Expectations grow as McIlroy tries to add majors

By Doug FergusonJune 20, 2011, 6:52 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – The manner in which Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open made comparisons with Tiger Woods inevitable.

Not since Woods’ historic 15-shot win at Pebble Beach in 2000 has anyone crushed the competition at a U.S. Open. McIlroy’s performance was so stunning at Congressional that only four of his 72 holes were worse than par, he broke the scoring record by four shots and finished at an astounding 16-under 268.

Such a score is rare at the other three majors. It’s unfathomable for a U.S. Open.

But there was more than just his golf.

The buzz around the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland made this feel like the 1997 Masters.

That was a watershed moment in sports, signaling the arrival of Woods. He brought a breathtaking blend of power and putting, seized control of the tournament on the second day, demoralized Colin Montgomerie in the third round and won by 12 shots with a record score to become the youngest Masters champion.

Woods wasn’t at Congressional, but at times it felt like it.

The energy picked up late Friday morning, right after McIlroy holed out a pitching wedge for eagle on the par-4 eighth to become only the fifth player in U.S. Open history to reach double-digits under par.

The difference was it took him only 26 holes, and he was just getting warmed up. When he stood on the 10th tee, thousands of fans stood shoulder-to-shoulder from the tee all the way up the hill to the clubhouse. They crowded onto the verandah at the clubhouse, and there were so many fans leaning against the railing on the balcony they looked like passengers on a cruise ship coming into port.

All this to see a Boy Wonder who just might be the future of golf.

Golf might be ready for a new star, especially considering the personal failures of Woods and the health problems that cloud his future. McIlroy brings a killer instinct to the course, yet already has shown he can lose as well as he can win.

Leave it to a kid, however, to preach patience.

As he was on his way to posting the first sub-200 score over 54 holes in a U.S. Open – 14-under 199 – in the third round, Padraig Harrington declared him as being the player perhaps best suited to chase Jack Nicklaus’ benchmark of 18 professional majors.

“If you’re going to talk about someone challenging Jack’s record, there’s your man,” Harrington said. “Winning majors at 22 with his talent, he would have 20 more years … where he could be competitive. It would give him a great chance.”

Upon hearing this, McIlroy bowed his head and said quietly into the microphone with playful condemnation, “Paddy, Paddy, Paddy.”

Then came Sunday, when he was as relentless as ever, stretching his lead to as many as 10 shots, and his score as low as 17 under. Graeme McDowell, who grew up hearing about and then appreciating the skill of McIlroy, said he was the “best player I’ve ever seen.”

These are the expectations that will follow McIlroy to Royal St. George’s for the British Open, to Atlanta for the PGA Championship, and to every major he plays for a long time, if not the rest of his career.

His name is on the U.S. Open roll of champions with Woods, a three-time winner. For now, that’s where the similarities end.

The comparisons are mainly a product of youth, skill and delivering on potential. In his first trip to America as a pro, McIlroy’s peers figured it was only a matter of time before he won the biggest events and rose to No. 1. He was that good, his swing that simple and pure, his talent simply too much to ignore.

McIlroy became the second-youngest player to win a major since The Masters began in 1934, trailing Woods in that 1997 Masters by about 10 months. That’s why there is so much excitement about his future, and rightfully so.

However, this was his 10th major as a pro. Woods won in his professional debut at the majors.

The one question about McIlroy, aside from his putting, was his ability to finish. For someone with so much talent, this was only his third career victory in 107 starts in European and PGA Tour events.

Woods already had won 31 tournaments, including five majors, after his 107 starts in European and PGA Tour sanctioned tournaments. Four of those majors were won in a span of 294 days, an achievement that might rank among the most difficult to match.

“When you win a major quite early in your career, everyone is going to draw comparisons,” McIlroy said. “It’s natural.”

McIlroy does not shy away from the expectations, although he has amazing perspective for one so young.

