Rory Off and Running

By Rex HoggardApril 8, 2011, 12:38 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Drought, what drought? So it’s been 12 years since a European slid a pale arm into a green jacket. So the glory days of Faldo and Ballesteros and Woosnam seem like the dark ages.

Drought? Rubbish.

At least that’s the Round 1 quick quote following a good day for the Continent by any measure. Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros lead the European contingent, to say nothing of the entire Masters field, following a pair of feels-like-a-62 65s, followed in short order by the likes of a suddenly resurgent Sergio Garcia and a safely on the ground Ross Fisher.

It is Tour player law that any good round could have been better, but on a clear, cloudless day even McIlroy’s playing partners were feeding the legend: “It could have easily been two or three strokes better,” Jason Day said of McIlroy’s card. “Watching Rory today was special.”

The Masters
Rory McIlroy had seven birdies and no bogeys Thursday. (Getty Images)

Special? Sure. But we’ve seen this before – a first-round 63 at St. Andrews last year followed by a wind-whipped 80 on Day 2. Pubs across Northern Ireland ran dry that night.

McIlroy is a five-tool guy and every bit the world beater we were led to believe he was, but this is just his third Masters. A continent that won nine of 17 Masters starting in 1980 is hungry for green and knows “Rors” may be their best chance to get off the 12-year schnied, but hardly its only option.

As “plan Bs” go Quiros is a keeper, a megawatt smile combined with crazy length and the type of quick wit golf writers dream of, even on deadline. Almost enough to make Spanish standard bearer Seve Ballesteros beam with pride. Almost.

“Seve has the hands of a surgeon,” Quiros laughed. “I have the hands of a bricklayer.”

And the swing speed of a Formula 1 driver. Paired with Gary Woodland, the new face of American power, Quiros bombed with abandon, blasting driver, 8-iron for birdie. It’s the kind of anecdote that gets green jackets looking for new tee boxes.

More subdued but just as intriguing is Fisher, who could not escape the synergy of the week following a 3-under 69.

Fisher, you may recall, set out at Turnberry two years ago deep in the hunt with one eye on the leaderboard and the other on his cell phone. His wife, Joanne, was back home in England expecting the birth of the couple’s first child, which was four days overdue. Fisher made a quadruple bogey-8 at Turnberry’s fifth and tied for 13th but he made it home in time for the birth.

This time Joanne is back home awaiting No. 2 and, so far, Fisher has avoided a snowman.

“Last time, she hung on and I didn’t, so hopefully I can hang on this time,” said Fisher, who was aboard Lee Westwood’s plane late Sunday that was forced to make an emergency landing when the cabin filled with smoke.

And if all else fails, Europe has Garcia. El Nino used to live for this, playing his best golf when the lights were brightest, but that was a nasty breakup and a dark episode ago.

The Spaniard took a sabbatical to clear his head at the end of last year, drove a golf cart at the Ryder Cup, an exhibition he used to own, and has emerged re-energized. His opening 69 at Augusta National follows an eighth-place finish at Bay Hill.

It is, at the least, a good start for Europe. But there is no escaping the math – it’s been 12 years since Jose Maria Olazabal brought home green. They’ve been close, most recently last year when Westwood came within one poor Sunday start of ending the drought.

Sure, the Continent owns the United States in Ryder Cup play having won six of the last eight matches, and laps the yanks in Twitter posts, followers and 140-word creativity, but majors pay the legacy bills and the Masters is the unofficial first major.

Which makes McIlroy’s opening salvo so promising. Seven birdies, just a single putt longer than 20 feet is light duty at Augusta National regardless of conditions.

As work days go this one felt like a half day.

Sure, it’s just his third trip down Magnolia Lane but he’s an old 21 with a golf IQ observers say is off the charts. He knows his potential. More importantly he knows his limitations. “I feel like I have a lot of learning to do,” he reasoned.

Augusta National is an exam with limitless multiple choices. Every swing is a question – miss short right or long left? Take the 20 footer up the hill over the 6 footer down the hill. Go at the pin on No. 12 or the middle of the green?

For those scoring at home, grade McIlroy on a scale.

The kid took his lumps last year at St. Andrews and studied more, rallying to tie for third place, his third T-3 in his last five majors.

“It was a very valuable lesson in my development as a golfer,” he said.

Wednesday night Quiros ran into his European running mate in a local mall tossing around “a rugby ball.” McIlroy, who drew the ire of a local neighbor when he and his mates started an impromptu game of catch in front of their rented house, says he’s getting better with the American football.

Quiros was a bit more critical. “He was terrible,” landing the punch line with impeccable timing. Asked if he gave the “rugby” ball a toss the Spaniard flashed his signature smile, “I’m too fragile to play the rugby.”

Good times for the Continent.

Early Thursday afternoon McIlroy leaned into his approach shot to the final green, a gaze fixed on his face with shades of Faldo. Moments later he was asked his first memory of the Masters growing up in Northern Ireland.

“It was 1996 . . . Faldo,” he smiled widely.

So forgive the Continent for feeling a tad bullish on its title chances this year. As Ben Crenshaw might say, they have a good feeling about this.

Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard 
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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm