McIlroy teases field, then pulls away at the British

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2014, 5:14 pm

HOYLAKE, England – They’ve already trashed tradition once this week, so what’s another?

On Sunday, they might as well swap out the Open’s traditional yellow flags for something, say, white.

This thing is over.

Rory McIlroy made sure of that Saturday, slamming the door with two macho eagles in the last three holes for a 4-under 68 in conditions that were far better than anticipated at Royal Liverpool. At 16-under 200, Boy Wonder is six shots clear of Rickie Fowler (68) and seven ahead of Sergio Garcia (69) and Dustin Johnson (71).

His six-shot advantage is the second-largest 54-hole lead at an Open in the past half-century, and even more history awaits McIlroy if – sorry, when – he closes it out on Sunday.

Like Phil Mickelson a year ago, an Open victory would give McIlroy, just 25, the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

“What would that mean?”he was asked afterward.

“A lot of hype going into Augusta next year,” he replied, laughing.

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First things first, though, because for a while Saturday it looked like we were in store for a final-round shootout.

McIlroy got off to a sloppy start with a bogey on No. 1, and then played his next nine holes in only 1 under when Hoylake – green, soft and lush – was yielding more birdies than it had all week. 

His four-shot overnight lead was halved after the opening hole. It was all gone when he bogeyed the par-4 12th. But that’s when McIlroy made a crafty up-and-down from right of 13 green and got rolling with a 40-foot bomb on 14.

Most impressive, however, was his work down the stretch. On the par-5 16th, he knocked a 252-yard 4-iron shot to 20 feet for eagle, and on the home hole he coolly hit 5-iron from 239 yards to 10 feet for a closing 3.

“I was just sort of waiting for those two holes,” he said. “It was nice to be able to come up with the goods when I needed them.”

Only one player in history has coughed up a six-shot lead in a major: Greg Norman, in 1996. Good thing for McIlroy, then, that he already has his Masters collapse out of the way.

Since then, he’s only won his majors in routs.

He went wire-to-wire at Congressional in 2011, where he pushed his three-shot lead to six and then eight. At the 2012 PGA, his weekend 66-67 at Kiawah erased a two-shot deficit and gave him another eight-shot major victory.

“I know how leads can go very quickly,” he cautioned. “I’m not taking anything for granted. A lot can happen. I’ve been on the right side of it, and I’ve been on the wrong side of it.

“That’s why you can’t let yourself think forward. You can’t let yourself think about winning or whatever it is. You’re just got to completely stay in the moment and stay in the present, and that’s what I’m going to try to do for all 18 holes tomorrow.”

Martin Kaymer made similar remarks on the eve of the U.S. Open’s final round, and he extended his five-shot lead to eight on the last day.

In the final group that Sunday at Pinehurst was Fowler, who double-bogeyed his fourth hole and never was a threat. As much as the fans encouraged Fowler and craved a competition, the closest any player drew that day was four shots. Late on the back nine, the only mystery was how Kaymer would celebrate.

“There just wasn’t really any pressure put on Martin,” said Fowler, and, to be sure, he won’t have the benefit of a home-crowd advantage on this major Sunday.

Only a final-round collapse – in addition to some exemplary play from the pursuers – could add some drama to the proceedings, but even that scenario seems unlikely.

A few years ago, McIlroy was criticized for being a fair-weather player, that he only enjoyed competing in a dome. Benign conditions were exactly what he encountered in the third round, when the wind never blew more than 10 mph, and the forecast for the finale doesn’t look fierce, either.

More than that, though, McIlroy has destroyed the par 5s this week, playing the four long holes in a combined 11 under for the week. That means the rest of the pack essentially has 14 holes to make up ground. Good luck.

Fowler struck all the right notes Saturday afternoon, saying that he must stick to his game plan, that he must get off to a fast start, that he must put some pressure on his fellow 20-something.  

“Maybe we can get into a fun little match come the back nine,” he said.

Yes, that would be fun.

But sorry, Rickie: By the back nine Sunday, this thing might have long been over.

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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.