McIlroy the star of the show heading to British Open

By Doug FergusonJuly 8, 2011, 3:08 pm

There’s really nothing new at the oldest championship in golf.

The buzz at the British Open is mainly about one player, the obvious choice among bookmakers, who has become such a fascinating figure that it’s almost as though the rest of the field at Royal St. George’s is being ignored.

For years, that was Tiger Woods.

Now it’s Rory McIlroy, the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland, the face of golf’s next generation.

The last meaningful shot McIlroy hit was a tap-in for par on the 18th green to complete an astounding performance at Congressional, where he shattered U.S. Open records en route to a winning score of 16-under 268.

Now, his every move is charted.

McIlroy twice went to Wimbledon, once sitting in the Royal Box, also meeting with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He went to Germany for a heavyweight championship fight. Video of McIlroy went viral, showing him as a wee lad appearing on TV shows as he hit plastic golf balls into a washing machine and talked about his dream of playing golf for a living. Sound familiar?

There was a television interview with Piers Morgan on CNN. There was a letter of congratulations from Prime Minister David Cameron.

And there is no sign of Woods.

The 14-time major champion and fallen star had not been much of a factor even when he was playing, except for that 31 on the front nine at The Masters that briefly put his name atop the leaderboard. Now he’s not playing at all. Woods no longer wears a protective boot for his left Achilles, but he’s not wearing golf spikes, either.

The British Open, which starts on Thursday at Royal St. George’s on the southeastern coast of England, will be the fourth major that Woods has missed since 2008. There was a time when Woods’ absence would siphon the excitement from a major.

Times have changed.

The top four players in the world ranking are European, starting with Luke Donald and Lee Westwood of England, followed by PGA champion Martin Kaymer of Germany and then McIlroy, the brightest star of the bunch. Even though it seemed unlikely Woods would play in the British Open, ticket sales are ahead of what they were the last time the Open was at Royal St. George’s in 2003.

“With Donald and Westwood at the head, with Kaymer third and McIlroy doing what he did, the European story is extremely strong,” Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said. “That’s what has the crowd buzzing. Of course, we wish Tiger was here. But there is plenty of interest over here at the moment. A lot of that has been mitigated by McIlroy.”

McIlroy decided not to play in the three weeks between the U.S. Open and the British Open, wanting instead to take care of as many corporate and media obligations as possible so that when he does return, it will be all about his golf.

That’s not likely to happen with his next tournament a major, in Britain no less, with Boy Wonder suddenly under the burden of expectations. A victory would make him only the seventh player to win the U.S. Open and British Open in the same season, a list that includes Woods, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones.

“It’s going to be very hard for Rory when he turns up next week to be concentrating on the Open Championship,” said Graeme McDowell, speaking from the experience of his U.S. Open title last summer. “He’ll still be living three or four weeks ago at Congressional. At the same time, being at home, he’s had two weeks to get the celebrating out of the system.”

McIlroy has shown wisdom and maturity beyond his 22 years, and now comes another test. He did remarkably well to forget about that 80 he shot in the second round at St. Andrews last year, and the more nefarious 80 he had in the final round at Augusta National when he squandered a four-shot lead. Now, he wants to follow the same script even in victory.

“The time to reflect will be at the end of the season and not halfway through it,” McIlroy wrote on his blog. “So I won’t be looking over my shoulder any more, just straight ahead and concentrating on getting more wins in the second half of the year. It is very important that I put everything that’s happened behind me now.”

McIlroy already has spent a few days at Royal St. George’s, a tough links that appears to be much more gentle than it was eight years ago when Ben Curtis, at the time No. 396 in the world, was the only player to break par.

A relatively dry spring has kept the rough from getting out of control, and the R&A did its part by adding width to a couple of holes that were only rumored to have fairways. Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and McIlroy were among those who practiced on the Sandwich links the week before the Open, and they liked what they saw.

“I think they have set it up perfectly,” Westwood said. “Hopefully, the weather will be nice and it won’t soften up too much and it will be one of those memorable Opens.”

Soft was the operative word at Congressional, where a combination of heat and rain kept the rough from growing and allowed the greens to remain accessible even on the weekend. No matter. McIlroy still was eight shots better than anyone else, which is one reason expectations are so high that he can be golf’s next big star.

McIlroy is only part of a generational shift, however. Charl Schwartzel won the Masters, Kaymer the PGA Championship and the defending champion at the British Open is Louis Oosthuizen. All of them are in their 20s, the first time the majors were owned by such youth in more than a century.

