Punch Shot: Spieth or McIlroy under more pressure?

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2016, 7:00 pm

World No. 1 Jordan Spieth and No. 3 Rory McIlroy are in the field for this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Spieth is fresh off a historic season while McIlroy is coming off a trying, but still successful 2015. Who is under the most pressure to succeed this year? Our writers weigh in:


As Jordan Spieth proved in his first start of 2016, an eight-stroke romp at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, pressure is what you make of it; but there is no shifting away from the reality that it’s Rory McIlroy who will be feeling the heat this year.

McIlroy is, after all, coming off a relatively disappointing season thanks entirely to a mid-summer injury that had him miss the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. During that time he was also unseated atop the Official World Golf Ranking by Spieth and has since dropped to No. 3 in the world, behind Jason Day who is ranked second.

The challenge for McIlroy will be maintaining the momentum he gained after winning the season-ending DP World Tour Championship on the European Tour. But that victory was two months ago and he won’t make his first start on the PGA Tour until late next month at the Northern Trust Open.

The biggest pressure, however, for the Northern Irishman will come in April when he sets out, again, in pursuit of his first Masters title that would complete the career Grand Slam.

Pressure is always relative, but between the two world-beaters it’s McIlroy who will be feeling it the most in 2016.


Rory McIlroy is right.

When you’ve set the bar for yourself and those chasing you so high, there’s pressure to live up to that level of excellence. When you’re great, and you’re expected to be great, there’s pressure to keep delivering greatness. There’s also more scrutiny. All of a sudden, tying for 10th a few times in a row is failure.

“It will feel completely different for Jordan,” McIlroy said last month. “If you look at the stats at how those who have had a double-major season have performed the next year ... well, it’s hard to back up. It just is. There’s so much expectation, so much attention and focus. And I think it is more self-inflicted pressure, really, as your expectations are so high.”

Yes, Spieth seemed immune winning Hyundai in an eight-shot runaway in his 2016 debut, but the challenge lies ahead, in dealing with the unrelenting scrutiny that will come when, inevitably, he isn’t great over a stretch of multiple starts. This isn’t to say Spieth won’t meet the challenges. It’s just saying there will be more pressure to do so as long as he’s carrying the No. 1 ranking. McIlroy has the same kind of pressure, still, but it will be new to Spieth.


Rory McIlroy is the player with the most to prove this year, and thus faces the most pressure. In many ways, Jordan Spieth has pushed McIlroy out of the limelight – he’s the reigning Player of the Year, the world No. 1 and the top earner in the marketplace. McIlroy has two more majors, the ultimate measuring stick, but also four more years of experience.

It’s no longer a no-brainer, that question about who would win when they’re at the top of their games, Spieth or McIlroy. The obvious answer was (and maybe still is) Rory, because he’s longer off the tee, he’s the best ball-striker on the planet and he has shown the ability to blow away fields in majors. Spieth’s talents are different, but no less effective. Just look at what happened at Kapalua – he still can demoralize opponents with his persistence, short game and putting. He also seems to play at that higher level more consistently.

Starting this week in Abu Dhabi, McIlroy has the opportunity to beat Spieth and remind everyone – his peers, the fans, probably even himself – who is golf’s alpha dog. 


Rory McIlroy was on top of the golf world at Valhalla in 2014. He went on to win four times in 2015 ... and suddenly he's third in the rankings.

As for 2016, Jordan Spieth has already won once this year - convincingly, by eight shots - and is evidencing no signs of slowing down.

If McIlroy is going to reclaim his No. 1 ranking, he is going to have to leapfrog both Spieth and Jason Day, who had a massive breakthrough of his own last season.

Throw in the added pressure of trying to win not just the Masters but the career Grand Slam, and McIlroy is facing more pressure at every turn, both to assert himself in the hunt for world No. 1 and in the quest to cement his place in history. Every year he doesn't win the Masters, that monkey on his back will get a little bigger and little heavier. Just ask Phil Mickelson.

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Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.

The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.

The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.

After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.

“I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”

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Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.

Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.

“I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.

To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.

“More punishment,” he said.

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DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.

Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.

Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.

It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.  

With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.

Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.

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TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 3:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:

• Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.

• This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.

• Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

• In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”

• At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.

• Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.

• My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.