ return, the game crackles with the prospect that the best rivalry since Jack Nicklaus met Arnold Palmer is about to be fully engaged. Rory vs. Tiger. After what we saw Sunday, it’s more than wishful thinking. It’s a formula packed with the power to jolt another new wave of interest in the game.

“I think it’s great for golf,” McIlroy said. “It creates a lot of interest, and I’d love to be able to go down the stretch like that with him there a lot more.”

If Woods is regaining lost powers, and he sure looked like it with Sunday’s 8-under-par 62, his best final round in a PGA Tour event, then his dream of breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record for major championship triumphs is renewed. The question, though, will be whether Woods can get through McIlroy to claim his life’s ambition.

Woods sent a message this day with the way he closed, with the way he carved that clutch 5-iron from 206 yards to the foot of the 18th flagstick. The grounds quaked when Woods holed the eagle putt. Nine shots back at day’s start, he thrilled the giant galleries, improbably pulling within one shot.

Those Sunday failures at Pebble Beach, where Phil Mickelson whipped Woods in the final round, and at Abu Dhabi, where a guy named Robert Rock beat Woods head-to-head in a final-round pairing, now were distant memories.

Ernie Els, playing alongside Woods, saw a scary possibility Sunday.

“The old Tiger is back, the guy I remember, the guy I used to finish second to a lot,” Els said. “It was him again.”

The Tiger of old, though, didn’t have McIlroy to contend with.

At 22 years and 10 months, McIlroy is the second-youngest player to ascend to No. 1 in the world, second to Woods, who was 21.

“Tiger is back doing only the outrageous things Tiger can do,” Graeme Mcdowell said.

In almost the same breath, McDowell laid out the challenge for Woods.

“Rory is the best player I’ve ever seen, tee to green, period,” said McDowell, who also hails from Northern Ireland. “I didn’t have a chance to play with Tiger in the mid-2000s, when Tiger was the man, but Rory McIlroy is the best player I’ve ever seen.

“Rory is about to become the world No. 1, and he’s going to win multiple, multiple majors.”

If Woods keeps getting his mojo back, McIlroy will be heavily challenged to do that.

“I felt like I was close,” Woods said. “I’ve been close to shooting this score, or scores like this. It was just a matter of time until things all fell in place.”

Woods’ balky putter looked refortified in this bogey-free round. He needed just 11 putts on the back nine. He had seven one-putts back there. He had a pair of eagles on the day.

McIlroy’s putter was just as golden. He nervelessly holed one testy par save after another to preserve his lead along the front nine.

With Woods charging, McIlroy impressed with his refusal to flinch. Notably, McIlroy was looking over an 8-foot putt for birdie back at the 13th hole when he heard the explosion Woods detonated with his eagle at the finish. McIlroy didn’t have to see a leaderboard to know what happened. He knew Woods was within a shot of him.

“I wasn’t really paying much attention until he made that eagle on 18,” McIlroy said. “I heard the huge roar. It definitely wasn’t a birdie roar.”

McIlroy confidently rammed in his birdie putt to go back up by two.

It wasn’t the first answer McIlroy had to Woods’ charge.

At the eighth green, McIlroy got his first glimpse of Sunday’s leaderboard. He took a long, hard look there. It showed Woods charging. It showed Woods sitting in a tie for fourth.

McIlroy moved over a 10-foot birdie putt there and holed it.

“When I’m firing on all cylinders, I feel like I’m hard to beat,” McIlroy said. “I still feel like I can play better than what I did this week.”

Woods is likely thinking the same thing. Bring on the Masters.

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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.