McIlroy within reach of Honda win, world No. 1

By Doug FergusonMarch 3, 2012, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Rory McIlroy is one round away from No. 1 in the world.

McIlroy made two big par saves Saturday on a windy back nine at PGA National and finished with a birdie from the bunker for a 4-under 66, giving him a two-shot lead over Harris English and Tom Gillis in the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was in a similar position a week ago when he reached the final of the Match Play Championship—win and the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland becomes the second-youngest player behind Tiger Woods to be No. 1 in the world.

Only this time, there is more than one player to contend with in the final round. Five players were within four shots of the lead, a group that includes PGA champion Keegan Bradley.

“I wasn’t standing up 2 up on the first tee in the final,” McIlroy said, smiling.

The group does not include Woods. He finally made a few putts, but not nearly enough to keep pace with everyone else. Woods went the last 11 holes without a birdie and had to settle for a 69, leaving him nine shots behind.

English, the 22-year-old rookie who won on the Nationwide Tour last year while still an amateur, made a 10-foot par save on the 17th and finished with a 66. He will be in the final group with McIlroy, a rare time when the U.S. Open champion will be playing with someone his own age with a tournament on the line.

They will be joined by Gillis, a 43-year-old journeyman who turned pro a year after McIlroy and English were born. Gillis had the lead to himself on the back nine until a bogey on the par-3 15th. He had a 69.

McIlroy was at 11-under 199.

“It’s nice to have the lead going into tomorrow,” he said. “I have to try to focus on what I’ve been trying to do all week, which is hit fairways and hit greens and stay in the present, and not think about everything that could happen.

“I’ve just got to go out there and try to put a good number on the board.”

The wind was at its strongest, though not too severe and the tees were moved forward on the par 3s over the water because of the dangerous front hole locations.

That’s where McIlroy was at his best.

He hit 8-iron at the middle of the green on No. 5 with a draw that held up against the wind to 10 feet and made one of only 10 birdies on the day. On the 15th hole, the start of PGA National’s famous finish, McIlroy hit 9-iron to just outside 5 feet, the closest anyone got in the third round.

There also was a bonus birdie on the par-4 11th, with water in front of the green. McIlroy was in mangled rough to the right, and the safe route was to play short and left of the green to avoid a big number. He blasted a 7-iron from 181 yards to the back fringe, and then holed a 50-foot putt. NBC Sports reporter Roger Maltbie walked by on the way to the 12th tee and said to him, “Really?”

McIlroy tried to contain a smile under his cap and curly brown hair.

Even so, his two key shots were for par. From the right rough on the 13th, the best he could manage was to hit into a front bunker, some 30 yards short of the flag. McIlroy nearly holed the shot to escape with par, and then he made an 8-footer for par on the next hole.

“They were two crucial holes today,” he said.

English is showing that his win last summer on the Nationwide Tour was not an accident. He breezed through Q-school in December and has yet to miss a cut all year, though he has not finished better than a tie for 15th in the Phoenix Open.

Even so, he is polished and looks capable of winning, even against a player whom everyone is ready to crown as No. 1. English is among them, smiling when asked about playing a 22-year-old on the verge of going atop the world ranking.

“Rory is awesome,” English said. “I haven’t had a chance to meet him yet, but I’ve definitely watched him play the last couple of years. He’s got a great game and he deserves. I think he’s the best player in the world right now, hands down, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. He’s very impressive.”

Bradley had a 68 and was in the group at 7-under 203 with Brian Harman (69) and Justin Rose (71). Masters champion Charl Schwartzel wasted a good start with a double bogey on the 11th hole, but still had a 67 and was five shots behind.

The best Woods looked came early in his round, when he birdied the third hole from 7 feet, holed a 20-footer on the fourth for birdie, made a 15-foot par save on the sixth and stuffed his tee shot on the seventh into 4 feet.

That was his last birdie, though.

“I was close to putting a low one up there today,” Woods said. “I felt like it could be had, I could make a run and post 5-under par for the day or something like that and get myself within reach. Right now, Rory is playing some great golf.”

Starting times have been moved up for the final round because of storms in the forecast, meaning players will be in threesomes. Gillis could only laugh at the notion of a journeyman being in the last group with a pair of kids.

“Hopefully, they don’t walk too fast and I can catch up to them,” Gillis said.

Behind that self-deprecating humor, developed from toiling in 26 countries in a hardscrabble career, is a guy who has been around too long to be intimidated by much, even someone of McIlroy’s ability.

Gillis dropped only one shot, going over the back of the par-3 15th and into the bunker, with his next shot stopped a few feet from going into the water. Otherwise, he was steady.

“I wish I could have got a couple out at the end to get a little closer to Rory,” Gillis said. “He’s not the type of guy you want to spot two shots to. But anything can happen on this golf course—anything. So we’ll just add them up tomorrow.”

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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 Web.com 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.