McIlroy does enough to keep Grand Slam hopes alive

By Rex HoggardApril 9, 2015, 9:33 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – You know what they say, you can’t win the career Grand Slam on Thursday at Augusta National.

Not that Rory McIlroy drop-kicked his career Grand Slam chances into the azalea bushes on Day 1 at the Masters, but his opening 71 under sunny skies in the first round certainly narrowed the margin of error in his historic pursuit.

In what turned out to be more of a battle than he would have liked, the world No. 1 chipped a few like Tiger Woods, hit a few iron shots like Natalie Wood and ended the day the way it began – a green jacket away from becoming the sixth player to win the career Grand Slam.

In a game that defies instant analysis, a single round is well short of an honest sample size when it comes to something as endearing as the career Grand Slam, but for many – maybe even McIlroy – Round 1 at Augusta National was a measure of how much pressure is seeping its way through Rory’s tightly confined circle.

When McIlroy pulled his drive at the second into the “Delta Counter” – the wooded area left of the fairway where lore has it that players can book their tickets out of town and out of contention – it prompted more than a few raised eyebrows.

When he bogeyed the sixth after hitting a chip that inched just onto the putting surface and then rolled back down the slope, some even wondered if he’d spent too much time near Woods this week in the short game area.

But on cue he did what potential Masters champions do, hitting a 322-yard drive at the 13th hole to set up a two-putt birdie and get back to even par.

A deft chip from right of the 15th green led to another birdie and left him under par for the day, if not under the radar.

“I haven't put too much pressure on myself. Look, I obviously know what I can achieve this week, but I'm not letting myself think about it too much,” said McIlroy, who hit 12 of 18 greens in regulation on Thursday and cut short his time with the media to work out the issues on the practice tee.

“Today was a pretty good day. I feel like I can do better. But happy after Day 1 and go out and just try and do a little bit better tomorrow.”

The truth is, the world No. 1 will have a lifetime of opportunities to etch his name into the history books and become the sixth player to win all four major championships. And most consider McIlroy’s quest an inevitability.

“With the type of length and ball-striking he has and putting touch, I think this is a course he'll be tough at the rest of his career,” said Phil Mickelson, McIlroy’s playing partner on Thursday, who also just happens to be one trophy shy of the career Grand Slam (U.S. Open). “I'm sure he'll win, whether it's this week or not, you never know.”

Still, history is littered with players who finished their careers one good bounce away from the career Grand Slam – Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson immediately come to mind – and of the five who do own the major four-pack, only Gene Sarazen secured the final leg at Augusta National, back in 1935 when this event went by the less-intimidating title of Augusta National Invitational.

“Rory has had his adversity on the golf course having led, so now he's got a big challenge,” said Gary Player, who completed the career Grand Slam when he was 29. “So he's going to feel that stretch, but he's ready to tackle it and very, very fit. I think fitness and patience.”

The fitness portion is not up for debate, as anyone who has glanced at the cover of this month’s Men’s Health can attest, but the patience portion of that equation is still to be determined.

While the current version is far more poised then the 2011 model that imploded on Sunday for a closing 80, evidenced by his Zen-like temperament in the last two majors, there has never been this much on the line.

“The only thing is the pressure,” Ernie Els said recently. “The pressure he puts on himself is one thing, but I think the outside pressure, the media is going to be scrutinizing him, so it depends on how he handles it. He’s got a little bit of fire in him, if he can control that I think he’ll have a good week. If things don’t go his way and he loses it, it will be tough.”

In many ways, Thursday was an interesting litmus test for the Northern Irishman. While most agree the immediacy of what he can accomplish is measured in decades, not days, there is no ignoring that a round that “could have gotten away from me” didn’t.

McIlroy didn’t win the career Grand Slam on Thursday, but somehow he seemed to move closer to that milestone.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.