McIlroy's best is better than everyone else's

By Jason SobelSeptember 10, 2012, 10:00 pm

Rory McIlroy is the best golfer in the world right now.

You can place that sentence in the circular file labeled, “Duh.”

This is meant neither as a knock on anyone else nor as an indefinite description, but right now – right this very second – McIlroy’s placement atop the charts is as inarguable as the earth being round or the sun being hot.

We’ve learned this over the past month, with the 23-year-old capturing three titles in four starts, each holding differing levels of impressiveness.

But that’s not all we’ve learned during this time.

We’ve also learned that McIlroy’s best is better than everyone else’s best.

Photos: Rory McIlroy through the years

Just to backtrack a little bit, there was a time not so long ago when the golf world was collectively wondering about Rory. He missed the cut at The Players Championship in May, then traveled across the pond and missed the cut at the BMW PGA Championship, then came back to the U.S. and missed the cut at the Memorial Tournament.

What was eminently evident during those three consecutive starts was that McIlroy’s mediocre is, well, mediocre. Which is to say, when Rory only has his “C” game, it isn’t enough to win. Or even contend. Or, in the case of the aforementioned three events, make it to the weekend.

For a man so often favorably compared with Tiger Woods, it serves as a stark contrast.

Grading a player’s performance is best done on a curve, so the reality is that each tournament winner should always conclude his week with an A+ result. As the naked eye can easily discern, however, titles are often accrued when a competitor has something less than his best game. Many times during a past decade and a half that has spawned 74 total PGA Tour triumphs, Woods has prevailed with what even he admittedly calls his “B” or “C” game.

McIlroy either doesn’t own this ability or just hasn’t shown it yet. Which, of course, is irrelevant when he repeatedly brings his “A” game to the course.

On Sunday, he won the BMW Championship by shooting a final-round 5-under 67 – the third-best score in the 70-man field. This comes on the heels of a Deutsche Bank Championship victory during which his closing 67 was just one stroke from the low round of the day. Prior to these two, he took the PGA Championship by posting the best score of the third round and second-best score of the final round.

It is impossible to determine what a golfer’s “best” might entail, because that level is forever unattainable. Every drive can be longer, every approach closer and every putt purer. It’s what motivates the world’s most elite players to continue practicing and tweaking and trying to improve themselves.

If we’re realistic about it, though, if we think rationally instead of illogically about the optimal performance from a player, then it can be safely stated that McIlroy did indeed play his best golf during each of these three recent victories – at least down the stretch when it mattered the most.

All of which leads to one more thing we’ve learned about Rory in the past month: Nobody else can take a bunched leaderboard and create separation in a hurry like him.

At the PGA, his multi-stroke lead at the turn produced visions of last year’s Masters, when he parlayed a four-shot lead into a share of 15th place. Instead, it turned out to be a repeat of the 2011 U.S. Open, with McIlroy distancing himself from the pack like Usain Bolt in a sprint.

His win in Boston was hardly a runaway, but it’s noteworthy that just two other players were within five shots of him by tournament’s end. And in Indiana he was tied with five holes to play, only to turn the end of the proceedings into his own personal coronation.

In each instance, he has shown an uncanny ability to finish off his competition. If McIlroy were a football player, we’d say he has great closing speed. If he were a baseball player, we’d call him Mariano Rivera.

It happens in the blink of an eye, akin to catching a glimpse of a shooting star bursting across the sky.

Much like the speed with which he’s been closing out tournaments, Rory has firmly entrenched himself as the game’s preeminent talent. For now. So often this season, the title of best golfer in the world seemed like it belonged to whoever was the last player to hoist a trophy.

McIlroy has provided some breathing room between himself and everyone else. Should he lay an egg at the season-ending Tour Championship and Woods matches him with a fourth victory this year, it could be argued that at least there’s an argument. Otherwise, though, the player Tiger refers to as a “kid” has removed the volatility from what was an ongoing debate.

Clearly, he is the best golfer in the world right now. It is also unfailingly evident that his best is better than everyone else’s best. Each of those classifications is subject to change in the not-too-distant future, but for McIlroy simply removing doubt should be considered a mighty feat in itself.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.