McIlroy's surge keeps him near lead

By Rex HoggardSeptember 12, 2014, 7:40 pm

ATLANTA – The storm that sent officials at the Tour Championship scrambling on Friday never materialized, but another tempest emerged for the other two dozen or so players looking to close out the season with a victory.

After opening with what he figured was a pedestrian 69 on Thursday at East Lake, Rory McIlroy did what Rory McIlroy does on Day 2 – rolling in four birdie putts from inside 11 feet, overpowering a soft golf course with towering drives and even making par from a spectator’s pocket on his way to one of the easiest 65s this side of the Humana Challenge.

When the round was completed well before happy hour on the East Coast, the world No. 1 had jumped nine spots up on a crowded leaderboard and into a tie for second place, just two strokes behind the prince of these playoffs, Billy Horschel.

Perhaps it doesn’t hold the cachet of the claret jug or the historical significance of a Masters green jacket, which would complete the career Grand Slam for the 25-year-old, but the FedEx Cup playoffs have a compelling hold on McIlroy.


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Two years ago the Northern Irishman began the Tour Championship atop the points list after a dominant run that included victories at two of the first three post-season stops only to watch the $10 million payday go to Brandt Snedeker in what can only be considered the game’s most expensive pencil whipping.

McIlroy has no problem with the often-skewed math that determines the yearlong champion, but he does have a score to settle.

“It would be the icing on the cake, really,” McIlroy said. “Before coming into these FedEx Cup playoffs, having won four times in a season, two majors, a World Golf Championship, the flagship event on the European Tour, it was going to be a great season anyway, I wanted to cap it off in style and I've given myself a chance to do that over the next two days.”

Although the math becomes a little complicated depending on the scenarios, the only outcome McIlroy is interested in is winning because at fourth on the playoff point list that would assure him the FedEx Cup regardless of what Horschel & Co. pull off.

And on Friday he moved to within 36 holes of the only prize in golf other than that green jacket that has eluded him with a dominant performance that is becoming far too familiar for some of his Tour frat brothers.

Although comparisons to Tiger Woods remain unrealistic, McIlroy’s name on a weekend leaderboard is starting to draw players’ attention the way the guy in the red shirt used to.

“Rory is a good front-runner and he is tough to catch when he is up. I look forward to the challenge,” said Rickie Fowler, who went head-to-head with McIlroy on Sunday at Royal Liverpool. “This summer he’s made his presence known a bit more.”

After turning in 2 under on Friday, three hours earlier than originally scheduled because officials moved up tee times in hopes of avoiding an approaching storm that never arrived, McIlroy pulled to within two shots of the lead with his two longest birdie putts of the day at Nos. 17 and 18.

Although he remains two shots off the lead, McIlroy has, as he has done all season, maintained a machine-like consistency according to every statistical matrix. He’s fourth this week in driving distance, first in approach shot distance to the pin, third in strokes gained-putting and first in distance of putts made.

It was the driver, however, that set up all those short approach shots and continues to separate him from the rest of the pack.

“I’m not quite as good as I was about a month ago, but I'm still driving the ball well,” McIlroy said. “I wouldn't say I'm driving it as good as I was driving it (at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) and PGA (he won both). But I'm still driving it good enough to give myself a chance to win this tournament.”

Even when he wasn’t perfect, like at the par-4 14th hole when his drive clipped a tree limb and ended up in a spectator’s pocket, he still managed to sidestep trouble and make par.

But then he’s used to the occasional wayward tee ball.

“I hit it off someone's leg at the Scottish Open this year,” smiled McIlroy. “I need to stop hitting it off line. Bad things happen.”

The way he is playing the 28 other players in this week’s field may be hoping for a few more adventures, say a few foul balls in the direction of Buckhead, to even the playing field because they’ve all seen these storm clouds before.

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

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

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.