McIlroy hoping to find form at Texas Open

By Ryan LavnerApril 3, 2013, 6:53 pm

SAN ANTONIO – Rory McIlroy will emerge from this early-season swoon eventually, whether it’s here in Texas, next week among the azaleas or sometime this summer. Restraining a kid this talented is akin to tying his wrists together with a single knot. Before long, he will escape and wreak havoc.

But there is a sense of urgency now, a hint of desperation, a constant humming that didn’t exist when he was part of the laser show in Abu Dhabi, or when he was bounced from the Match Play, or when he quit after 26 holes at PGA National. The year’s first major is upon us, and it’s the one McIlroy covets most.

It’s also why he’s here, in the relative pre-Masters calm and quiet of TPC San Antonio, in a field that features only 11 players among the top 50 in the world. To peak for Augusta, it sometimes requires an alternate route.

“I just felt like I needed a bit more competitive golf heading into the Masters,” McIlroy said Wednesday at the Valero Texas Open. “It should be a good week, and a week where I can try to get my game sharp going into Augusta.”

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Last week, he tied for 45th in Houston, 12 strokes behind the winner, but made the cut in a full-field event for the first time this season. That’s progress, however marginal.

Perhaps more important, he announced that he was deviating from his schedule and adding an event. TPC San Antonio bears little resemblance to Augusta National – save for the sloping and (before early-week rain) speedy greens – but McIlroy signed up at the behest of his caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, who told him simply, “If you just play a few more rounds, I think you’re going to be ready.”

His looper was merely the latest observer to offer an opinion on how best for McIlroy to bust out of his months-long slump.

Play more.

Play less.

Stop practicing at muni courses, lest the woes of the average golfer afflict him, too.

Yet here he is, playing the week before a major, on a quirky course, which some contend is a calculated risk. Getting into contention can be taxing, mentally and physical. Confidence can be lost. An injury can occur. But for many, McIlroy included, competitive practice supersedes at-home maintenance. Said Padraig Harrington: “You need to have a (scorecard) in your hand to figure out exactly how things are working in your swing.”

The overarching goal for all good players is to peak for the big events. When McIlroy has peaked at majors, he has shown a penchant for lapping fields, for rewriting history, for stretching the boundaries of what’s possible. In search of the third leg of the career grand slam, McIlroy vows to be ready next week – with his mental approach, with his equipment, with his new standing in the world order, with his under-construction swing. Everything.

Naturally, throughout the course of a season, there will be peaks and valleys, ebbs and flows, good form and poor. It serves as a reminder of how spoiled we were by the greatness of Woods, who once made 142 consecutive cuts over a span of seven years, a record that might never be approached, let alone broken.

In all, Woods has missed only 10 cuts in his career. McIlroy, by way of contrast, already has nine MCs at age 23. The sport’s protagonists are indeed wired differently; they are disparate champions.

“Consistency is highly overrated,” Harrington said. “We all want to be consistent as professional golfers, but generally people that are consistent are mediocre. … You want the exciting peaks, even if that means that there are going to be some frustrating days afterwards. You’re going to be remembered in your career for the high points, not for the mediocre ones.”

For McIlroy, his mediocre play this season unfortunately has coincided with his emergence as a global superstar, the spotlight never brighter. But remember that each of the past three years, he has produced stretches of brilliant golf, only to scuffle for months. He throws haymakers, then retreats.

He won Quail Hollow in 2010 with a closing 62, then didn’t hoist another PGA Tour trophy for more than a year.

He won the U.S. Open by eight strokes, then didn’t finish in the top 25 in each of the next four majors.

He missed four cuts in a five-start stretch in 2012, then won the PGA Championship by a record eight shots before running off three more victories to clinch Player of the Year honors on both sides of the pond.

He throws haymakers, then retreats.

“I don’t care if I miss 10 cuts in a row if I win a major a year,” he said. “I don’t care. What it’s all about is winning the big tournaments.

“When people look back on a person’s career, you don’t say Jack Nicklaus was so consistent. You could say he finished second 19 times in a major. But what you think about is the 18 majors he won. That’s what people remember. People remember the wins. … It’s only a minority that will remember the low points and will get on you for that.”

So as McIlroy tries to emerge from his early-season doldrums, and as we grapple with the concept of an imperfect superstar and world No. 2, the question remains:

When will he land the next haymaker? A kid of his immense talent doesn’t retreat for long, his hands tied only by a single knot.

“All Rory has to worry about is peaking the right weeks,” said Harrington, who then paused to consider the limitless potential.

“Wouldn’t you love to just be patient and wait for those weeks to turn up?”

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”

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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.

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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.

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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).