McIlroy's decision to add Valero looking better

By Ryan LavnerApril 6, 2013, 12:42 am

SAN ANTONIO – Now, of course, it’s a brilliant decision.

Never mind that he had never seen the course, one of the most difficult and quirky on the PGA Tour schedule.

Never mind that the major he covets most was a week away.

Never mind that his confidence was at a breaking point.

No, Rory McIlroy’s last-minute decision to turn up here has never looked better. Behold the powers of a narrative-changing 67.

By closing with three consecutive birdies at TPC San Antonio, McIlroy managed to accomplish two things Friday. He sent a much-needed energy jolt into the Valero Texas Open. And, most importantly, he gave himself a run at a title before heading into Augusta, a trip that now cannot begin soon enough.

“I don’t think it’s a surprise at all,” he said afterward. “That’s why I added it, because I felt like I was playing well. It was just a matter of getting a few more rounds to put it all together.”

The world No. 2 has spoke often of his eureka moment last year. It occurred on the range at Firestone, when his game was in near-shambles. A week later, he blitzed the field at Kiawah Island en route to his second major title. Three more victories, Player of the Year awards and a massive Nike deal ensued.

McIlroy thought he experienced a similar breakthrough after the opening round at Doral. Not quite. He followed with 69-71 before the Sunday 65 that gave him a backdoor top 10.

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Video: McIlroy Texas Open highlights

But in a few months, we may look back on his Thursday range session at TPC San Antonio. He had just turned in a 72 replete with “silly mistakes.” His swing coach, Michael Bannon, was back in South Florida with his family.

But as he thwacked balls on a windy and unseasonably cool day, McIlroy zeroed in on one swing thought – simplify the takeaway – which only underscores his uncomplicated approach. A day later, he missed only three greens. Quick learner.

To illustrate just how far McIlroy’s ball-striking has come in recent weeks, consider his play on a pair of par 5s Friday.

At the 592-yard eighth, he uncorked a 329-yard drive, then launched his 261-yard second shot to 11 feet. Two-putt birdie.

And then, at the 588-yard 18th, he smoked a beautiful, drawing tee shot that traveled 353 yards. His long-iron approach from 225 yards came to rest 25 feet from the cup, then he cozied up the eagle putt for a ho-hum birdie and 67, matching the low round of the day and putting him three shots behind leader Billy Horschel (68) heading into the weekend.

“I wouldn’t bet against him next week,” said Jordan Spieth, who was paired with McIlroy for the first two rounds. “He’s coming into form. He’s got that driver working nicely with the little baby draw. It was great.”

Said McIlroy, “If I keep hitting shots like that into par 5s, then I’ll be doing OK.”

In truth, he put on a similarly impressive ball-striking display in the opening round, only to be undone by “silly mistakes,” the same ones that spoiled his week in Houston. “Yesterday was about as poor as he could have played and he shot even,” Spieth said.

It also didn’t help that McIlroy sank just one putt longer than 6 feet, which perhaps explains why his short-game coach, Dave Stockton, checked in with a text while he handled his post-round media duties. The guess here is that the message was a congratulatory one.

“It was just a matter of playing some rounds and getting more confident and more comfortable out there,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I’m doing that day by day.”

The test now, as always, is how he responds while in contention. It’s an entirely different test, as we saw so many times with an in-transition Tiger Woods. Under pressure, a player reverts to what’s comfortable, or in this case, what used to feel normal. Rarely does that turn out well.

But for now, McIlroy is able to work the ball both ways, and he no longer hits the weak flare with his irons, and his short game looks tidier, perhaps because the long game doesn’t require so much attention.

And what we were left with Friday was unmistakable: The same swagger, the same bold shots, the same low rounds.

And yes, the same strut, only in swooshes.

Over the next two days, we will learn if he is marching toward Augusta, or merely another lost weekend.

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Watch: Daly makes an ace at the Chubb Classic

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 18, 2018, 9:01 pm

John Daly won't walk from the Chubb Classic with the trophy, but he certainly deserves recogition for his Sunday scorecard, which came complete with a hole-in-one.

Daly aced the 154-yard par-3 16th on the Talon Course at TwinEagles, when his ball carried the froont bunker and tracked right to the hole.

Two holes later, Daly signed for a final-round 67 that included four birdies, three bogeys and two eagles, which both in the span of four holes on the back nine.

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Gustafson shares stuttering success video

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 8:31 pm

Sophie Gustafson shared a breakthrough Sunday morning on YouTube.

Gustafson, a five-time LPGA winner and 16-time Ladies European Tour winner, shared her news in a 4-minute and 15-second video.

She did so without stuttering.

And that’s the nature of her breakthrough, something she is sharing in hopes that it will help others who stutter.

“I’m certainly not perfect, and the next time you see me, I am going to stutter, there is no question about that,” she says in the video. “But I am excited, because I am going in the right direction, and I believe I have found the solution that works for me.”

For someone who has struggled with stuttering all of her life, Gustafson has touched so many with her ability to communicate. She has entertained her legion of Twitter followers with her sense of humor. She also has written articles.

