McIlroy ready for history's spotlight at Masters

By Rex HoggardApril 6, 2015, 11:30 am

Rory McIlroy knew it the moment he calmly two-putted for par at the final hole last July to etch his name into the claret jug. He knew it when he began his PGA Tour season in February at the Honda Classic. And he’ll certainly know it when he motors down Magnolia Lane this week.

He knew the history, he knew the pressure and, most importantly, the world No. 1 knew he had to embrace all the hyperbole and hysterics that are sure to come with his seventh start at the Masters. At the tender age of 25, McIlroy is poised to become the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam.

Among the Northern Irishman’s vast attributes it’s been his keen sense of historical context that has made the build-up to this week’s start something worth embracing.

“After my previous couple of performances in the majors, I can see why it has got like this,” he conceded earlier this season.

“I mean, I'm going for three majors in a row, going for my first Masters. If I win Augusta, I have the chance to hold all four at one point. There’s a lot of storylines.”



And, of course, there is that career Grand Slam, which – at least in many of his frat brothers' minds is the accomplishment that defies definition.

Ask a Tour player to rank the significance of McIlroy’s career Grand Slam potential and it’s almost always followed by a lifeline. How many players have done it?

Five.

“Well, there you go. A lot of people played golf over the years,” Lee Westwood said. “It’s really special. I would imagine he is one of the youngest to do it.”

If McIlroy is able to add a green jacket to his legacy this week he will become the second-youngest to secure all four majors, behind Tiger Woods, who was 24 when he won the 2000 Open Championship.

Jack Nicklaus was 26 when he wrapped up the career Grand Slam, Gary Player 29, Ben Hogan 40 and Gene Sarazen 33 and the only one of the five to complete the slam at the Masters, which he won in 1935.

In the hierarchy of accomplishments – Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, Woods’ “Tiger Slam,” Byron Nelson’s 11 consecutive PGA Tour victories – the career Grand Slam stands apart, at least to McIlroy’s contemporaries.

“You want to talk about the ones that are feasible? The Tiger Slam, winning four in a row, I don’t see that happening. I don’t see winning 18 [majors] happening,” Brandt Snedeker said. “So I think the most feasible and realistic one is the career Grand Slam.

“It shows your game can travel, just because it shows you can play in any kind of conditions, any kind of weather, any course and you are the best at what you do.”


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It’s a legacy McIlroy has embraced, dreamed about, actually, since he was 7 years old. The idea of the career Grand Slam became a very real item on his lofty “to do” list when he held off Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler last year at Royal Liverpool to secure the third leg of the lifetime impregnable quadrilateral, which is what New York Sun writer George Trevor dubbed the feat when Bobby Jones won the single-season Grand Slam in 1930.

“It’s phenomenal, I mean at his age, there are only five guys who have ever done it. To be 25 and going for it speaks to the kind of player he is and what kind of game he has,” Snedeker said. “If he doesn’t win this year he’s going to win soon. I cannot see him not winning a career Grand Slam just because of the kind of game he has.”

Whether it’s a vehicle to direct the pressure elsewhere or a nod to the obvious, many contend that even if McIlroy doesn’t complete the career Grand Slam this week he will have plenty of opportunities.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if he does it at some point, but to me it’s just a matter of time,” said Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion. “At this point, why should there be any pressure? He’s 25, he has so much time to try and get it. He’s already done a lot. I’d think it would be motivation, not pressure.”

Even McIlroy has embraced this theory. “This isn't going to be the only Masters I play in for the rest of my career,” he said.

That reasoning, however, provides only so much cover from the spotlight. As hallowed as the list of players who have won the career Grand Slam is, it’s equally eye opening to study the roll call of players who fell one major short of the accomplishment.

Phil Mickelson is still a U.S. Open shy, Arnold Palmer never won a PGA Championship, and of Sam Snead’s 82 PGA Tour titles he never hoisted the U.S. Open trophy.

Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Walter Hagen, Raymond Floyd, Nelson and Tommy Armour all failed to secure the fourth and final leg of the career Grand Slam.

“I think we are going to get a great understanding of Rory by the way he handles this,” Butch Harmon said. “We all expect him to have the chance. That’s easy to say and hard to do, but I sure expect him to be there with a chance.”

That McIlroy’s “one more” is at Augusta National also has a good news/bad news element. This is, after all, the same tournament he led by four strokes after 54 holes in 2011 only to finish tied for 15th place.

On a course most observers say is perfectly suited for his power game, McIlroy has been sensational (opening 65 in 2011) and shocking (closing 80 in 2011). The year’s first major has been equal parts feast and famine for McIlory, who has carded more rounds over 75 (six) then he has in the 60s (five).

Ernie Els can empathize with McIlroy’s plight. At 25 years old, Els had won the 1994 U.S. Open and took a three-stroke lead into the final round of the ’95 PGA Championship.

“I blew that. That’s still one I’m looking for and obviously at the Masters I had a couple of chances,” Els said. “I don’t think there are many guys that think that way. Maybe 10 in a cycle that can think that way. He’s obviously one of them.”

With the weight of that reality perched on broad shoulders that graced the cover of Men’s Health magazine this month, McIlroy sets off in search of history. But then, he’s known this moment was coming for months.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."