“It’s nice that people say that ‘He could be this’ or ‘He could be that’ or ‘He could win 20 major championships,”’ he said. “But at the end of the day, I’ve won one. I obviously want to add to that tally. But you can’t let what other people think of you, influence what you have to do. You have to just go out there, work hard, believe in yourself.”

There’s another reason for all the excitement.

Golf has been searching for a star since the downfall of Woods, who has not won any tournaments since his personal life and image were shattered in November 2009, and whose health is such now that no one knows when he’ll play his next event, much less his next major.

Martin Kaymer won the PGA Championship and eventually rose to No. 1 for two months. Lee Westwood now has five top 3s in his last 12 majors. Luke Donald is still No. 1 in the world and playing some of the best and most consistent golf.

None have been as dynamic as McIlroy, on and off the golf course.

By winning the U.S. Open, he has been atop the leaderboard in a major for seven of the last eight rounds, and he has been in the lead at some point in the last three majors – he lost a four-shot lead in the final round at the Masters with that well-documented 80, and he briefly shared the lead at Whistling Straits at the PGA Championship until missing a 20-foot birdie putt on the last hole to finish one behind.

Who knows what the rest of the summer will hold for McIlroy. But for now, it’s hard not to imagine that if not for that 80 at Augusta, McIlroy would be headed to the British for the third leg of the Grand Slam.

Getty Images

Twitter spat turns into fundraising opportunity

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 6:30 pm

Country music star Jake Owen, along with Brandt Snedeker, has turned a spat on Twitter into a fundraising campaign that will support Snedeker’s foundation.

On Thursday, Owen was criticized during the opening round of the Web.com Tour’s Nashville Golf Open, which benefits the Snedeker Foundation, for his poor play after opening with an 86.

In response, Snedeker and country singer Chris Young pledged $5,000 for every birdie that Owen makes on Friday in a campaign called NGO Birdies for Kids

Although Owen, who is playing the event on a sponsor exemption, doesn’t tee off for Round 2 in Nashville until 2 p.m. (CT), the campaign has already generated interest, with NBC Sports/Golf Channel analyst Peter Jacobsen along with Web.com Tour player Zac Blair both pledging $100 for every birdie Owen makes.

Getty Images

Noren so impressed by Rory: 'I'm about to quit golf'

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 5:33 pm

Alex Noren won the BMW PGA Championship last year, one of his nine career European Tour victories.

He opened his title defense at Wentworth Club in 68-69 and is tied for fourth through two rounds. Unfortunately, he's five back of leader Rory McIlroy. And after playing the first two days alongside McIlroy, Noren, currently ranked 19th in the world, doesn't seem to like his chances of back-to-back wins.

McIlroy opened in 67 and then shot a bogey-free 65 in second round, which included pars on the pair of par-5 finishing holes. Noren walked away left in awe.

"That's the best round I've ever seen," Noren said. "I'm about to quit golf, I think."

Check out the full interview below:

Getty Images

Bubba gets to drive dream car: K.I.T.T. from 'Knight Rider'

By Grill Room TeamMay 25, 2018, 4:42 pm

Bubba Watson is a known car aficionado.

He purchased the original General Lee from the 1980’s TV show “Dukes of Hazzard” – later saying he was going to paint over the Confederate flag on the vehicle’s roof.

He also auctioned off his 1939 Cadillac LaSalle C-Hawk custom roadster and raised $410,000 for Birdies for the Brave.

He showed off images of his off-road Jeep two years ago.

And he even bought a car dealership near his hometown of Milton, Fla.

While recently appearing on the TV show “Jay Leno’s Garage,” the former “Tonight Show” host surprised Watson with another one of his dream cars: K.I.T.T.

The 1982 Pontiac Trans Am was made famous in the ‘80s action show “Knight Rider.”

Though, Bubba didn’t get to keep this one, he did get to drive it.

Bubba Watson gets behind the wheel of his dream car—the KITT from Knight Rider from CNBC.

