2017 PGA is at Quail Hollow: Think McIlroy's happy about that?

By Rex HoggardMay 16, 2015, 11:10 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Note to PGA of America chief championships officer Kerry Haigh: If you don’t want the 2017 PGA Championship to be a carbon copy of the ’12 PGA at Kiawah Island, start digging now.

But then the way Rory McIlroy played on Saturday at Quail Hollow Club, which is pegged to host the ’17 PGA, there’s probably not enough real estate in North Carolina to keep the Northern Irishman from dismantling the tree-lined layout in two years.

Not with the world No. 1 averaging 309 yards off the tee and hitting more than half (24 of 42) of Quail Hollow’s fairways. Not with an iron game that ranks first this week in approach-shot distance. Not with a putter that is fifth in strokes gained-putting.

McIlroy blazed his way to a course-record 61 Saturday, clipping the previous mark set by ... well, McIlroy, at the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship. But on a hot and humid day his performance was more reminiscent of that 2012 masterpiece at Kiawah Island, where he won by eight strokes.

“On No. 16 he hits it over that whole bunker, with a little draw into the wind,” marveled Will MacKenzie, who was paired with McIlroy in Round 3. “It’s 320 [yards] and he just blew it by ... I mean, come on.”

Wells Fargo Championship: Articles, videos and photos

It’s not often Tour types allow themselves to be in awe of a fellow frat brother, but such was the level of McIlroy’s brilliance.

As he brushed past reporters gathered to talk with McIlroy, Brendan Steele was congratulated for a solid round of his own (68). “Thanks,” he smiled. “Not bad for normal people.”

When McIlroy is executing like he did Saturday, he’s not normal and more times than not he’s not catchable.

McIlroy put on a familiar show in 2010, when he began the final round at the Wells Fargo Championship four strokes off the lead but played the final nine holes in 30, including the infamous “Green Mile” in 3 under par, for his lowest career round as a professional (62) and a four-stroke victory.

That was McIlroy’s first PGA Tour victory, a milestone that even at 26 years old he still revisits. Since then he’s added nine more Tour titles, four majors and countless pounds of muscle, and ascended to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

He’s also gotten better. Better at driving the golf ball, as evidenced by his display Saturday, better around the greens and, most importantly, better at controlling his emotions.

“Mentally I’m so much better,” said McIlroy, who moved to 18 under and four strokes clear of hometown favorite Webb Simpson with his record round. “My mindset or my demeanor doesn’t change no matter what situation I’m in in a tournament or on the golf course.

Unlike Tiger Woods, whose improvement over the years came via well-defined eureka moments, McIlroy’s progress has been much more subtle, almost subdued.

While his swing has remained largely unchanged since that 2010 victory at Quail Hollow, he’s become more consistent even during events when things aren’t exactly falling in the proper order, like two weeks ago at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play when his putting, by his own admission, was less than spectacular.

But when all the tools are in place he has another gear, an extra level of proficiency that he can apply to make the game look amazingly easy. Days like Round 3 at the Wells Fargo Championship when the next-best score was 65 and he beat the field average by more than 10 strokes.

While McIlroy’s Saturday will likely be the highlight from this year’s event at Quail Hollow, it may have been a Friday 70 when things weren’t going his way that paved the way to victory.

It’s a long view McIlroy has come by honestly.

“Five years of being out here, competing, winning majors, losing majors, patience is the thing that really is the difference between who I am now and who I was five years ago,” he said.

For MacKenzie, who joined the Tour in 2005 and has seen Woods at his best, when Rory is firing on all cylinders he’s Tiger-esque.

“Tiger was the man; Rory is up there,” MacKenzie said. “He’s like Tiger to me. Jordan [Spieth] is up there, so is Rickie [Fowler], but when this guy hits it you can tell the difference. He is so much more physically gifted.”

Although McIlroy was reluctant to look too far ahead even with a substantial lead and the 54-hole scoring record, he did allow a moment of competitive leeway when asked about the possibility of playing for another PGA title two years from now at Quail Hollow.

“It will be nice that a major is coming here in a couple year’s time,” he said with coy smile.

As for Haigh, he’s officially on the clock to find a way to Rory-proof Quail Hollow. Otherwise, he may make the club’s “Green Mile” look like a stroll in the park and the 2017 PGA a sequel to that historic ’12 championship.


Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.