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.

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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.