McIlroy makes a major statement with PGA win

By Rex HoggardAugust 11, 2014, 2:59 am

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Two by two they marched out like perfect pairs to the ark bound for higher ground in a race against the clock, if not the rain.

Foreshadowed by a biblical morning downpour that turned the PGA Championship Sunday matinee into a midnight screening, or so it seemed, the 96th edition of the season’s final major will be recorded in history as 2014’s most entertaining final round and perhaps the moment Rory McIlroy crested the hill separating potential and proven.

Birdies were traded, leads were taken and lost with equal abandon, the final two groups played up a dark and gloomy 18th hole as a foursome and McIlroy may have finally taken his place as Tiger Woods’ heir apparent.

With a grit that transcended his status as a “nice guy,” McIlroy withstood every sling and arrow the all-star cast of contenders could heap on him. There’s been a reluctance in many circles to label the Northern Irishman Woods’ successor and subject him to the inherent dangers of unrealistic expectations, but with a closing 68 at Valhalla Golf Club there is no more ducking the question.

“It’s always hard to compare players,” said Henrik Stenson, one of five players who held a share of the lead during a frenzied final round. “But if he’s not the same, he’s not far behind. If I told you that if he were to win at least one major in the next five or seven years you wouldn’t be surprised, would you?”

No, we wouldn’t.

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It’s not that McIlroy became the third-youngest player to win four major championships behind Woods and Jack Nicklaus. It’s not that he’s now won his last three consecutive starts, dating back to July’s Open Championship. It’s not that he now stands one green jacket away from a career Grand Slam. It’s how he won that fourth major that now elevates the 25-year-old to legend status.

This victory wasn’t like those walk-overs at the 2011 Congressional Open or ’12 PGA. This was a street fight from the moment McIlroy set out just before the dinner hour on the East Coast.

Clinging to a one-stroke lead, McIlroy bogeyed the third hole to drop into a tie with a resurgent Phil Mickelson and someone named Bernd Wiesberger. At the sixth hole he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker to drift two shots off the pace, and as he watched Rickie Fowler roll in a 28-footer for birdie up ahead from the middle of the 10th fairway he was a full three strokes out of the lead.

If his first three major championships were works of art, this one was a muddy brawl pieced together with duct tape and the kind of major moxie that turns good players into great ones.

From 281 yards, McIlroy pulled his second shot at the par-5 10th some 15 yards left and 30 feet below his intended target and could only smile as the ball bounded along the soggy turf to 7 feet.

The eagle putt moved McIlroy to 14 under and within one shot of Fowler.

“That was my lucky break,” McIlroy conceded.

But then luck had nothing to do with the rest of a flawless closing loop.

He birdied No. 13 from 9 feet to tie Fowler and Mickelson at 15 under – the first time in more than three hours he found himself back atop the leaderboard – and pulled away for good at the 17th hole after hitting his approach from a fairway bunker to 10 feet for biride.

It was the kind of gritty performance that had been missing from Rory’s resume, and why the ’14 PGA will likely go down as a crossroads for McIlroy.

“The other three (major victories) we were always in control. We weren’t in control here,” said McIlroy’s caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald. “We’ll remember this one.”

Those who doggedly tried to wrest the Wanamaker Trophy away from the world No. 1 will certainly remember it.

Mickelson made the day’s biggest move, quickly climbing his way out of a three-stroke hole with birdies at Nos. 1, 3, 7 and 9 to turn with a share of the lead.

The same man who told the press last Saturday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational that if he were able to play well it would “be out of nowhere,” held a share of the lead until the 16th hole when he missed the green, hit a heroic chip shot and eventually made a 10-footer for par.

“I know that regardless of how I played this week I’ve got to address some things these next three or four months,” said Mickelson, who finished alone in second place to post his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour this year and secure his place on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. “These next four or five years I really want to make special.”

But it was Fowler who seemed destined to play the role of spoiler throughout the day, beginning his round par-bogey-birdie-birdie to tie for the lead and chipping in on the fifth to pull clear of the field.

But a bogey at the 14th hole dropped him one shot behind McIlroy and he failed to birdie the 18th hole, finishing tied for third place after a closing 68 to become just the third player to claim the Top-5 Slam. He joined Woods and Nicklaus as the only players to finish inside the top 5 in all four majors in a single season.

That, however, was little consolation.

“Right now it’s just the sting,” Fowler said. “I really felt like I could win this one. I was disappointed to come up short, but to look back on the full year and all four majors, definitely something to be proud of.”

Stenson, who tied for third with Fowler, took a similar approach to the week despite an unfortunate break at the 18th hole. Two shots back with one hole to play, the Swede’s drive found the fairway along with a large piece of mud. Predictably, his second shot at the par 5 sailed wildly into the gallery left of the green.

It was a common theme at the Mud Ball Open.

There’s nothing wrong with Valhalla as a major championship venue that an industrial-sized squeegee can’t fix. The realities of an outdoor game aside, the PGA of America’s fascination with the Nicklaus design is curious for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the association’s aversion to playing lift, clean and place despite a forecast that was on the biblical side of bad for most of the week.

The decision to play the ball “down” was even more questionable considering the PGA had no problem at the 2004 Senior PGA, which was also played at Valhalla, playing preferred lies.

In six of the last 11 championship rounds at Valhalla – counting the ’04 Senior PGA, ’08 Ryder Cup and this week’s PGA – inclement weather has impacted play.

But then Valhalla’s sloppy status did nothing to diminish the shine on McIlroy’s accomplishment. This, his fourth major in his last 14 Grand Slam starts, was different. This was better because he had to fight for it.

“It is the most satisfying,” McIlroy admitted. “To win it in this fashion and this style, it means a lot. It means that I can do it. I know that I can come from behind. I know that I can mix it up with the best players in the world down the stretch in a major and come out on top.”

He also knows what is next - Augusta National and the career Grand Slam. “Two hundred and (forty-two days until the 2015 Masters) ... not that I’m counting,” he smiled.

No, but the rest of us will be.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.