McIlroy six clear, one round away from major No. 3

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2014, 5:01 pm

HOYLAKE, England – A historic Saturday at the Open Championship – the byproduct of a surprising, perhaps even questionable, break with 143 years of tradition by the R&A – quickly gave way to what seems destined to be another final-round formality for Rory McIlroy.

If his first two major victories, boat-race affairs that he won by a combined 16 strokes, were coronations, it will take a collapse to make Sunday anything more compelling than a stroll.

In less time than it took the English meteorologist to rectify the Day 3 forecast at Hoylake, which prompted officials to use a two-tee start for the first time in the championship’s long history, the Northern Irishman went from being tied for the lead alongside a charging Rickie Fowler to six strokes clear.

Things don’t swing that fast in Las Vegas.

Whatever glimmer of hope Fowler & Co. enjoyed on a gloomy afternoon along the Dee Estuary was quickly washed away with two eagles over McIlroy’s final three holes for a third-round 68.

Officials don’t start engraving the claret jug on Saturdays, but they could be safe to start with an “R” considering that the 143rd Open appears destined to be a two-man race, and that’s only if McIroy cooperates.

Rory v. Rickie, Rickie v. Rory – as enticing as a bona fide clash of 20-somethings on the game’s grandest stage may sound, it may be wishful thinking after McIlroy slipped on the red cape on his closing turn.

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But that didn’t stop Fowler from saying the right things.

“If I can go out and learn from what I did there at the U.S. Open and try and get off to a bit of a better start, maybe I'm able to put a bit of pressure on Rory, and maybe we can get into a fun little match come the back nine,” said Fowler, who also set out on Sunday at last month’s U.S. Open in the final two-ball some five strokes behind Martin Kaymer.

Fowler’s fortunes seemed much brighter just an hour earlier, when he tied McIlroy through 12 holes at 12 under before playing his last six holes in 2 over par for a third-round 68 and 10-under total.

It also didn’t help that McIlroy’s killer instincts kicked in.

From 252 yards McIlroy drilled a 4-iron to 25 feet at the par-5 16th hole and rolled in the eagle putt. Two holes later he hoisted a 5-iron into the grey skies from 239 yards to 10 feet to ignite the partisan crowds with another eagle.

In pure Darwinian terms this is simple for McIlroy, “Six shots is better than five, seven is better than six, eight is better than seven,” he said.

Or, put another way, no player has ever given up more than a five-stroke lead at the Open Championship and McIlroy – who has now completed the 54-hole Grand Slam, having led through three rounds at all four majors – has proven himself adept at playing from the front. He converted an eight-shot lead to win the 2011 U.S. Open and a three-stroke advantage at the 2012 PGA Championship.

“I’m very confident and it helps that I’ve been in this position before,” an understated McIlroy explained.

But then he’s also been on the other side of that fine Sunday line. McIlroy was four clear through 54 holes at the 2011 Masters and officials at Augusta National are still looking for the ball he airmailed into the cabins left of the 10th fairway on his way to a closing 80.

“Anything can happen on a links golf course,” reasoned Tom Watson.

And Old Tom would know. Watson endured a late heartbreak in 2009 at Turnberry, but for that to happen on Sunday McIlroy will have to be in a giving mood.

It also helps that Fowler enjoys a surprising advantage in head-to-head duels with the McIlroy.

At the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal Country Down in Northern Ireland, Fowler beat McIlroy in a Sunday four-ball match and in 2010 the American was named the Tour’s Rookie of the Year over McIlroy in a curious vote considering the tandem’s record in 2010.

Two years later Fowler clipped McIlroy again at the Wells Fargo Championship, closing with a 69 and beating the Ulsterman in a playoff.

There’s also no shortage of would-be challengers aligned behind McIlroy. Sergio Garcia (9 under), who bogeyed the 17th hole on Day 3 to slip out of second place, will again try to end his major drought, as will Dustin Johnson, whose title hopes were likely derailed by three consecutive bogeys before the turn on Saturday.

Even Victor Dubuisson, the first Frenchman since Jean Van de Velde famously waded into the burn at the 1999 championship, joined the pool party thanks to a third-round 68 to move to 8 under.

All those wishful scenarios, however, seem destined to take a back seat on Sunday at Royal Pooling Water when McIlroy sets out in pursuit of the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

“If everything goes the right way tomorrow to get three-quarters of the way there is some achievement by the age of 25,” McIlroy allowed. “I'd be in pretty illustrious company. So not getting ahead of ourselves, here, but yeah, it would mean an awful lot.”

No, it would be historic.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 1:00 pm

He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.

Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.

Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.

Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.

Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.

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Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open

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Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 12:30 pm
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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.