McGirt making most of Ohio opportunity

By Will GrayJune 30, 2016, 10:24 pm

AKRON, Ohio – When William McGirt laid out his 2016 playing schedule, he saw an opening.

While the game’s upper echelon would be cramming in one high-profile event after another during a seemingly endless summer, McGirt eyed a break: a five-week stretch where he could pull the plug, unwind a bit and recharge before heading into the season’s final stanza.

Funny how plans can change.

In the midst of what McGirt thought would be the third leg of that five-week hiatus, he is instead part of an elite field at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He also happens to be atop the leaderboard after a hot putter led him to an opening 6-under 64.

The season’s quartet of WGC events, with no cut and no shortage of world ranking points, can become old hat for many of best in the world. They’re even so commonplace that guys like Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia opted to skip a potential money grab in Akron rather than get caught up in a scheduling squabble between the PGA Tour and European Tour.

For McGirt, though, simply showing up this week is a prize in and of itself.

He qualified for this event by virtue of his breakthrough win this month at the Memorial Tournament, some 125 miles down the road in Dublin, Ohio. The victory was the first of his professional career, and at age 37 he is making his first career start in a WGC event.

WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

A player who embodies an old-school approach to the game, he couldn’t help but smile once he got a look at the time-tested layout of Firestone’s South Course upon arrival on Sunday.

“I fell in love with the place,” McGirt said. “I love it because you can’t stand up there and just hit it as hard as you want, go find it and hack it on the green. It’s an old, traditional style golf course, which I absolutely love.”

That passion was apparent in McGirt’s opening round, a bogey-free effort where he needed only 24 putts. It was his work on the greens that moved him to the top of the standings, and it’s the same club that has led to a career-best run of results this summer.

A few new putting drills during the RBC Heritage in April yielded immense results, as McGirt stated that the last three months have been the longest stretch of confident putting in his 12-year-career. It’s a trend that continued in Thursday’s opener.

“It’s just one of those days where it seemed like the farther I got from the hole, the bigger it looked,” he said.

McGirt admits that things still haven’t returned to normal since his win at Muirfield Village. He remains in the midst of trying to send a note of thanks to everyone who texted, tweeted or emailed him a note of congratulations following the win – a process he expects could take five weeks.

“If somebody took the time to send me something, I want to take the time to send them a personal note back,” he said. “I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to sit there and type out a message and hit cut and paste 500 times. That’s just not me.”

His life inside the ropes also remains an adjustment. The U.S. Open, he said, was a bit of a blur as friends and peers alike offered their praise of his playoff win. But as the weeks go on, he’s becoming more accustomed to the fact that he is now a PGA Tour winner, and equipped with a three-year exemption.

It’s a confidence boost that he has put to work this week, where a star-studded field of entries didn’t deter his sense of self-belief.

“I think the biggest thing I took away from Memorial is the confidence in the fact that I know that I can do it now,” he said.

This week’s event has, in many ways, gotten lost in the shuffle – stuck in between a hectic run of three major championships, and in recent days overshadowed by Olympic roster changes. But none of that lessens the fact that for a rank-and-file player like McGirt, this tournament offers a variety of opportunities.

It’s a shot at money and points, yes. But it’s also a chance to show that his win, in his words, “wasn’t a fluke” – to turn one trophy into two. It’s a chance to join a list of players to win the Memorial and the Bridgestone in the same year that currently includes exactly one name: Tiger Woods.

It’s a chance that McGirt didn’t expect to have when he laid out his schedule at the start of the year, but it’s one he’s ready to embrace with open arms now that he’s here.

“I was dreaming about these opportunities, and now they’re here,” he said. “I’ve got to take advantage of them.”

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

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

Former 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 Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted 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.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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