Under pressure: Regular events vs. majors

By Ryan Reiterman April 8, 2015, 1:15 pm

On Sunday, one player will not only win a golf tournament, but he will also make history by winning one of the four major championships.

But the pressure is not only immense four weeks out of the year. Every week on the PGA Tour, a missed putt here, a bad drive there can be the difference between winning, making the cut or being sent down to the mini tours.

So I talked to major champions past and present, and a few players who have been oh-so-close to winning one of the four biggest prizes in the game, to hear their thoughts on the pressure of trying to win a regular Tour event vs. a major championship.


Jack Nicklaus, 18-time major champion: "It’s the same, in my opinion. In other words, to me the tournament has nothing to do with it. Historically, I put more emphasis on trying to win a major, and I built my schedule around the majors. But because of my preparation, a major was, in some ways, probably easier to win because I was better prepared to win it. But I put the same effort, thought and focus no matter what tournament it was. I just played golf."


Retief Goosen, 2001 and '04 U.S. Open champion: “They both are tough. The pressure is tough. In the majors it’s just more embarrassing if you fail. And it’s so much easier to fail because of the toughness of the courses. But otherwise it’s just that little bit of extra pressure because of what it is, and it’s a major. And it depends how your game is. For instance the first U.S. Open I was very nervous coming down the stretch, and in the second one I was a little bit more comfortable because I had more experience.”


Gary Player, nine-time major champion: "The difference is night and day. Every tournament is a challenge, but the major championships are in a class of their own. The prestige of a major win is what so many golfers strive towards. When you’ve won a major, you know you’ve made it as a golfer. As a boy in Johannesburg, winning a major seemed like the ultimate test in golf. All of my hard work would finally pay off, and I could be counted as one of golf’s top players. So I dreamed that I would one day win these tournaments, and I have been blessed to attain that dream nine times and achieve the career Grand Slam."


Justin Leonard, 1997 Open champion: “It’s different just because the opportunity doesn’t happen that often. When you do, the tendency is to try almost too hard to make it happen. So if you’re sitting there contending, you’re obviously playing well and in your element. But especially the first time or two it’s a little daunting because you just don’t really know how often it’s going to happen.”


Curtis Strange, 1988 and '89 U.S. Open champion: "The pressure was ten-fold at times. You knew how big of an event it was. You knew subconsciously the history of the event. You knew this was one of the four. You knew … everything. You didn’t think about it, but you knew subconsciously. For instance you take the Masters, there’s pressure there. You know the history of the event, the history of the club. You’re going to the same golf course every year. The greats of the game, the ghosts in the pine trees of Hogan, Nelson, Snead, Nicklaus, Sarazen, all of them. That to me was pressure because it was the same golf course every year. You try not to think about any of that stuff, and you really don’t, but you can’t help it. You know. You’re a fan of the game, you know the history of the game. You just kind of had to block it out. But it was hard.”


Jason Day, three-time PGA Tour winner: “They’re similar pressure, but I would say that the majors are intensified by … I couldn’t put a number on it. It’s intensified to the point where you can seize up. Like when I was leading Augusta on 16 (in 2013), and I had three holes left, and I honestly felt like I couldn’t breathe. It’s pretty amazing. Rather than if I’m at a normal tournament, obviously there’s a lot of pressure and you want to win, and you’re thinking about it, but it’s intensified that much more.”


Nancy Lopez, three-time major champion: "There was always so much hype that went with the majors that it could get into your head. You thought that you had to be better than you normally had to be, because the rough was higher, and you had to hit it straighter, and the courses were longer. You would prepare practicing from the back tees.

"But I didn’t mind pressure. I felt it, but I liked it. I like that sensation, of almost being able to feel every nerve in your body. I seemed to be able to pull off shots when I felt pressure, not all the time, but I loved doing it, hitting that great shot knowing it was a pressure shot.

"When I was over putts that mattered at the end of tournaments, I’d tell myself, 'It’s now or never.’ I didn’t want to go extra holes, and I was able to make a lot of those putts at the end of tournaments."


Jordan Spieth, two-time PGA Tour winner: “I like to think not much, but when you’re at a major it’s different. It’s a different feeling. You know you’re there, you know it’s the ultimate goal instead of the goal between the ultimate goal … There’s just a little bit of extra ambience around the air and just kind of makes it feel a little more special, and maybe that makes it a little bit harder to win.”


Keegan Bradley, 2011 PGA champion: “You realize the significance … it’s a lifetime. As opposed to winning a tournament, it’s amazing, it’s great, but majors last for a lifetime. So it’s significantly different.”


Webb Simpson, 2012 U.S. Open champion: “Yeah, it’s a little more in a major, but at the end of the day fundamentally you’re still trying to win a golf tournament. So the pressure is there, but you still want to perform. Just a little bit more, nothing crazy.”


Hunter Mahan, six-time PGA Tour winner: "All the majors have so much outside pressure. Everything’s amped up, you can see it and feel it. Everything about it is different. You can feel that as soon as you get there, so it’s just a lot … a lot of outside influences."


Davis Love III, 1997 PGA champion: "Ten times. I think a regular tournament you get nervous the last nine [holes]. In a major you get nervous before you start.”


Zach Johnson, 2007 Masters champion: “Well, technically there shouldn’t be any difference, but there is because of the magnitude, the history, just what it requires mentally down the stretch and the experience that it demands. Winning a Tour event is not easy. It’s hard to win. The other difficult thing is it’s not like half of our events are majors, there’s only four. So that adds to it, too.”


Trevor Immelman, 2008 Masters champion: “Well, the actual answer is no because golf is golf and winning a tournament is winning a tournament. The only difference is with the major championship that’s how people are remembered in the game is winning championships – Super Bowls or Stanley Cups or Oscars or in our case major championships. From that stand point you can separate yourself if you win one.”


Brandt Snedeker, seven-time PGA Tour winner: “It’s just ratcheted up a little bit. Obviously there’s pressure when you’re trying to win a tournament. But majors, obviously I haven’t been able to do it, but majors there’s more of a fine line between good shots and bad shots. Good decisions, bad decisions. There’s a really, really fine line. Everything is just magnified. It’s just the most intense pressure you can put yourself under besides the Ryder Cup, I think major pressure probably goes hand-in-hand.”


Vijay Singh, three-time major champion: “I think it’s the same. I think there’s more pressure on the guys who’ve already won the regular tournament and have not won a major The pressure of playing the tournament’s the same. One creates their own pressure. One makes their own pressure.”

Additional reporting by Randall Mell

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

Getty Images

McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''