Ryder Cup on minds of many at TPC Boston

By Doug FergusonAugust 29, 2014, 10:29 pm

NORTON, Mass. - In the final tournament before Ryder Cup teams are set, Keegan Bradley did his best Friday to make an impression in the Deutsche Bank Championship.

So did Webb Simpson.

Bradley played bogey-free in a gentle breeze at the TPC Boston for a 6-under 65, giving him the lead among early starters in the second FedEx Cup playoff event. Simpson, who also would need to be a captain's pick, and Jason Day of Australia were one shot behind.

This is one week during the playoffs that $10 million doesn't seem nearly as important as a chance to play for free.

U.S. captain Tom Watson and European captain Paul McGinley announce their three wild-card selections Tuesday. Bradley made his debut in 2012 and is desperate to get back on another team.

Over the years, several players needing a pick have said they're only thinking about good golf, not whether they will be selected. Bradley isn't like that.


Deutsche Bank Championship: Articles, videos and photos


''When I wake up, I'm thinking about it. When I'm on the course, I'm thinking about it,'' he said. ''I've just made the decision that it's going to come up and I'm not going to try to block it out. I'm just going to try to embrace it and be aware of those thoughts.''

This isn't just about the Americans.

European qualifying ends this week in Italy, and the players most likely to be picked are in Boston. That includes Ian Poulter, though he likely is a lock to be a pick considering the damage he has inflicted on Americans in recent Ryder Cups. Poulter shot a 67. Luke Donald showed some form with a 69.

Graeme McDowell recently said that McGinley would have ''two picks and Poulter.'' Two years ago, after Poulter stole the show at Medinah in leading a comeback victory, Lee Westwood said Europe's future team would be comprised of nine qualifiers, two picks and Poulter.

''They obviously are saying it for a reason,'' Poulter said. ''When you've delivered for a team like that and you've done it often, they want you there for a reason.''

Poulter is having such a mediocre season that he could get eliminated from the FedEx Cup playoff if the Englishman doesn't move from No. 91 into the top 70 who advance to the third playoff event next week in Denver.

''I just want to play golf,'' Poulter said. ''It's been a (bad) year, and I want to turn it around right now.''

Donald cannot qualify for the team, though he is hopeful of a pick.

''I keep asking myself one question that Paul should ask,'' Donald said. ''Who would you rather have on Sunday trying to win a point? Obviously, I have a lot of experience and I hope that's going to count for a lot. It's also wise to pick on form, and my form hasn't been the best.''

The Ryder Cup has been a strong focus during the early stages of the FedEx Cup team. Hunter Mahan got into the picture in a big way last week by winning The Barclays. He didn't fare so well on Friday, opening with a 73.

For others, it's all about the FedEx Cup for now because they're on the team.

British Open and PGA champion Rory McIlroy, coming off a week in which he was never seriously in contention and tied for 22nd at The Barclays, birdied three of his opening four holes and was on the cusp of leading until dropping too many shots. He had a 70.

Jordan Spieth started his day with a double bogey and then had to make a 10-foot par putt on his second hole. He settled down after that, added four birdies and an eagle and was at 67.

Phil Mickelson debated not coming to Boston because of playing so much in such a short stretch away from home. He looked like he was lost with two bogeys, a double bogey and a triple bogey - along with two birdies - in his opening seven holes. Mickelson was close to the bottom of the leaderboard as he finished his round.

Bradley was never in big trouble. He drove it long and straight, and that goes a long way on the TPC Boston. Bradley played with Mickelson in three matches at Medinah in the last Ryder Cup, and they never lost. Bradley also played a practice round at Gleneagles with Watson before the British Open.

''I think if I go out and shoot good scores, yeah, I think I'm in good shape,'' Bradley said. ''But there's so many great players that aren't on this team. I don't take anything for granted. I don't think I'm a lock by any means.''

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

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Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

“You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

“He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

“I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

“I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

“I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.