Texas Open a big step for Laird, McIlroy

By Ryan LavnerApril 8, 2013, 12:10 am

SAN ANTONIO – This sure beat a regular Sunday range session.

The wind howled at his back.

The beer-fueled fans provided the commentary.

And needing a bold shot into the par-3 16th at TPC San Antonio – where a deep bunker looms in the center of the green – Rory McIlroy seized the moment, a scene that was both refreshing and reminiscent.

With those highly scrutinized clubs – this one, an 8-iron – he ripped his tee shot into the clear blue sky. The ball settled 13 feet from the cup. The teeing ground shook.

When the birdie putt dropped, he punched the sky and acknowledged the delirious spectators, who only nine days ago learned that the world No. 2 would visit town. Imagine their delight.

That Martin Laird eventually prevailed Sunday at the Valero Texas Open mattered little, really. Sure, it was an important victory for the Scot – he came here with no top 30s in eight starts. But he simply caught fire Sunday, shot a course-record, 9-under 63, and won by two. The hottest putter almost always emerges on top.

“He was always just a little step ahead of me,” McIlroy said afterward, his final-round 66 leaving him solo second at 12-under 276. “It was tough to catch him.”

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This victory, of course, earned Laird a return trip to Augusta, where McIlroy has had one eye all week.

After all, there were myriad reasons why McIlroy could have stayed home this week, why this last-minute decision was ill-conceived. Pick your favorite.

Harsh winds could wreck his under-construction swing.

Last year’s second-hardest Tour course could bludgeon his already-wavering confidence.

Getting into contention could fatigue him before the most exacting mental examination of the season.

Instead, McIlroy banked on the idea that competitive golf would supersede intensive practice. He was right – the Valero offered McIlroy a Masters preparation like no other.

“It doesn’t take long, just to turn it around and you’re off,” he said. “I guess I was more hopeful than expecting going into the last couple of tournaments. I think I know now where my game is at, and I’m happy with it. I’m really looking forward to next week.”

This wasn’t a week to work on technique. It’s why his swing coach, Michael Bannon, was home in South Florida with his family. It’s why his putting guru, Dave Stockton, checked in via text.

No, this was a week to get out on the course and play, to score, to put a card in his hand, hit the necessary shots, and see how he stacked up. Boarding the 6 p.m. flight without the winner’s cowboy boots in tow didn’t sour his outlook.

“The plan was to get myself tournament sharp, and I was able to do that,” he said. “It was a bonus that I got into contention and had a chance to win. I can’t really be too disappointed.” 

It had been five months since McIlroy played like the world No. 2. What a majestic sight. On the par-5 finishing hole, and with the final result already determined, McIlroy pumped a 349-yard drive to set up a closing birdie. That shot – long, high and with a baby draw – will be his biggest advantage next week, with his brimming confidence a close second.

Overall, he ranked second in driving distance this week. He tied for first in greens hit, and he tied for 16th in approach distance, and he was 33rd in strokes gained-putting. All-around improvement.

Even driving accuracy, his worst statistic, was misleading. After finding 54 percent (30 of 56) of these fairways, lined with rocks and cactuses, then the tee shots at Augusta will seem like he’s letting it rip on a football field. Granted, a perfectly manicured one.

Sure, McIlroy’s game still was dogged by a few uncharacteristic mistakes.

On Thursday, he made three consecutive bogeys, each with a wedge in hand, to derail a good round.

On Saturday, he didn’t make a putt longer than 10 feet.

And on Sunday – when he began the final round four shots behind but quickly reduced the deficit – he will lament the birdie misses on Nos. 6 and 7, or the hooked drive on 10, or the misfired wedge on 17, when he needed to stuff it close and apply pressure. 

But amid all this pedantry, let’s not forget: McIlroy lost only to a 63.

“I don’t think I have any complaints out there,” he said. “I just got beaten by the better guy on the day. … I didn’t quite get the win, but everything that I wanted to accomplish this week, I accomplished. I feel really good going into next week.”

At 23, he already has won majors both resting the week before (2011 U.S. Open) and playing his way into form ('12 PGA). If this portends Masters greatness, well, a more definitive answer will come in a week.

For now, we know that he finished second in a South Texas tournament that attracted 11 of the world’s top 50 players; an event with swirling winds and a quirky course; a final round in which the world No. 2 was clipped only by a slumping player who needed just 22 putts.

Do you believe again?

Because Rory McIlroy certainly does.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x