Getty Images

Cut Line: USGA readies for Shinnecock 'mulligan'

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 3:26 pm

In this week’s Memorial weekend edition, the European team adheres to the Ryder Cup secret formula, the USGA readies for the ultimate mulligan at next month’s U.S. Open and a bizarre finish at the Florida Mid-Am mystifies the Rules of Golf.

Made Cut

Cart golf. When the U.S. side announced the creation of a Ryder Cup task force following the American loss at Gleneagles in 2014, some Europeans privately – and publicly – snickered.

The idea that the secret sauce could be found in a meeting room did stretch the bounds of reason, yet two years later the U.S. team emerged as winners at Hazeltine National and suddenly the idea of a task force, which is now called a committee, didn’t seem so silly.

To Europe’s credit, they’ve always accomplished this cohesion organically, pulling together their collective knowledge with surprising ease, like this week when European captain Thomas Bjorn rounded out his vice captain crew.

Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald (a group that has a combined 47-40-13 record in the matches) were all given golf cart keys and will join Robert Karlsson as vice captains this year in Paris.

Perhaps it took the Americans a little longer to figure out, but Bjorn knows it’s continuity that wins Ryder Cups.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

The USGA’s mulligan. The U.S. Open is less than a month away and with it one of the most anticipated returns in recent major championship history.

The last time the national championship was played at Shinnecock Hills was in 2004 and things didn’t go well, particularly on Sunday when play had to be stopped to water some greens that officials deemed had become unplayable. This week USGA executive director Mike Davis was asked about the association’s last trip to the Hamptons and, to his credit, he didn’t attempt to reinvent history.

“Looking back at 2004, and at parts of that magnificent day with Retief (Goosen) and Phil Mickelson coming down to the end, there are parts that we learned from,” Davis said. “I’m happy we got a mulligan this time. We probably made a bogey last time, maybe a double bogey.”

Put another way, players headed to next month’s championship should look forward to what promises to be a Bounce Back Open.

Tweet of the week:

Homa joined a chorus of comments following Aaron Wise’s victory on Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson, which included an awkward moment when his girlfriend, Reagan Trussell, backed away as Wise was going in for a kiss.

“No hard feelings at all,” Wise clarified this week. “We love each other a ton and we're great. It was a funny moment that I think we'll always be able to look back at, but that's all it really was.”

Missed Cut

Strength of field. The European Tour gathers this week in England for the circuit’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and like the PGA Tour’s marquee stop, The Players, the event appears headed for a new spot on the calendar next year.

As the PGA Tour inches closer to announcing the 2018-19 schedule, which will feature countless new twists and turns including the PGA Championship’s move to May and The Players shift back to March, it also seems likely the makeover will impact the European Tour schedule.

Although the BMW PGA currently draws a solid field, with this week’s event sporting a higher strength of field than the Fort Worth Invitational on the PGA Tour, it’s likely officials won’t want to play the event a week after the PGA Championship (which is scheduled for May 16-19 next year).

In fact, it’s been rumored that the European Tour could move all eight of its Rolex Series events, which are billed as “unmissable sporting occasions,” out of the FedExCup season window, which will end on Aug. 25 next year.

Although the focus has been on how the new PGA Tour schedule will impact the U.S. sports calendar, the impact of the dramatic makeover stretches will beyond the Lower 48.

Rules of engagement. For a game that at times seems to struggle with too much small print and antiquated rules, it’s hard to understand how things played out earlier this month at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship.

In a story first reported by GolfChannel.com, Jeff Golden claimed he was assaulted on May 13 by Brandon Hibbs – the caddie for his opponent, Marc Dull, in the championship’s final match. Golden told police that Hibbs struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.

The incident occurred during a weather delay and Golden conceded the match to Dull after the altercation, although he wrote in a post on Twitter this week that he was disappointed with the Florida State Golf Association’s decision to accept his concession.

“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”

Because of the conflicting statements, it’s still not clear what exactly happened that day at Coral Creek Club, but the No. 1 rule in golf – protecting the competition and the competitors – seems to have fallen well short.