McIlroy shaking things up in pursuit of last leg of Slam

By Ryan LavnerApril 5, 2016, 9:45 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Rory McIlroy may have discovered the reason why he doesn’t yet have a green jacket, why he remains one leg shy of the career Grand Slam, why each year he leaves Augusta National – a course that so perfectly suits his game – scratching his head.

Because he needs to relax.

That’s not a word often associated with the Masters, but McIlroy sounded Tuesday like a man who is still trying to strike a balance between being prepared and being loose for his shot at history.

And so he is shaking things up this year at the Masters.

Just about everything, it seems.

He switched to a cross-handed putting grip last month.

He didn’t make a single scouting trip to Augusta in advance of the tournament.

He is using only one ball in practice rounds, instead of hitting multiple shots from the tee boxes, fairways and closely mown areas around the green.

Heck, he is even skipping the Par-3 Contest, out of superstition.

“I really feel like I play my best golf when I’m more relaxed, when I’m having fun out there and I’m not overdoing it or not overthinking it,” McIlroy said. “It’s a very special event, and obviously it’s different in its own way, but I don’t want to treat it any differently.”

But it’s not that simple. The Masters will always be the event on his calendar that is circled – it’s the only piece remaining for him to become just the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy’s wholesale changes are the product of what transpired last spring, when he arrived at Augusta with so much hype and hoopla following his banner year in 2014. Sure, he finished fourth last year, his best result in seven tries, but he got lapped by Jordan Spieth after going 3 over for his first 27 holes.


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“I think part of that,” McIlroy said, “was having so much expectation and thinking of the Grand Slam and thinking of the Masters and thinking of all this where I needed to just take a step back and relax and go out and try and play my own game.”

That part creates pressure, too. He possesses an explosive game that many expect will produce multiple Masters victories. He can hit the ball high. He can land the ball softly. He has a good touch around the greens.

“He can emasculate a golf course,” Tom Watson said.

“You would think this was a golf course that I can definitely win on,” McIlroy said. “I know that. I just haven’t quite been able to get myself over the hurdle.

“Am I surprised that this is the last one left? Probably, yeah.”

So why hasn’t it happened?

The danger at the Masters, more so than any other tournament, is to over-prepare, to try every possible shot, lie and angle, to line up practice rounds with veterans and to ask too many questions. McIlroy played too tentatively his first few years, his focus more on where to avoid than where to aim. The information overload also conflicted with his carefree attitude on the course when he’s in top form.

Phil Mickelson, who didn’t break through at Augusta until his 12th attempt, said the temptation for players is to focus too much on the course and not enough on their own game.

“It’s much better to be ready with your game,” Mickelson said, “because you’ve got to execute no matter how well you know the golf course.”

Which is why to play his best, McIlroy says it’s imperative that he backs off, that he doesn’t overthink, that he doesn’t try too hard.

After heading to Augusta early each year to reacquaint himself with the course, he didn’t play his first round here this year until Monday, when he set up a match with Chris Wood. On Tuesday, he played a game with Andy Sullivan, Jamie Donaldson and Bernd Wiesberger, and he used only one ball, even if it meant hitting out of pine straw or a fairway bunker.

“I’m just trying to play it more like it is a tournament round,” he said.

With so much pressure to complete the Slam, it would seem that McIlroy’s appearance at the Par-3 Contest would be a welcome reprieve, a chance to have a few laughs and fun before the most famous golf tournament on the most stressful course in the world commences.

But McIlroy has switched up his routine for that, too, saying that he wanted to “get away from the spotlight a little bit.”

That’s understandable, of course, but McIlroy also has the last tee time Thursday (2:01 p.m. ET). He’ll have to wait 24 hours after his last practice round to tee it up in the tournament proper, which is plenty of time to, well, sit around and think about the Slam and the Masters and that elusive green jacket.

“I feel like I’ve got everything I need to become a Masters champion,” he said, “but I think each and every year that passes that I don’t, it will become increasingly more difficult.”

Especially if he makes all of these changes and winds up with the same disappointing outcome.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.