Game on: Tiger finally finds true rival in Rory

By Doug FergusonAugust 14, 2012, 8:04 pm

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – The next major is eight months away. The next showdown is nine days away.

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are assured of being paired together next week at The Barclays for the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs. And while these playoff events are more about making money than making history, this could become meaningful down the road.

Woods has never faced a rival with this kind of potential.

He has never won at least three times in a year without being looked upon as the undisputed best player in golf.

For the first time in his quest to break Jack Nicklaus' record in the majors, the biggest challenge for Woods is no longer overcoming a failed marriage, four knee surgeries, a tender Achilles tendon or even the fact that he's simply getting older.

It's another player.

McIlroy and Woods have played in the same tournament 12 times this year. McIlroy has finished ahead of Woods seven times, including wins at the Honda Classic and the PGA Championship. They both tied for 40th at the Masters. McIlroy has seven top 5s in those events, along with three missed cuts.

This is not about where they were at a similar stage in their careers. Woods is incomparable in that regard. McIlroy has won twice in his first 16 majors as a pro. Woods won five majors in that span, including the career Grand Slam at age 24.

It's about where they are now.

So dominant was McIlroy at Kiawah Island, where he had rounds of 67-66 on the weekend to win the PGA Championship by eight shots, that it's easy to get caught up in all things Rory. He is only 23, younger by some four months than when Woods won his second major, and he is doing things only thought possible by Woods. A record score at the U.S. Open last summer at Congressional. A record margin of victory at the PGA Championship on Sunday at Kiawah Island.

McIlroy has won two majors by a combined 16 shots.

To put that in perspective, only five majors have been won by eight shots or more in the last 35 years - three by Woods, two by McIlroy.

But let's see how this plays out.

McIlroy could turn out to be like Johnny Miller, a comet on the golf horizon in the 1970s when he fired at flags and slaughtered the competition. Miller won two majors, with a 63 on the last day at Oakmont and a 66 in the final round at Royal Birkdale.

Perhaps McIlroy will be like Tom Watson, who was 10 years younger than Nicklaus.

Nicklaus already had the record for most majors when Watson won his first one, although Watson kept him from winning more. He beat Nicklaus twice in 1977, in the Masters and in the ''Duel in the Sun'' at Turnberry. He beat him again in 1981 at Augusta National and kept him from a record five U.S. Open titles in 1982 at Pebble Beach, when Watson chipped in for birdie on the 17th hole.

McIlroy is 13 years younger than Woods. They have never gone head-to-head on Sunday in a major. Ultimately, that will be the measure. Along the way, however, McIlroy is stashing away large bits of confidence that few others could when Woods was at his peak.

There is no reason for McIlroy to be intimidated. His name on the leaderboard means just as much. He is a favorite in any color shirt.

Nick Faldo once explained why Woods had such a huge advantage in the majors. Faldo thought after the 1997 Masters that Augusta National would be the only place Woods could win a major because the golf course suited him and because it was the only major where the media was kept outside the ropes. Only later did he realize that Woods was the only one who could handle the commotion inside the ropes in the final round.

''Other guys will step into that arena one week and go back out,'' Faldo said in a 2007 interview. ''He's there all the time. And good luck coming into his world.''

McIlroy now has been atop the leaderboard 10 out of the last 40 rounds in the majors.

He has more experience than most his age, good and bad. What he took away from blowing a four-shot lead in the 2011 Masters was to set a target score. He set his target at 12-under at the Ocean Course, played the final round without a bogey and did one better than that by finishing at 13-under 275.

''I feel these days when I give myself a chance to win one of these big tournaments, I can draw on the memories of Augusta, of Congressional and now of today,'' he said Sunday at Kiawah. ''And know what I did out there and know what to do again.''

It was never going to be easy for Woods to break Nicklaus' record of 18 majors. He said even in good times that Nicklaus achieved that mark over 25 seasons.

Woods lost two full years because of the strife he created in his personal life, and then more leg injuries and then hiring his third swing coach.

In handicapping Woods' chances of breaking the record, one popular analogy was that he would have to match Phil Mickelson's career wins in the majors (four) just to tie the record. This never made much sense, though, because Woods and Mickelson never belonged in the same conversation when the topic was majors. Mickelson went 42 majors before he won his first. Woods had won 12 of them in the same span. They're not the same player, then or now.

The main problem for Woods has been his head. His game is in great shape, and he knows it. He is pressing to win a major, to resume his pursuit of Nicklaus and shut up the critics. But this is the wrong game to try too hard. Maybe that's one lesson to take away from Kiawah.

The bigger problem could turn out to be McIlroy.

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  


Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.


Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.


Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open


Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)


Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.


Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos


"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.


Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos


"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.