McIlroy back in contention after birdie-birdie finish

By Ryan LavnerAugust 10, 2013, 10:18 pm

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – There have been precious few moments of elation this season for Rory McIlroy.

The closing 65 at Doral, and the Sunday 66 in San Antonio, and the opening 66 at The Players, and then there was …

Well, yeah, that might be it.

Like we said, precious few.

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Saturday at Oak Hill offered another of those rousing moments, and his third-round 67 here positioned him to make an improbable run at his third major title.

First, he drained a 45-footer for birdie on 17. Then, after sending his tee shot into the left trees, near a garbage bin, he roped a 4-iron under a tree and over the green, only to chip it in for a most unlikely – and very significant – 3-3 finish.

When his third shot tumbled into the cup, he squatted, punched the air and roared. After plucking his ball out of the hole, he flung it into the grandstands while the fans screamed, “Ror-ee! Ror-ee!” Of all the images of McIlroy this season – the slumped shoulders, the Honda walk-off, the bent club – this, too, belongs in the highlight reel.

Chin up, shoulders back, the beleaguered world No. 3 strutted all the way to the clubhouse.

“It was good to feel the sort of rush again,” he said afterward.

Oak Hill may still be soft and receptive, but it has grown increasingly difficult because of tucked hole locations and swirling winds. McIlroy figures he gained at least three shots on the field with his birdie-birdie finish, and his 3-under 207 has him in contention heading into the final day.

It’s worth noting, of course, that there was a time Friday when McIlroy didn’t even look like he would even still be in the tournament. Playing in a downpour, he was 5 over for the round and outside the projected cut line. But he buckled down and reeled off four birdies in a six-hole stretch, salvaging a 71 and ensuring that he’d at least stick around for the weekend.

“It makes me feel good,” he said Friday, “because maybe in the middle of the season or a couple of months ago I wouldn’t have been standing here. I would have been going home. It’s good to be able to do that and fight back, and it makes you feel good about yourself.”

Everyone expected Oak Hill to punch back at some point; after all, in five previous majors contested here, only 10 players have finished under par after 72 holes. So it was Saturday that the hole locations were cut near the edges, the fairways were finally running out, and the greens were picking up pace.

Nevertheless, McIlroy’s goal was twin 65s on the weekend, and for the first time in months he possessed the self-belief that he would pull it off.

And why not?

Each time he thinks he’s too far behind, McIlroy dives into his memory bank and recalls his incredible finish at Quail Hollow just three years ago: from making the cut on the number (and being nine shots behind) to winning by four, the result of a 66-62 weekend.

Sure, that was a long time ago, before he won two majors, or began dating a tennis superstar, or signed a mega-deal with Nike.

But that aggressive, go-low mentality is as Rory McIlroy as his curly brown hair and Irish lilt.

Hitting the necessary shots has proved a far more elusive task this season, however, while he’s breaking in 14 new clubs and grappling with the newfound expectations that come from being No. 1 at age 23 and winning a pair of majors by eight shots apiece.

It’s why, in the run-up to this PGA, he studied clips from last year’s romp at Kiawah Island, when he made winning look so effortless.

“More than anything,” he said, “it was to remind you how good you can be.”

Saturday’sround offered still another reminder that he’s close to regaining that winning form.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.