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.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.

Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

5/2: Rory McIlroy

7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

9/2: Justin Rose

5/1: Brooks Koepka

15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

10/1: Adam Scott

12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes