McIlroy heads into weekend at 11 under

By Associated PressJune 17, 2011, 12:10 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – In one of those can’t-miss moments in sports, thousands of fans covered every inch of space on the hill behind the 10th green at Congressional. They spilled onto the clubhouse veranda, pressed their faces against the windows and lined up against the balcony railing to watch Rory McIlroy deliver a performance never before seen in the U.S. Open.

“It was Tiger Woods of 11 years ago,” Ian Poulter said.

In some respects, it was even better.

McIlroy, the sympathetic figure at The Masters, was as close to perfect as golf allows Friday during a stunning assault on the record book. The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland became the first player in the 111-year history of the U.S. Open to reach 13-under par, and despite a double bogey into the water on the final hole, his 5-under 66 was enough set the 36-hole scoring record at 131.

He had a six-shot lead over former PGA champion Y.E. Yang (69), matching the U.S. Open record set by Woods in 2000 at Pebble Beach for the largest margin at the halfway point.

McIlroy went 17 holes without missing a green. He went 35 holes without making a bogey.

“It’s very near the best I can play,” McIlroy said.

Not since Woods destroyed his competition at Pebble Beach in 2000 for a record 15-shot victory has anyone made golf look this easy, at least for two rounds.

As if playing under complete control were not enough, McIlroy hit a wedge from 114 yards some 15 feet behind the flag on No. 8, then watched it roll down a slope and into the cup for eagle. The only time he came close to making bogey was on the par-4 11th, when he blasted out of a bunker to 8 feet and made the putt.

He tied the U.S. Open record of 12 under - previously held by Woods in 2000 and Gil Morgan in 1992, both at Pebble Beach - on the par-5 16th with a 4-iron from 223 yards that settled 8 feet from the cup.

“I told him, ‘I don’t think you’ll see a better golf shot,”’ his caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, said.

Then came the 17th, when McIlroy hit 7-iron from 175 yards that covered the flag, barely cleared the bunker and left him 15 feet below the hole for yet another birdie to go to 13 under.

That number just isn’t seen on leaderboards at the U.S. Open.

“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Steve Stricker. “Pretty incredible what he’s done so far.”

McIlroy knows better than to start the celebration before Sunday. He was buoyed by support coming into the U.S. Open because of the calamity at Augusta National from two months ago, when he led by four shots going into the final round of the Masters and shot 80, the kind of collapse that isn’t easily forgotten.

“It’s been two very, very good days of golf,” McIlroy said. “I put myself in a great position going into the weekend. But I know more than probably anyone else what can happen. So I’ve got to stay really focused and try and finish this thing off.”

The second round was halted for 42 minutes because of thunderstorms, and Yang held it together on the stronger back nine to at least stay in range. The South Korean is no stranger to big deficits in the majors. It was only two years ago, in the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine, that he trailed Woods by six shots going into the weekend and wound up winning by three.

“I’m not going to chase anyone,” Yang said. “I’m just going to play my game.”

Sergio Garcia had a 71 and joined Snedeker at 2-under 140 among those who finished the second round. Just his luck - and Garcia doesn’t have much of that in the majors - he is playing solid golf at a major where someone else is playing out of this world. Also at 140 were Robert Garrigus and former Masters champion Zach Johnson.

“It’s only two days,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to give it to him yet.”

The second round was suspended by darkness, forcing 21 players to return Saturday morning to complete their round. And it left everyone who finished wondering if there was any chance of catching McIlroy.

“Rory is obviously running away with it, so we are pretty much playing for second unless something crazy happens tomorrow,” PGA champion Martin Kaymer said. “I hope he wins, though. He’s a nice person and he deserves it, especially after the Masters.”

Lee Westwood wasn’t ready to concede after a 68 left him 12 shots behind, although he made yet another reference to Pebble Beach in 2000 when he said his goal was second place, and added, “We’ll see what Rory does.”

“He’s had leads before,” Westwood said.

As for what advice he would give McIlroy?

“I’m supposed to beat him over the next two days,” Westwood said. “I’m hardly going to give him advice, am I?”

It was hard to ignore what felt like a coronation for McIlroy as he eased his way around the golf course. Toward the end of his round, the gallery in the grandstand gave him a standing ovation as the freckle-faced wonder boy with the bounce in his step simply walked onto the green.

McIlroy played with four-time major winner Phil Mickelson, one of the biggest crowd-pleasers in golf who simply was along for the ride. Mickelson, who also made double bogey on the 18th, shot a 69 to finish at 1-over 143.

“He’s striking it flawlessly and putted great on the greens,” Mickelson said. “His first two rounds were very impressive.”

During one stretch on the front nine, Mickelson made three birdies in four holes and didn’t make up any ground. McIlroy laid up from the rough on the par-5 sixth and hit wedge to 5 feet for birdie, then holed out for his eagle on the eighth.

The burst of cheers when the ball dropped for eagle was enough to make the group ahead take notice as they stood on the ninth tee. There was Retief Goosen, hands on hips, looking over at the green. Stricker took one last look as he walked off the tee to confirm his suspicions on who hit the shot.

Deep down, he knew it all along.

“We figured it was probably him just the way he was going,” Stricker said.

McIlroy wasn’t finished. From 190 yards, he hit a 6-iron to about 5 feet behind the hole at No. 14 for birdie, then finished with his back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th to reach 13 under.

Only four other players have reached 10 under or better at any point in a U.S. Open - Morgan, Woods, Jim Furyk at Olympia Fields in 2003 and Ricky Barnes at rain-soaked Bethpage Black in 2009. None of them got there after only two rounds, much less the 26 holes it took McIlroy. As for 13 under?

“I didn’t see 13 under on this golf course after any day,” Snedeker said.

McIlroy’s only mistake came on the last hole. From the left rough, McIlroy was aiming for the front right portion of the green away from the water. He turned it over just enough for the ball to bounce off the bank and into the water, and he failed to get up-and-down.

He lost two shots, but not his perspective.

This was golf at its absolute best, and the scoreboard showed it. Congressional was softened by overnight rain, which was obvious with the “splat” from balls landing on the green, instead of bouncing hard and into the rough as they so often do in this major.

But the measure of great golf not always comes from the leader, but those chasing him. What made Woods’ record win at Pebble Beach so impressive is that he finished at 12-under 272, and no one else was better than 3-over par. Such was the case at Congressional. Among those who had finished 36 holes, only seven other players had managed to break par, and no one was within nine shots of McIlroy.

“It’s been coming,” Poulter said. “It’s not a surprise to me, and I don’t think it’s a surprise to you. He’s that good.”

In the last 14 rounds at the majors, McIlroy has been atop the leaderboard six times.

He has been in the lead after every round except the one that matters.

“I’ve played two really good rounds of golf, but I know I have to play another two really good rounds of golf if I want to win this tournament,” McIlroy said. “So that’s all I can really think about.”

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Rose tries to ignore scenarios, focus on winning

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:59 am

ATLANTA – No one has more to play for than Justin Rose on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

The Englishman will begin the day three strokes behind front-runner Tiger Woods after a third-round 68 that could have been much worse after he began his day with back-to-back bogeys.

Winning the tournament will be Rose’s top priority, but there’s also the lingering question of the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus, which he is currently projected to claim.


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“The way I look at tomorrow is that I have many scenarios in play. I have the FedExCup in play. I have all of that to distract me,” Rose said. “But yet, I'm three back. I think that's my objective tomorrow is to come out and play good, positive golf and try and chase down the leader and win this golf tournament. I think in some ways that'll help my other task of trying to win the FedExCup. It'll keep me on the front foot and playing positive golf.”

Although there are many scenarios for Rose to win the season-long title, if Woods wins the Tour Championship, Rose would need to finish fifth or better to claim the cup.

There’s also the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to consider. Rose overtook Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. He will retain the top spot unless Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Johnson win the finale and he falls down the leaderboard on Sunday.

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McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:29 am

ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.

Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.

“I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”


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For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.

The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.

McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.

“I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”

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Glover trails Straka at Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2018, 12:19 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Web.com Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.

With the top 25 earners in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.

''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''

Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Web.com Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.

''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''


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Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.

''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''

Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.

McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.

The series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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Woods' dominance evokes an old, familiar feeling

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:14 am

ATLANTA – It felt so familiar – the roars, the fist pumps, the frenzied scramble to keep up with a leaderboard that was quickly tilting in Tiger Woods’ direction.

For the handful of players who were around when Woods made a mysterious and maddening game seem simple, it was like old times, times that weren’t necessarily good for anyone not named Tiger.