Back in 2011, Gustafson touched Golf Channel viewers when she opened up about her stuttering in an interview that was aired during the Solheim Cup. Her courage in sharing her challenges was recognized the following year, when the Golf Writers Association of American presented her its Ben Hogan Award, an honor bestowed to someone who has persevered through physical ailment. She also won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award that year.

Gustafson, 44, left the game as a player three years ago to become Beth Allen’s full-time caddie on the Ladies European Tour. She explains in the YouTube video that she is making her breakthrough with the help of Steve Gill, a team member with Tony Robbins’ life and business strategy group.

Gustafson said Gill led her to breathing, meditation and incantation exercises that have helped her since they began working together eight months ago.

“If you know anyone who stutters, tell them to breathe in and then speak,” Gustafson said. “I tried it the other way for 44 years, and it's just not working.” 

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J.Y. Ko wins her first start as an official LPGA member

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 4:09 pm

Make way for Jin Young Ko.

The South Koreans keep delivering one new star after another to the LPGA ranks, and they aren’t going to disappoint this year.

Ko made some history Sunday winning the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, closing with a 3-under-par 69 to claim a wire-to-wire victory. She became the first player in 67 years to win her LPGA debut as a tour member. Beverly Hanson (1951) is the only other player to do so.

Hyejin Choi, an 18-year-old who just turned pro, is yet another emerging South Korean star looking to crack the LPGA ranks. She finished second Sunday, three shots back after closing with a 67. She played on a sponsor exemption. She is already No. 11 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and likely to move up when the newest rankings are released. Had Choi won Sunday, she could have claimed LPGA membership for the rest of this season.

Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open

Ko, 22, moved herself into early position to try to follow in Sung Hyun Park’s footsteps. Park won the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards last year. She joined Nancy Lopez as the only players to do so. Lopez did it in 1978. Park shared the Player of the Year honor with So Yeon Ryu.

Ko said winning the Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year Award is a goal, but she didn’t come into the year setting her sights on Player of the Year.

“I haven’t thought about that yet,” she said.

Ko finished at 14 under overall.

It was a good week for rookies. Australia’s Hannah Green (69) finished third.

Ko claimed LPGA membership this year based on her victory as a non-member at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea last fall. She’s already a star in South Korea, having won 10 times on the Korean LPGA Tour. She is No. 20 in the world and, like Choi, poised to move up when the newest world rankings are released.

Former world No. 1 Lydia Ko closed with an even par 72, finishing tied for 19th in her 2018 debut. She is in next week’s field at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

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Luiten takes title at inaugural Oman Open

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 3:25 pm

MUSCAT, Oman - Joost Luiten of the Netherlands won the inaugural Oman Open on Sunday to break a title drought of nearly 17 months.

The 32-year-old Dutchman shot a 4-under 68 to finish on 16-under 272, two shots ahead of his friend, England's Chris Wood (69).

It was Luiten's sixth European Tour title and the first since the 2016 KLM Open.

Frenchman Julien Guerrier (71) virtually assured that he would not have to go to qualifying school for the 12th time with a third-place finish after a 13-under 275.

Luiten started with three birdies in his first four holes, but bogeys on the seventh and eighth set him back. On the back nine, he made three birdies, including a key one on the 16th, where he made a 30-foot putt.

''It feels great. I didn't know what to expect when I came here but to play a course like this which is in great condition - it's a great technical golf course as well - it was beyond my expectation and to hold the trophy is even better,'' said Luiten, who is expected to rise to No. 65 in the new rankings on Monday.

''I had a great start, that's what I was hoping for. I hit some nice ones in close and rolled in a couple of nice putts and that gets you in the right position, where you want to be.

Full-field scores from the NBO Oman Golf Classic

''Unfortunately, I had a couple of bogeys as well on the front nine, but I recovered from that with a couple of nice birdies on the back nine and it was a good battle with Woody.''

Playing one group ahead, England's Wood was right in the mix and tied with Luiten at 15-under when their fortunes went in opposite directions almost at the same time. On the 17th hole, Wood drove his tee shot into the hazard left and could do no more than chip his ball out for a bogey. Luiten, meanwhile, drained his 30-footer birdie putt on the 16th for a two-shot swing.

Recovering his form after a series of disappointments, Wood was let down by the loss and said: ''It's golf isn't it? You are never happy.

''I played poorly for six or eight months. Would have never thought I would have put myself into contention. And when you do, you feel gutted when you don't win. I am pretty down really, but in the grand scheme of things, when I reflect after a couple of days, I will think it is a big step in the right direction.''

Luiten's win also got him into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai, securing him a start at the WGC-Mexico Championship in two weeks.

Frenchman Alexander Levy (70), who was hoping to finish in the top five to push into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai and grab the WGC-Mexico spot himself, did manage a joint fourth place at 11 under, but Luiten's victory kept him 11th.

The European Tour next moves to Doha for the Qatar Masters starting on Thursday.