Horschel-McIlroy: Fire and reign

By Rex HoggardMay 1, 2015, 12:43 am

SAN FRANCISCO – In a special, #ThrowBackThursday moment at Harding Park, Billy Horschel was asked what he remembered about the 2007 Walker Cup.

“I don’t remember anything,” he deadpanned with only the slightest hint of sheepishness.

You may not know this about BillyHo, but he can trend to the Lewis Black side of boisterous, so when the 20-year-old version was sent afield to play for his country at the ’07 Walker Cup he openly admits he may have toed the line of decorum in what turned into a particularly heated match.

When pressed for more details from his week at Royal County Down, Horschel recalled playing Rory McIlroy three times (twice in singles). He remembers the emotions of playing for the United States and his teammates. He remembers wanting to win so badly that he may have let those emotions get the best of him.

“I was a very confident, could be called a cocky person, a very emotional person about things, especially in that match,” Horschel said Thursday at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play.

McIlroy – who would drop two matches to Horschel at that Walker Cup, including a Saturday singles match, before exacting a measure of redemption with a dominant victory over Horschel in Sunday singles – remembers things slightly differently.

WGC-Cadillac Match Play: Articles, videos and photos

“His antics really pissed me off,” McIlroy told Golf Digest in 2008. “He was so loud and so obnoxious.”

By comparison, Friday’s final group match between the world No. 1 and the reigning FedEx Cup champion at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play will undoubtedly follow Queensbury rules, yet it still has all the markings of the week’s most compelling bout.

For all the misgivings of the new-look WGC-Match Play, confusion over the round-robin format being the primary culprit, it was the potential of just this type of scenario that made all of the mind-numbing math manageable.

“When I saw my group I was like, well, that’s not the easiest one,” Horschel said of McIlroy’s group, which includes Brandt Snedeker and Jason Dufner. “I thought if you can get out of that group you’ve done something special.”

To the delight of organizers, the cosmic tumblers delivered Friday’s title bout. McIlroy cruised to victory on Day 1, beating Dufner, 5 and 4, and he edged Snedeker, 2 up, on Thursday. While Horschel rolled past Snedeker in Round 1, 5 and 4, and was a 3-and-2 winner over Dufner on Day 2.

Whoever wins Friday’s match advances to the Sweet 16 and single elimination on Saturday.

It’s one of just four matches on Friday between unbeaten players, bringing a rare level of certainty to an event that seems to have lost a measure of intrigue with the endless permutations brought on by the new format.

That the Rory vs. BillyHo duel rekindles a rivalry that was born from those ’07 matches is only part of the Hollywood-ready script.

As recently as last fall McIlroy and Horschel were set against each other on another bright stage.

McIlroy, who began last year’s playoffs first in FedEx Cup points, was paired with Horschel the last two rounds at East Lake. The American beat the Northern Irishman by a stroke over those two days and, more importantly, won the finale and the season-long race.

“If he wins the Tour Championship and wins the FedEx Cup that’s probably one of the top-five greatest seasons of all time,” Horschel said. “I stopped him from that. If anything, he’s going to come out with a little bit more, not that he needs it, but a little more fuel to maybe redeem himself.”

Both players were clear that they put the contentiousness of the ’07 Walker Cup behind them long ago. When Horschel lost the Deutsche Bank Championship on the 72nd hole last year, McIlroy was there to console him. Horschel encouraged McIlroy when he was going through a slump in 2013.

“Back then we were a little bit younger and a little more emotional,” McIlroy said. “It was pretty heated. I don’t think tomorrow will be quite so much like that, but still you need to win or you go home.”

In signature Horschel style, he referred to himself as a “road block” to McIlroy this week, similar to last year’s Tour Championship and perhaps even the ’07 Walker Cup.

What’s different this time is that through age and injury both players have matured. There will be no histrionics like those on display eight years ago at Royal County Down.

At those matches Horschel’s teammates – a list that included Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson and Chris Kirk – nicknamed him “Steve O,” because his shaved head made him look like the main character from the TV show “Jackass.”

“You know what, I probably was a jackass back then,” Horschel smiled.

The difference this time is that on Friday he’ll simply be a world-class golfer playing a much-anticipated match that promises to be unforgettable.

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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.