It’s another example of how much golf has changed in the 18 months since Woods vacated his throne. Woods is No. 17 in the world ranking, and a dozen players ahead of him are all younger. Only four of those players are Americans, and that’s another dynamic going into the third major of the season.

Americans now have gone five majors without winning one, their longest drought since the Masters was created in 1934. The best American hope? Hard to say. Steve Stricker is the top-ranked American at No. 5, and while Mickelson remains the most talented of the group at St. George’s, he has only one top 10 in the British Open.

“We’ll make a push again, the Americans will,” Stricker said. “When Tiger comes back, I’m sure he’ll be getting right back up there again. And Phil, he’ll be back up there again. So I think it’s just a cycle, and right now they’re at the top.”

The return of Woods is no longer such a sure thing.

He commanded so much attention for so long – even without having won a major in three years, he still is on a chronological pace to break Jack Nicklaus’ career record – that his fall makes the climb back up to the top look even more steep.

Adding to the climb is the arrival of McIlroy. He still only has one major, but it was a big one.

“His performance at the U.S. Open was spectacular,” Mickelson said. “But what Jack and Tiger have done throughout the course of their career demands respect, too. And until somebody performs at that level for a decade, it’s not fair to Jack or Tiger to compare anybody with them.”

Getty Images

Goat visor propels Na to Colonial lead

By Will GrayMay 25, 2018, 1:29 am

Jason Dufner officially has some company in the headwear free agency wing of the PGA Tour.

Like Dufner, Kevin Na is now open to wear whatever he wants on his head at tournaments, as his visor sponsorship with Titleist ended earlier this month. He finished T-6 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in his second tournament as a free agent, and this week at the Fort Worth Invitational he's once again wearing a simple white visor with a picture of a goat.

"I bought it at The Players Championship for $22 with the 30 percent discount that they give the Tour players," Na told reporters. "It's very nice."

Perhaps a change in headwear was just what Na needed to jumpstart his game. Last week's result in Dallas was his first top-35 finish in his last six events dating back to February, and he built upon that momentum with an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead over Charley Hoffman after the first round at Colonial Country Club.

While many sports fans know the "GOAT" acronym to stand for "Greatest Of All Time," it's a definition that the veteran Na only learned about earlier this year.

"I do social media, but they kept calling Tiger the GOAT. I go, 'Man, why do they keep calling Tiger the GOAT? That's just mean,'" Na said. "Then I realized it meant greatest of all time. Thinking of getting it signed by Jack (Nicklaus) next week (at the Memorial)."

Marc Dull (Florida State Golf Association)

Golden: Dull rude, caddie 'inebriated' at Florida Mid-Am

By Ryan LavnerMay 25, 2018, 1:03 am

Jeff Golden has offered more detail on what transpired at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship, writing in a long statement on Twitter that Marc Dull’s caddie was “inebriated” before he allegedly sucker-punched Golden in the face.

In a story first reported by, Charlotte County Police responded to a call May 13 after Golden claimed that he’d been assaulted by his opponent’s caddie in the parking lot of Coral Creek Club, where he was competing in the Mid-Am finals. Golden told police that the caddie, Brandon Hibbs, struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.

Golden posted a 910-word statement on the alleged incident on his Twitter account on Thursday night. He said that he wanted to provide more detail because “others have posed some valid questions about the series of events that led to me withdrawing” from what was an all-square match with two holes to play.

Golden wrote that both Dull and Hibbs were rude and disruptive during the match, and that “alcohol appeared to be influencing [Hibbs’] behavior.”

Dull, who caddies at Streamsong Resort in Florida, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I’ve never seen an opposing caddie engage in so much conversation with a competitor,” Golden wrote. “On the eighth hole I had become extremely frustrated when my opponent and caddie were talking and moving. I expressed my disappointment with their etiquette to the rules official in our group.”

On the ninth hole, Golden informed the official that he believed Hibbs had broken the rules by offering advice on his putt. Golden won the hole by concession to move 2 up at the turn, and Hibbs removed himself from the match and returned to the clubhouse.

Golden wrote that after the penalty, the match “turned even nastier, with more negative comments from my opponent on the 10th tee.” He added that he conceded Dull’s 15-foot birdie putt on No. 10 because he was “sick of the abuse from my opponent, and I wanted the match to resemble what you would expect of a FSGA final.”

Though there were no witnesses to the alleged attack and police found little evidence, save for “some redness on the inside of [Golden’s] lip,” Golden wrote that the inside of his mouth was bleeding, his face was “throbbing” and his hand was also injured from bracing his fall. X-rays and CT scans over the past week all came back negative, he said.

