Muddy Merion may be perfect match for McIlroy

By Rex HoggardJune 11, 2013, 9:25 pm

ARDMORE, Pa. – The insult was not intended, yet just as muddy Merion was beginning to dry late Tuesday it took a metaphorical shower.

“The East Coast has been battered these last U.S. Opens I've played, the ones I've played, Bethpage, Congressional, here this week,” Graeme McDowell said on Tuesday. “It is what it is this time of the year in the Northeast. It's tough. I feel for everyone involved this week, volunteers and maintenance staff, the USGA, really.”

Weather sympathy ... from a Northern Irishman. Tough times indeed.

While G-Mac’s take on the torrents that have swamped East Coast Opens in recent years – from the bath that was Bethpage in 2009 to soggy Congressional in 2011 – may be a harsh reality, it is historically accurate and a fact worth digesting as we inch closer to the start of the 113th U.S. Open.

Note to the USGA: if hosting Opens at historical gems like Merion is going to be a competitive imperative may we suggest digging up the East Course and moving it to Southern California.

Soggy conditions will be an occupational hazard this week at Merion, so much so officials may want to consider replacing the iconic wicker baskets used to mark holes to something more apropos, say a squeegee.

Twice on Monday, Merion was closed by storms and more is forecast for Thursday, which will likely narrow the list of potential champions dramatically.

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In 2009 at Bethpage no one was driving the ball better than Lucas Glover – he ranked 13th for the week in fairways hit. Ditto for Rory McIlroy two summers ago at Congressional, where the Ulsterman was 26th in finding fairways.

While Merion is a dramatically different monster, the math remains the same.

For Glover and McIlroy it was a unique combination of power and precision that lifted them to Open glory. It is a game that the world No. 2 is uniquely suited for despite a season that has been defined by a series of peaks and valleys.

“I didn’t really enjoy the Olympic Club last year. I much prefer this sort of golf,” McIlroy said on Tuesday at Merion. “When you hit a shot and it doesn’t bounce one way or the other, when you hit it and it stays where you think it’s going to stay.”

Despite a fitful year, McIlroy still ranks 14th in total driving, a combination of distance and accuracy, and even in his last start, an eventful tie for 57th at the Memorial, he led the field with a 292-yard average.

“I like the way (Congressional) was set up initially,” McDowell said. “Then by the time the rains came down and Rory split the fairway 14 times out of 14, 330 (yards) down the middle and decimated the place, you know, it was never going to really be my kind of U.S. Open.”

And if McIlroy’s recent record doesn’t exactly scream champion-in-waiting, he preceded his tie for 57th at Muirfield Village with a missed cut at the European Tour’s marquee event in England, consider that the two-time major champion has made a career out of lowered expectations.

In the run-up to last year’s walk-off at the PGA Championship, McIlroy had missed a cut (U.S. Open), tied for 60th (British Open) and tied for fifth (WGC-Bridgestone Invitational). And before his Open breakthrough at Congressional he’d missed a cut (Wells Fargo Championship) and finished fifth (Memorial).

“I’m still waiting to see what happened like it did last year at (the Bridgestone),” said Dave Stockton Sr., McIlroy’s putting coach. “When it doesn’t happen I’m surprised.”

There have been distractions this season. The wholesale equipment change to Nike Golf was heavily scrutinized and not as seamless as he would have liked, and swirling rumors that he is primed to make his second management team change in three years has created concern in some corners.

Throughout it all, however, McIlroy has remained consistently upbeat and somewhat immune to the slings and arrows of Monday morning quarterbacking.

“There’s always going to be a little bit of a transition period switching over (to Nike equipment),” he said. “I would rather do it right away than sort of let it linger for any period of time. I would rather do it in the first two or three months of the year and get it over and done with.”

If that doesn’t exactly sound like the ramblings of your average 24-year-old, McIlroy’s golf IQ has always defied the typical learning curve.

Where others see lost opportunities, McIlroy has embraced the inevitable ebb and flow of a prolonged competitive career. Where the status quo sees a golf course that on the scorecard (6,996 yards) would appear to be a square peg for the Northern Irishman’s round-peg game, McIlroy sees soggy similarities with Congressional, where he won the Open by eight strokes.

Where some have seen failure, McIlroy’s judge of progress has been much more nuanced.

“You never lean a whole lot when you win, it’s the hard weeks that really teach you something,” Stockton said.

And as the golf world learned in 2009 and ’11, wet U.S. Opens are won by great drivers, which may make muddy Merion and McIlroy a perfect fit.

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

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“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time.