McIlroy leaves another Tour field in his dust

By Rex HoggardMay 18, 2015, 12:07 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – You know how American Pharoah lapped the field on Saturday at the Preakness by seven lengths? Yeah, this was better than that.

While Rory McIlroy wasn’t vying for the second leg of the Triple Crown – or even the fourth leg of the career Grand Slam, that will have to wait until next April – his seven-stroke masterpiece was still an ominous work of art.

With apologies to American Pharoah, the 3-year-old only had to navigate a sloppy Pimlico track for his title; whereas McIlroy had to weather four trips through Quail Hollow Club’s demanding “Green Mile,” which the world No. 1 played in 1 over for the week.

But that doesn’t scratch the surface of McIlroy’s performance at Quail Hollow.

His Saturday 61 was a course record, breaking the old mark he set when he won here in 2010, and he etched 54- and 72-hole scoring records, shattering the latter by six strokes.

It was, by any measure, a signature performance somewhere just south of those eight-stroke romps at the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship.

Not that the Northern Irishman was exactly caught up in the hyperbole following a closing-round 69 that was, by McIlroy’s own assessment, good enough.


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“Sort of boring, really,” he said of his 11th PGA Tour victory. “In terms of there wasn’t as much excitement on the back nine. I finished with six 3s the last time I won here. Would have been nice to finish with six 3s again.”

It’s always more with this kid.

But what this victory lacked in fireworks it made up for in foreshadowing, with McIlroy comparing his current run, which includes May victories at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play and now the Wells Fargo Championship, to his late-summer tear in 2014 when he won bookend majors (Open Championship and PGA Championship) around a World Golf Championships high card (Bridgestone Invitational).

For others, it was more akin to his PGA walk-off in 2012 at Kiawah Island where he overpowered the course and all takers.

“He just has that killer instinct. He wants it so badly,” said David Feherty, the CBS Sports on-course reporter who walked with McIlroy in ’12 at the PGA and on Sunday at Quail Hollow. “There weren’t two of those on Noah’s Ark, I can tell you that much.”

There was a time when some openly asked if McIlroy was mean enough to win events with such cutthroat efficiency, a time when his periodic competitive lapses (see PGA Tour season, 2013) were grounds to question any comparisons to Tiger Woods.

But with each passing milestone those excuses begin looking thinner than Quail Hollow’s parched fairways.

In the last three weeks, McIlroy has played 265 competitive holes on Tour with progressively better results.

Although he said on Sunday it’s his complete game that makes performances like this week possible, what separates him from the pack on these occasions is an utter fearlessness off the tee. For the week, he had 42 drives of 300 yards or more and yet still batted well over .500 (31 of 56) in fairways hit.

There were cracks on Sunday, most notably a three-putt bogey from 56 feet at the second hole which was his first three-putt in 167 holes on Tour, and as he stepped to the 16th tee to begin the “Green Mile” he took a mental note that he was just four strokes clear of Patrick Rodgers at the time.

But a 364-yard drive and tap-in birdie at No. 16 quickly robbed the landscape of whatever drama was remaining.

Beginning the day, McIlroy’s plan was simple – birdie the four par 5s and two “reachable” par 4s. Six birdies, he reasoned, would be hard to beat considering the field had already spotted him a four-stroke advantage heading into the final turn.

But then simple is what an older, wiser McIlroy seems to do best. Like last year at Hoylake, when his trigger words for the week were “process” and “spot.”

This week it was an 11th-hour meeting with putting coach Dave Stockton Sr., who spent all of three minutes working with McIlroy on Wednesday. This time the message was stay down and with the putt through impact.

“Rory likes to keep things simple, like last year at the Open Championship, and that’s what we did,” said Stockton Sr., who reconnected with McIlroy after a 13-month hiatus.

Perhaps most impressive of all, however, is how much the 26-year-old relishes his status atop the pack.

Following his WGC-Match Play victory he acknowledged that he checks the Official World Golf Ranking to see his lead every Monday. High-profile victories in recent weeks by Jordan Spieth (Masters) and Rickie Fowler (The Players) have only intensified McIlroy’s desire to dominate.

“It does push me. I think you see guys that you knew well, guys that are your peers and they’re winning golf tournaments, big golf tournaments, that you want to win,” McIlroy said. “I felt like as the best player in the world I want to go at it every week and just show that.”

Whether by seven lengths or seven strokes, McIlroy’s play this week was more than just a single victory, it’s a sign of what’s becoming the norm for golf’s fiercest racehorse.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.