Golden reiterated that he was disappointed with the FSGA’s decision to accept his concession in the final match. He had recommended that they suspend the event and resume it “at a later time.”

“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.”

Asked last week about his organization’s alcohol policy during events, FSGA executive director Jim Demick said that excessive consumption is “highly discouraged, but it falls more broadly under the rules of etiquette and player behavior.”

Dull, 32, was back in the news Wednesday, after he and partner Chip Brooke reached the finals of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. They lost to high schoolers Cole Hammer and Garrett Barber, 4 and 3.

Getty Images

D. Kang, M. Jutanugarn in four-way tie at Volvik

By Associated PressMay 25, 2018, 12:50 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Amy Olson crossed paths with her coach, Ron Stockton, on her walk to the 18th tee at the Volvik Championship.

''Make it another even $20,'' Stockton said.

The coach was already prepared to give his client $35 for making seven birdies - $5 each - and wanted to take her mind off the bogey she just had at 17.

Olson closed the first round with a 6-under 66, putting her into the lead she ended up sharing later Thursday with Moriya Jutanugarn , Caroline Masson and Danielle Kang.

Do small, cash incentives really help a professional golfer?

''Absolutely,'' said Olson, who graduated from North Dakota State with an accounting degree. ''He'll tell you I'm a little bit of a hustler there.''

Olson will have to keep making birdies - and petty cash - to hold her position at Travis Pointe Country Club.

Jessica Korda, Minjee Lee, Nasa Hataoka, Lindy Duncan, Morgan Pressel, Megan Khang and Jodi Ewart Shadoff were a stroke back at 67 and six others were to shots back.

Ariya Jutanugarn, the Kingsmill Championship winner last week in Virginia, opened with a 69.

The Jutanugarn sisters are Korda are among six players with a chance to become the LPGA Tour's first two-time winner this year.

Moriya Jutanugarn won for the first time in six years on the circuit last month in Los Angeles.

''What I feel is more relaxed now,'' she said. ''And, of course I like looking forward for my next one.''

Olson, meanwhile, is hoping to extend the LPGA Tour's streak of having a new winner in each of its 12 tournaments this year.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

She knows how to win. It just has been a while since it has happened.

Olson set an NCAA record with 20 wins, breaking the mark set by LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, but has struggled to have much success since turning pro in 2013.

She has not finished best finish was a tie for seventh and that was four years ago. She was in contention to win the ANA Inspiration two months ago, but an even-par 72 dropped her into a tie for ninth place.

If the North Dakota player wins the Volvik Championship, she will earn a spot in the U.S. Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama. If Olson finishes second or lower in the 144-player field, she will enjoy an off week with her husband, Grant, who coaches linebackers at Indiana State.

''I'll make the best of it either way,'' she said.

Olson was at her best in the opening round on the front nine, closing it with four birdies in a six-hole stretch. Her ball rolled just enough to slowly drop in the cup for birdie on the par-3, 184-yard 13th. She had three birdies in five-hole stretch on the back, nearly making her second hole-in-one of the year at the par-3, 180-yard 16th. A short putt gave her a two-stroke lead, but it was cut to one after pulling and misreading a 6-foot putt to bogey the 17th.

Even if she doesn't hold on to win the tournament, Olson is on pace to have her best year on the LPGA Tour. She is No. 39 on the money list after finishing 97th, 119th, 81st and 80th in her first four years.

''Two years ago, I started working with Ron Stockton and whenever you make a change, it doesn't show up right away,'' Olson said. ''That first year was tough, but we've turned a corner and I've just found a lot of consistency in the last year. And, it's a lot of fun to go out there and play golf a little more stress free.''

Stockton helped her stay relaxed, walking along the ropes during her morning round.

''Maybe some people feel a little more pressure when their coach is there,'' she said. ''I'm like, 'Great. If he sees the mistake, he knows what can go wrong and we can go fix it.' So, I like having his eyes on me.''

Getty Images

Club pro part of 6-way tie atop Sr. PGA

By Associated PressMay 25, 2018, 12:04 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Nevada club professional Stuart Smith shot a 5-under 66 on Thursday for a share of the first-round lead in the Senior PGA Championship.

Smith closed his morning round with a double bogey on the par-4 18th, and Scott McCarron, Tim Petrovic, Wes Short Jr., Barry Lane and Peter Lonard matched the 66 in the afternoon.

One of 41 club pros in the field at Harbor Shores for the senior major, Smith is the director of golf at Somersett Country Club in Reno.

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

McCarron won the Senior Players Championship last year for his first senior major.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer is skipping the event to attend son Jason's high school graduation, and Steve Stricker is playing the PGA Tour event in Texas.