“I’m kind of nostalgic,” admitted Paul Casey, who turned pro in 2000, when Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, one of his nine PGA Tour victories that year.

Casey’s 66 on Day 3 at the Tour Championship vaulted him into a tie for sixth place, but as the Englishman quickly vetted the math he knew those numbers were nothing more than window dressing.

“Sixty-four is my best on a Sunday which puts me at 11 [under], so if he’s 12 I need to shoot my career best in the final round and he needs to do something very un-Tiger-like,” Casey laughed. “I think I’m just posturing for position.”

Casey wasn’t giving up. In fact, given that he outdueled Woods earlier this year to win the Valspar Championship he could have hedged his comments and left the door cracked however slightly. But he’s seen, and heard, this too many times to allow competitive necessity to cloud reality.

On Saturday at East Lake, Tiger Woods was his best version. Throughout this most recent comeback he’s offered glimpses of the old guy, the guy whose name atop a leaderboard echoed through locker rooms for the better part of two decades. After starting the day tied for the lead with Justin Rose, Tiger quickly separated himself from the pack with a birdie at the first.

He added another at the third and by the time he birdied the seventh hole, his sixth birdie of the day, he’d extended that lead to five shots and was sending an unmistakable message that reached well beyond the steamy confines of East Lake.


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This was what so many had waited for. This was the Tiger that Casey and others grew up dreading, a machine that never misses iron shots and makes clutch putts look like tap-ins.

“The crowds were electric,” said Rose, who was paired with Woods. “He was running the tables there. He was hitting good shots and making the conversion putts.”

Woods did come back to earth after his blistering start, playing his final 10 holes in 1 over par, but that did little to change the mood as the season moved to within 18 holes of the finish line.

He would finish with a round-of-the-day 65 for a three-stroke lead over Rose and Rory McIlroy. The next closest players were a dozen strokes back, including Casey at 5 under par who didn’t need to be reminded of Woods’ 54-hole conversion rate.

There are no guarantees in sports but Tiger with a 54-hole lead has been about as close to a lock as one will find this side of Las Vegas. He’s 42-for-44 when going into the final round with the outright lead and the last time he blew a 54-hole lead was at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Of course, he hasn’t had a 54-hole lead since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Truth is, he hasn’t had much of anything since ’13 when his dominance was sidetracked by an ailing back. As intimidating as Woods’ play has been this week there was an unmistakable sense of, let’s call it curiosity.

Asked if Woods’ lead felt different than it may have a decade ago, Rose’s response was telling. “Maybe,” he allowed after a pause. “It's a little more unknown now. Obviously his history, his statistics from this point are impeccable. They're incredible. But he's human, and there's a lot on it for him tomorrow, as well as the rest of us.”

Rose wasn’t trying to trick himself into thinking the impossible was possible, although many have when they’ve found themselves in similar positions, it was simply the truth. Woods has had multiple chances this season to complete the comeback and he’s come up short each time.

It was a poor iron shot off the 72nd tee at the Valspar Championship and an even worse drive a week later at Bay Hill’s 16th hole. It was a misplayed chip late on the back nine at The Open and a collection of missed putts at the PGA Championship, although in his defense it’s unlikely anyone could have caught Brooks Koepka at Bellerive.

Nor was Rose being disrespectful. It’s simple math, really, and Woods’ body of work to this point, although wildly impressive considering how far he’s come in 12 months both physically and competitively, paints a clear picture. Given multiple chances to break through the victory ceiling he’s failed to deliver the way he did before injury and multiple back procedures.

“I've felt very comfortable when I got into the mix there at Tampa even though it was very early in my start to this year. And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill, (and) when I grabbed the lead at The Open Championship,” Woods said. “Things that didn't really feel abnormal, even though it's been years, literally years, since I've been in those spots, but I think I've been in those spots enough times that muscle memory, I guess I remembered it, and I felt comfortable in those spots.”

In many ways the script couldn’t have been written any better for Woods. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs and the bases are loaded for the 14-time major champion. Hero time, his time.

He’s been here so many times in his career and succeeded more times than not, and this new, reimagined version has the ultimate chance to complete what would arguably be the greatest comeback in sports history.

The ultimate test still remains, but for 18 holes on Saturday it felt so familiar.