Caddie's magic words put McIlroy back on track

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2017, 5:13 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – They are far too proper for such colorful remembrances here, but if Rory McIlroy somehow survives his nightmarish start at the 146th Open Championship the sage words of his caddie could well be enshrined on a plaque of some sort adjacent to the second tee box at Royal Birkdale.

Early Thursday when everything that could go wrong was going wrong for the Northern Irishman, his caddie J.P. Fitzgerald decided he’d seen enough.

“You’re Rory McIlroy. What the f--- are you doing?” Fitzgerald challenged.

After playing his first six holes in 5 over par, a shell-shocked McIlroy responded by playing his final 12 holes in 4 under. In fact, he would play his next 24 frames in 7 under before returning to earth with a pair of bogeys on Friday.

Fitzgerald’s indelicate choice of words aside, McIlroy has needed a pep talk for some time. He’s been injured, he’s been slump-shouldered, perhaps he’s even been distracted, but most of all he’s been average and Rory McIlroy is not average.

Although prone to short bouts of relatively pedestrian play in his career, this recent swoon has somehow felt different. A rib injury has been the primary culprit compounded by a forced equipment change when Nike Golf got out of the hard goods business.

In April, he married his longtime girlfriend Erica Stoll, a life-changing moment that was understandably celebrated, but a change nonetheless.

It’s all added up to a disjointed season that began with such promise, with top-10 finishes in three of his first four PGA Tour events of ’17 including a tie for seventh at the Masters, but has since slowed to an inexplicable slog, with missed cuts in three of his last four starts, including the U.S. Open.

The Open: Full-field scores | Live blog: Day 2 | Full coverage

A few weeks ago at the Travelers Championship McIlroy talked of turning the page to a new stage of his career after 10 years among the play-for-pay set, but this new chapter had not exactly been a light read.

Perhaps more than any other modern player, McIlroy is keenly adept at taking the long view. He realizes that at 28 his best and most productive years await, but even with that solace at this juncture in his career his focus is squarely on the high cotton – major championships – and with just six Grand Slam rounds remaining in 2017 it’s getting late early.

Fitzgerald must have sensed the urgency of the moment. No matter how close a caddie is with his player, an ill-timed or poorly worded pep talk can often do more harm than good.

“He does do it quite often, it's just whether it penetrates my head is a different thing,” McIlroy laughed on Friday after a round of 68 left him closer to the lead than one would have thought possible 24 hours earlier. “He's great. He tries to keep me as positive as he possibly can. And sometimes I get down on myself.”

But if Fitzgerald’s tough love was the turning point, it may be McIlroy’s own internal dialogue that saved his title chances. He explained he’s been able to better visualize his shots the last 27 holes and the results have been much more familiar.

McIlroy was eight strokes better on Friday through his first six holes than he was on Day 1 with birdies at Nos. 1, 2 and 6, and played a perfectly impressive round of links golf the rest of the way that included scrambling pars at Nos. 10, 11, 12 and 14.

It was one of those kinds of days on Friday at Royal Birkdale, when winds gusted to 30 mph and the scoring average ballooned.

“Huge,” he explained when asked about his short-game magic act. “They're the putts that haven't quite been going in over the past few weeks. That's all it takes to keep a round going, and to see those putts go in on 10 and 11 gives me a lot of confidence going into the weekend.”

Dive as deep as you’d like into McIlroy’s recent form, but if there’s a single cure for what ails him it’s that AWOL confidence that has appeared so limitless throughout his career.

Last month as he rifled through five different putters before Round 3 at the Travelers Championship, it would have been easy to think there was nothing wrong with McIlroy a few 5-footers couldn’t cure. But to hear him talk on Friday there was more to all this than a cold putter.

In its simplest form, Fitzgerald had it right – you’re Rory McIlroy, act like it. Yet as is often the case in professional golf, performance and confidence are not mutually exclusive.

“When you see a shot like the one I hit into 6, that does give you a lot of confidence,” said McIlroy, whose 1-under total left him three strokes off the lead. “The long iron I hit into the 17th. I guess it's almost like a validation that when you hole putts like that this is really good, you're fighting for it and you're mentally where you need to be.”

Perhaps this won’t be McIlroy’s week to etch his name into the claret jug for the second time. He’s won just one of his four majors when trailing after 36 holes, but there’s no doubt he’s rediscovered something important.

