McIlroy enjoying ride back to the top

By Rex HoggardAugust 8, 2014, 9:23 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – This isn’t about driving accuracy or even driving distance, although that simple statistic seems to provide a neat bow when explaining Rory McIlroy’s current run of brilliance.

It’s not the Northern Irishman’s drastically improved putting or even that 3 additional kilos of muscle he’s packed on in recent months. Nor does this have anything to do with his relationship status, which publically and dramatically went from committed to carefree with his broken engagement to Caroline Wozniacki in May.

McIlroy’s dominant run through the dog days is the direct result of peace of mind. A sport’s psychologist will charge $200 an hour to identify it, but at its core the world No. 1 is playing well because of a rediscovered clarity of thought.

“It’s fun. It is fun,” he said on Friday after scorching a soggy Valhalla Golf Club with a second-round 67 for a one-shot lead at the PGA Championship.

If Bubba Golf is an “A ticket” thrill ride filled with equal parts peaks and valleys, Rory Golf, at its best, is a joy ride. Towering drives, flawless approach shots, deft lag-putting and lots of smiles.

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McIlroy’s Friday wasn’t perfect, he missed five consecutive greens starting at the second hole, and he freely admitted his Day 2 “wasn’t quite as pretty as (Day 1)” but there was no mistaking the fact that it was fun.

Analysts, be they armchair or otherwise, will continue to dissect the differences between 2014 McIlroy – who has won three of his last seven starts, including July’s Open Championship and his World Golf Championship tune-up last week in Akron – and the 2013 version, but what is right with Rory can’t be found on a TrackMan or in the PGA Tour’s ShotLink program.

“What I really like is he’s got his emotions under control. He doesn’t look like anything is coming too fast to him,” said Dave Stockton Sr., McIlroy’s putting coach. “This time it’s, ‘Keep having fun.’ Everybody talks about swing, I can’t comprehend hitting the ball as far as he does, but I can comprehend the mental strength I saw at the British and last week at Firestone.”

A case can be made that McIlroy’s newfound peace is at the least an indirect result of his split with Wozniacki. The 25-year-old seemed to suggest as much on Friday.

“What else do I have to do?” he figured. “I get up in the morning I go to the course, I go to the gym. It’s my life at the moment.”

And at the moment life is good.

There was a foreboding feeling across Valhalla that had nothing to do with a forecast that lingered on the horrible side of bad for much of the day. If Friday was McIlroy’s “bad day” the golf world may be bound for another runaway major victory like the one he pieced together last month at Royal Liverpool.

We enjoyed this show the first time we saw it, at the 2011 U.S. Open, and the encores in ’12 at Kiawah Island and this year at Hoylake. The difference this time is the careful way he has embraced greatness.

All the talent in the world doesn’t assure results, look only to Dustin Johnson whose physical superiority has been undercut by off-course distractions and dubious decisions.

There is no backdoor to a quiet mind, which McIlroy learned throughout a difficult 2013 when he failed to win a PGA Tour title and was questioned for everything from his decision to make a wholesale jump to Nike Golf to a series of curious legal battles with former agents.

Slowly, methodically McIlroy has distanced himself from that noise and the result has been increasingly stellar results even when his game was not at its best like on Friday.

After a sloppy start in increasingly sloppy conditions, McIlroy rolled in a 31 footer for eagle at the 18th hole (his ninth hole of the day) to move two strokes clear of the field.

In what is becoming his signature bounce-back style, he followed another bogey at the second hole when he missed a fairway for the first time since June, or at least it seems that long, by playing his last three holes in 2 under par, including a majestic 5-wood from 242 yards at the par-5 seventh to 8 feet for a two-putt birdie.

“It was very impressive and hard to beat,” said Martin Kaymer, one of McIlroy’s playing partners who knows a thing or two about impressive golf following his boat-race triumph at June’s U.S. Open. “He is by far the best player in the world.”

A decade ago competitors were uttering the same words about Tiger Woods, and while comparisons to the former world No. 1 remain wildly unrealistic the like-minded singular focus demonstrated both players when they are at their best is uncanny.

“Mentally I’m in a really solid place in terms of not getting ahead of myself on the golf course,” McIlroy said. “I’m just on a good run.”

Or, put another way he’s just in a good place.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.