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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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

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Squashed beef with Paddy

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Victory at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm