McIlroy on fast track to No. 1 ranking

By Doug FergusonFebruary 27, 2012, 8:44 pm

MARANA, Ariz. - Hunter Mahan figured out the fuss over Rory McIlroy without any help.

Mahan listened, but was not surprised, when fans called out McIlroy’s name along the fairways of Dove Mountain. There is a certain appeal about Boy Wonder that makes it hard for people not to stare when he walks past them.

Mahan agrees with all the talk about McIlroy’s bid to become No. 1. He just wanted to make sure it didn’t happen at his expense Sunday in the Match Play Championship. Mahan, as much as any American player, has seen this day coming.

They first played against each other three years ago in the Match Play - it was McIlroy’s pro debut in America - and the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland birdied the last two holes for a 1-up win in the second round.

A year later, Mahan and Zach Johnson faced McIlroy and Graeme McDowell in a foursomes match at the Ryder Cup. The Americans were 3 down after just seven holes and wound up losing.

So when Mahan talked about his tough road to the championship match, and how he had to beat five great players to get there, he quickly added, “I’ve got to beat one more incredible player to win.”

That’s what Mahan did Sunday to capture his second World Golf Championship title.

Even though that win moves Mahan closer to the elite among American golfers, he should understand why more people left the West Coast still buzzing about McIlroy, and how much better he can get.

McIlroy would have had to win the Match Play to replace Luke Donald at No. 1.

That now seems inevitable.

“He’ll get there,” Mahan said. “I mean, he’s phenomenal. He’s really talented. He’ll be No. 1 eventually. I’m not worried about it. I’m sure he’s not.”

McIlroy could get there this week with a win at the Honda Classic, or perhaps a week later at Doral. The kid will take a three-week break after that to get ready for the Masters, where he will be among the betting favorites along with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who have seven green jackets between them.

Donald had that look of inevitability about him last year, too, though it took him an extra month when Lee Westwood won two events against weak fields. Donald became No. 1 by beating Westwood in a playoff at Wentworth at the end of May. He has been there since.

Now, however, Donald is starting the new season slowly, much like Westwood did a year ago when he went eight tournaments out of the top 10. Donald has three finishes out of the top 30.

Donald was an inspiration to all the medium-length hitters by proving that a player doesn’t have to fly it 300 yards to be No. 1. Then again, power and consistency beats consistency every time.

That’s why McIlroy has the look of a No. 1 player.

Since that injury scare at the PGA Championship last year, when McIlroy tried to hit a 7-iron with a tree root in the path of his swing, he had finished out of the top 10 just once in 11 tournaments. He won an unofficial event in Shanghai against a world-class field and the Hong Kong Open. He was runner-up in the Dunhill Links, Korea, Abu Dhabi and the Match Play.

This is the consistency that the great ones have.

As for his game?

McIlroy has a swing that’s easy on the eye, packed with plenty of power. He has a keen short game, and there was no better example of that in the semifinal match against Lee Westwood. He pitched 20 feet away from the flag to ride the spine of a ridge, and watched the ball gently take the slope to a foot for birdie.

He has looked suspect at times with short putts, but from outside 20 feet, just about every putt looks as if it has a chance.

The knock on McIlroy is that he has only four wins - none in Europe in a bit of anomaly. For someone who has played primarily the European Tour the last three years, someone with that talent should be expected to win more. Martin Kaymer, the 27-year-old German who has been on tour one year longer than McIlroy, already has 10 wins, including a major and a World Golf Championship.

But the quality of McIlroy’s wins can’t be ignored - a 62 in the final round to win at Quail Hollow and the U.S. Open.

Just two months after he collapsed at the Masters with an 80, McIlroy showed remarkable resilience by shattering records at the U.S. Open for an eight-shot win at Congressional, where he finished at 268. That score wins Memphis, not the U.S. Open.

Still, it’s the failures that make McIlroy’s future look so limitless.

In the last few years alone, he tied a major championship record with a 63 at St. Andrews. He was tied for the lead late in the final round of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, and narrowly missed a birdie putt on the last hole that would have put him in a playoff. Yes, he shot 80 at the Masters. Don’t forget the 54 holes that preceded that.

No one is about to lay down for McIlroy, as Mahan showed Sunday at Dove Mountain.

Westwood squandered a chance to win in Dubai, and while McIlroy in effect called him out and then beat him in a high-stakes semifinal, Westwood looks in good form. A return to No. 1 is not out of the question.

McIlroy, however, has youth on his side. He doesn’t turn 23 until May. He is fitter and much stronger than he was a year ago. Odds are he has yet to hit stride. And while this doesn’t bode well in the long run for Donald or Westwood, to see McIlroy on the verge of becoming the best in golf is going to make it that much harder on Tiger Woods, too.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

@CallawayGolf via @goodwalkspoiled on Twitter

Watch: Phil flops ball over guy's head from 2 feet away

By Nick MentaJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

Sure, you trust Phil Mickelson to hit a flop shot. But would you trust him to hit one over your head from 2 feet away?

Evidently, this guy did, and his faith was rewarded.

Callaway Golf sent out this Twitter video on Tuesday taken by Mickelson's bother and caddie, Tim, ahead of this week's Open at Carnoustie:

If you look closely, you can see the guy holding his ... breath.

Yeah, that's it. His breath.