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.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

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First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.