McIlroy reverses fortune with 66 at The Players

By Rex HoggardMay 9, 2013, 7:43 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – From lowered expectations come unexpected results.

While it’s hard to imagine the world’s second-ranked player beginning any week on the PGA Tour with a “nothing to lose” mentality, Rory McIlroy’s record at TPC Sawgrass speaks for itself.

In three trips to the Tour’s flagship stop, the Ulsterman had never broken par, never made a cut and never sniffed a leaderboard, which might explain why he happily skipped the so-called fifth major in 2011.

As McIlroy’s Northern Irish stable mate Graeme McDowell figured on Wednesday, sometimes love for a golf course can be unrequited.

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Early Thursday, McIlroy set out for this week’s Players Championship grouped with the newest member of the Grand Slam club, Adam Scott, who was a tad gutted when the announcer didn’t introduce him as the 2013 Masters champion.

“I think (the announcer) said, ‘The 2004 Players champion,’ which is good,” McIlroy recalled. “For me at least he didn’t say, ‘Now on the tee, Rory McIlroy, who has missed three cuts at The Players.’”

So forgive McIlroy, the young man who has won two majors by a total of 16 strokes and has slowly played his way back into form following a sluggish start to the season, if he arrived at TPC Heartbreak with a distinct devil-may-care attitude. And don’t be surprised when that indifference leads to something entirely unexpected.

On a perfect day for scoring, McIlroy joined a collective birdie barrage by going 2 under through his first three holes and turning at 5 under. His opening 66 left him tied for second place and three strokes behind surprise early leader Roberto Castro.

“I feel a lot more relaxed coming into this year,” McIlroy said. “Whatever I do this week it will be better than what I’ve done before.”

But then McIlroy’s quick start at The Players goes well beyond lowered expectations. After going 0-for-3 on the quirky north Florida layout, he also changed his strategy to a more measured approach for this year’s edition.

For the record, McIlroy didn’t hit a single driver on the front nine and teed off with the big stick just three times (at Nos. 11, 14 and 16) on Day 1.

“I’m figuring out how to play Pete Dye golf courses,” said McIlroy, who actually has won Tour events on Dye-designed courses (2012 PGA at Kiawah Island and 2012 BMW at Crooked Stick). “There’s no point in hitting driver off the two par 5s on the front. I can hit 3-wood at No. 2 and still reach the green (in two shots). This golf course is about keeping your ball in play.”

There’s also something to be said for keeping your ball below the hole to allow for more aggressive putts, an option McIlroy, or anyone else for that matter, didn’t have on last week’s much-maligned putting surfaces at Quail Hollow Club.

Although he tied for 10th at the Wells Fargo Championship, McIlroy ranked 68th in the field in putting and had just two one-putts on his closing nine in Charlotte, N.C.

McIlroy also finally succumbed to a putter change that his short game coach Dave Stockton Sr. had been pushing for some time. On Tuesday, Dave Stockton Jr. delivered an identical Nike Golf Method putter to McIlroy that he’d been using. The only difference was about 1 ½ degrees of additional loft.

“With the forward press I knew he could do it. There is no mechanical change needed. I want the fastest roll possible,” Stockton Sr. said. “I told his caddie it was coming in Charlotte, ‘I want him to try this before he gets too late in the year.’ (McIlroy) texted me last night and said how it felt really, really good.”

The result was a 27-putt performance that may seem statistically nominal, but is a monumental improvement for a player who hits as many greens in regulation as the world No. 2 does (he hit 15 of 18 Thursday).

For the day, McIlroy made just one putt over 5 feet – a 14-footer for birdie at the 16th hole – but was a perfect three-for-three from 4 to 8 feet. By comparison, he converted just 10 out of 22 attempts from the same distance for the week at Quail Hollow.

Call it the “Three Little Bears” syndrome for McIlroy this week. The new putter Stockton had made is McIlroy’s third this season, the first was a tad too heavy, the second didn’t have quite enough loft, and the third seems just right, at least through 18 holes.

“I would be really confident in his ability to make the short ones with more loft,” Stockton said. “I told him two things, ‘You have enough loft and you are on really good greens. You are going to be shocked with what you are going to do.’”

 If Thursday’s 66 wasn’t shocking, it was at least unexpected considering his Sawgrass scorecard. It’s a change of fortune that didn’t escape McIlroy following what was, for him, a historic day regardless of where he ended up on the leaderboard.

“It’s my first under-par round here on this golf course,” he smiled. “I’ll take whatever I can get.”

Maybe McIlroy didn’t solve the Dye dilemma on Thursday, but at least he’s beginning to understand what the question is on the Stadium Course.

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Angela hits Sergio in stride on field at Superdome

By Grill Room TeamDecember 18, 2017, 3:22 pm

Sergio and Angela Garcia's super 2017 keeps getting more ... Super ... Dome. (+1 awful blog lede.)

The couple started the year with Sergio's win at the Masters, then embarked on a whirlwind green jacket media tour, then kicked off El Clasico, then attended Wimbledon, then got married, then announced they were expecting their first child ...

2017 Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

And now, they're throwing each other passes on the New Orleans Saints' home turf at the Superdome.

Man, it must be so cool do that at the Silverdome. ... ... ... I'm sorry, it is the Superdome, brothers.

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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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.