Donald lacks respect befitting world No. 1

By Jason SobelAugust 2, 2012, 6:34 pm

AKRON, Ohio – Under a clear, blue, early Thursday afternoon sky, Luke Donald is doing what Luke Donald does best. His ball firmly entrenched in the bunker directly left of the ninth green – his final hole of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational opening round – Donald extricates it with the delicate touch of a surgeon, then calmly raps in a 3-foot par putt to punctuate a 4-under 66 total.

The impressive up-and-down that Donald decrees all too normal on a regular basis and its resulting score are each met with a smattering of applause from the relatively sparse gallery. Relatively sparse, that is, for one of the tournament’s co-leaders at the time and relatively sparse for the game’s No. 1-ranked player.

That isn’t a knock against the ever-burgeoning northeast Ohio crowds. It’s more of a statement on the reception Donald finds on a week-in, week-out basis – at least here in the United States, where his lack of a rainbow-colored wardrobe, lack of a silver tongue and lack of a major championship leave him with a lack of due respect. The truth is, he’s a snappy dresser, is among PGA Tour leaders in eloquence and the major, well, he’s working on that.

Even so, he’s got a little bit of Rodney Dangerfield in him right now – and not always the Al Czervik-everybody-loves-me kind.

“Amongst my peers, yeah, absolutely,” Donald says about the respect he receives. “Obviously there isn't as much fanfare around me. I kind of go about my business. You know, I don't really know how to answer that. I think certainly the fact that I haven't won a major distracts away from some of the fan base, and I understand that. But in terms of myself and knowing what got me there, I'm certainly very proud of everything I've done.”

If, as the old baseball commercial stated, “chicks dig the long ball,” then it takes a special kind of connoisseur to dig the wedge-and-putter game.

It may not be sexy – Donald isn’t Bubba Watson bending approach shots around trees or Phil Mickelson flopping ‘em from hardpan lies – but that’s the type of game that wins tournaments, even if it doesn’t necessarily win fans and influence people.

“I’m not too sure the fans follow the No. 1 player in the world just because he’s the No. 1 player in the world,” says caddie John MacLaren. “Tiger [Woods] is one of the greatest players who’s ever lived and he does have that special quality that perhaps Rory [McIlroy] has and very few players have that – it’s not just handed out to everyone. So I think that’s probably what they follow, the extraordinary talent as opposed to No. 1 in the world.

“His achievements are better than anyone else playing the game in the last year-and-a-half, but I’m not sure the American public quite gets that. They do in Europe, I can assure you of that.”

Donald is currently in his fourth stint atop the Official World Golf Ranking, totaling 55 overall weeks so far. Treat the OWGR as gospel or dispute its importance, there’s no denying the fact that any player elevated via formulaic equation to the No. 1 ranking for more than a full year of his career deserves a modicum of respect for the achievement.

Still, each week headlines blare the potential scenarios for other players to overtake Donald atop the world order. This week is no different.

If Woods wins and Donald finishes third or worse, Woods will be the new No. 1. If McIlroy wins and Donald finishes 12th or worse, McIlroy will be the new No. 1.

Well, how about this scenario: If Donald keeps playing the way he’s been playing for the past 18 months, the new No. 1 will be the same as the old No. 1.

Since the beginning of 2011, Donald has competed in 41 events worldwide, compiling 26 top-10 finishes and a half-dozen victories. Last year, he won the money titles on both the PGA and European tours in unprecedented fashion. He isn’t the game’s longest hitter nor is he the most electric, but he easily has the consistency title locked up.

“I love being No. 1,” he maintains. “It just reminds me of how consistent and how well I've played the last couple years. I mean, it's a great plus in terms of the mental side, just knowing the results that got me there. I think it's great to be there and it pushes me harder to work harder to try and stay there, as well.”

The bull’s-eye firmly affixed to his back once again, Donald keeps on doing what he does best. On a course that shouldn’t suit his game at 7,400 yards, he has now posted five consecutive under-par rounds, following last year’s runner-up finish with another strong start this week.

It may not be the brand of golf that wows spectators and draws rave reviews, but it is the type that delivers results. And that’s all Luke Donald really needs.

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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.


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Own history, grow the game with Open memorabilia auction

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 1:00 pm

Get a piece of history and help grow the game, that's what The Open is offering with its memorabilia auction.

The official Open Memorabilia site features unique Open assets from famous venues and Champion Golfers of the Year. All net proceeds received by The R&A from this project will be invested to support the game for future generations, including encouraging women’s, junior and family golf, on the promotion and progression of the sport in emerging golf nations and on coaching and development.

Items for auction include limited edition prints of Champion Golfers of the Year, signed championship pin flags and limited edition historical program covers. Memorable scorecard reproductions and caddie bibs are also available to bid for on the website, with all items featuring branded, serialized holograms for authenticity.

Click here to own your piece of history and to get more information on the auction.