He’s Rory McIlroy.

Day (68) just one back at Australian Open

By Nick MentaNovember 24, 2017, 6:40 am

Jason Day posted a second-round 68 to move himself just one off the lead held by Lucas Herbert through two rounds at the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand after 36 holes in Sydney.

Leaderboard: Herbert (-9), Day (-8), Cameron Davis (-7), Anthony Quayle (-6), Matt Jones (-4), Cameron Smith (-4), Nick Cullen (-4), Richard Green (-4)

What it means: Day is in search of his first worldwide victory of 2017. The former world No. 1 last visited the winner’s circle in May 2016, when he won The Players at TPC Sawgrass. A win this week would close out a difficult year for the Aussie who struggled with his game while also helping his mother in her battle with cancer. Day’s last victory on his native soil came in 2013, when he partnered with Adam Scott to win the World Cup of Golf for Australia at Royal Melbourne.

Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

Round of the day: Herbert followed an opening 67 with a round of 66 to vault himself into the lead at The Australian Golf Club. He made six birdies, including four on his second nine, against a lone bogey to take the outright lead. The 22-year-old, who held the lead at this event last year and captured low-amateur honors in 2014, is coming off a runner-up finish at the NSW Open Championship, which boosted him from 714th to 429th in the Official World Golf Ranking. His 5-under score was matched by Dale Brandt-Richards and Josh Cabban.

Best of the rest: Matt Jones, who won this event over Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott two years ago, turned in 4-under 67. Jones is best known to American audiences for his playoff victory at the 2014 Shell Houston Open and for holding the 36-hole lead at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, which was eventually won by Day. Jones will start the weekend five shots off the lead, at 4 under par.

Biggest disappointment: Spieth has a lot of work to do this weekend if he expects to be in the title picture for the fourth year in a row. Rounds of 70-71 have him eight shots behind the lead held by Herbert. Spieth made a birdie and a bogey on each side Friday to turn in level par. The reigning champion golfer of the year has finished first, second and first at this event over the last three years.

Storyline to watch this weekend: The Australian Open is the first event of the 2018 Open Qualifying Series. The leading three players who finish in the top 10 and who are not otherwise exempt will receive invites into next summer’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

Ogilvy urges distance rollback of ball

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 8:49 pm

Add Geoff Ogilvy to the chorus of voices calling for a distance rollback of the golf ball.

In an interview before the start of the Emirates Australian Open, Ogilvy said a "time-out" is needed for governing bodies to deal with the issue.

"It's complete nonsense," he said, according to an Australian website. "In my career, it’s gone from 300 yards was a massive hit to you’re a shorter hitter on tour now, legitimately short. It’s changed the way we play great golf courses and that is the crime. It isn’t that the ball goes 400, that’s neither here nor there. It’s the fact the ball going 400 doesn’t makes Augusta work properly, it functions completely wrong.’’

Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

Ogilvy used an example from American baseball to help get his point across to an Australian audience.

“Major League Baseball in America, they use wooden bats, and everywhere else in baseball they use aluminium bats,’’ he said. “And when the major leaguers use aluminium bats they don’t even have to touch it and it completely destroys their stadiums. It’s just comedy.

“That’s kind of what’s happened to us at least with the drivers of these big hitters; We’ve completely outgrown the stadiums. So do you rebuild every stadium in the world? That’s expensive. Or make the ball go shorter? It seems relatively simple from that perspective.’’

Ogilvy, an Australian who won the 2006 U.S. Open, said he believes there will be a rollback, but admitted it would be a "challenge" for manufacturers to produce a ball that flies shorter for pros but does not lose distance when struck by recreational players.

The golf world celebrates Thanksgiving

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 6:01 pm

Here's a look, through social media, at how the golf world celebrates Thanksgiving.

Lexi Thompson:

Baking time!!

A post shared by Lexi Thompson (@lexi) on

David Feherty:

Jack Nicklaus:

GC Tiger Tracker:

Steve Stricker:

Golf Channel:

Frank Nobilo:

Ian Poulter:

Tyrone Van Aswegen:

Happy Thanksgiving: Biggest turkeys of 2017

By Grill Room TeamNovember 23, 2017, 3:00 pm

Thanksgiving brings us golf's biggest turkeys of the year. Donald Trump, Grayson Murray and a certain (now-former) tournament director headline the list. Click here or on the image below to check out all the turkeys.