Even without his best, Rory leads at Valhalla

By Ryan LavnerAugust 10, 2014, 1:20 am

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – One of those big, high, soaring drives, this was not. Rory McIlroy’s tee shot on the 292-yard fourth hole Saturday was yanked low and left, 50 yards from its intended target. The ball careened past unsuspecting gallery members and into Floyds Fork.

McIlroy returned the brand-new 3-wood to his bag, mouth agape and eyes wide, a look that screamed: What the hell was that?

Yep, the prettiest swinger in golf had to get a little dirty in the third round of this PGA Championship, and it had little to do with his sloshing through the muddy walkways at Valhalla.

There was the all-world par save on 4. The gutsy flop shot on 9. The blind pitch on 11. The slippery bunker shot on 14.

All of that in a three-hour span, and yet McIlroy lost the outright lead for only about 10 seconds – or as long as it takes to type “Bernd Wiesberger”.

Three birdies in his last four holes – a finishing kick reminiscent of his third round at Hoylake – sent McIlroy to 13-under 200 and gave him a one-shot lead over the relative unknown from Austria.

Boy Wonder’s first three major titles were formalities. Not this time.

To prevail here, McIlroy will need more of the doggedness that he displayed Saturday, when he arrived with less than his best stuff, withstood challenges from his A-list pursuers and still nosed ahead for a one-shot cushion through 54 holes.

“A 67 that way is more pleasing than a 67 hitting every green and feeling like you’ve missed every putt,” he said.

Appearing on center stage for nearly an entire month can take its toll.

Mentally, a player deals with the constant pressure to perform, the feeling of being targeted, the therapy sessions each night in the press room.

Physically, it’s more than just a sustained run of excellence. Being in this position also throws off the everyday routine, with the agonizing waits until 3 p.m. and late evenings with all of the post-round responsibilities.

The 25-year-old McIlroy shows no signs of mental fatigue, and the proof is in his scorecard. Though not blemish-free, it is without compounded mistakes.

“I’ve got one more day,” he said. “I’ve got one more day to give it everything I have.”

For years, Tiger Woods’ competition would crumble in his presence, an entire generation demoralized by his dominance.

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McIlroy’s intimidation is more visual than physical. Drives that fly 330, short irons that cover the flag, putts that repeatedly tumble into the cup – how can you top that?

With each passing hole, he applies pressure on his opponents – the pressure to go low on a championship course. Mistake-free golf is rare enough. Try playing it on a major Sunday, with everything at stake.  

“It gets tougher for the leaders on the last day usually,” Steve Stricker said. “But we’ve got some guys that are immune to that at times, like Rory.”  

“He’s not going to back up,” Rickie Fowler said. “If someone is going to beat him, they’re going to earn it.”

Just once in his career has McIlroy played prevent defense, and he vowed never to do so again. It was the final round of the 2011 Masters, where a four-shot cushion vanished during a final-round 80.

“I don’t think you can protect a lead,” he said.

He didn’t play defensively Saturday, but there still was no separation.

Forget what the scorecard said: Par in the third round was 69, not 71. After more than an inch of rain, Valhalla’s already generous fairways played even wider, and the greens reacted like a dartboard. Nearly every player was taking it deep, yet McIlroy stood on the 15th tee just 1 under for the day.

That changed in a hurry: He unleashed a 300-yard drive, knocked a 9-iron to 20 feet and buried the putt. Birdie.

At 16, he summoned “two of the best shots I hit all day” – a 337-yard rocket, then a 171-yard 9-iron to 2 feet. Birdie.

And on the par-5 finisher, after a thin 5-iron came up short in the bunker, he splashed out and rimmed in an 8-foot birdie putt to eke ahead of Wiesberger (65).

Seven of his drives traveled over 300 yards (an impressive feat, given the hit-and-stop conditions). Seven approaches were stuffed inside 20 feet. And McIlroy one-putted nine of his last 12 greens, taking only 25 total for the round.

As Martin Kaymer marveled Friday, “There’s nothing wrong with his game.”

“I feel like I’m really confident right now no matter who is on that leaderboard,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I have a pretty good chance of beating them.”

Even if it means getting a little dirty.  

Rose (65) leads Rahm, Frittelli in Dubai

By Associated PressNovember 18, 2017, 3:24 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Justin Rose shot a 7-under 65 Saturday to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship.

The 37-year-old Rose made a gutsy par save on the final hole after a bogey-free round for an overall 15-under 201. The Englishman leads South African Dylan Frittelli, who produced the day's best score of 63, and Spain's Jon Rahm, who played in the same group as Rose and matched his 65.

Rose is chasing his second Race to Dubai title but leading rival Tommy Fleetwood is only two shots behind here after a second straight 65 on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates.

Fleetwood did his chances no harm by overcoming a stuttering start before making eight birdies in his final 11 holes to also post a 65. The 26-year-old Englishman was tied for fourth place at 13 under, alongside South African Dean Burmester (65) and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (67), who closed with five birdies in a row.

U.S. Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit crown, is tied for 13th on 10 under.

Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Rose is hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”