McIlroy eyes Grand Slam glory after latest major win

By Jay CoffinJuly 20, 2014, 8:01 pm

HOYLAKE, England – Who said these words?

“My game is suited for basically every golf course and most conditions, but these conditions I just don’t enjoy playing in really. That’s the bottom line. I’d rather play when it’s 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind.”

Three years ago at rainy, windy Royal St. George’s Rory McIlroy, just a month after his first major win at the U.S. Open, did not love his beloved Open Championship. It’s the championship McIlroy grew up dreaming of winning, but there he stood on that undesirable day and admitted he wasn’t mentally strong enough to battle the elements that this style of golf often presents.

“Just wait for a year when the weather is nice,” he said.

Well, the weather was mostly ideal for four days at Royal Liverpool and McIlroy won. The 25-year-old captured the 143rd edition of the game’s grandest championship to grasp his third major and the third leg of the career Grand Slam, something only Jack Nicklaus (23) and Tiger Woods (24) have done at a younger age. He’s the first European player, and 16th player overall, to win three different majors.

This one, however, wasn’t easy. Not by any means.


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It wasn’t an eight-shot romp like the record-setting performance three years ago at the U.S. Open at Congressional. It didn’t mirror the eight-shot dominance McIlroy displayed two years ago at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.

Sure, for three days it seemed this victory would be similar. McIlroy eagled two of the last three holes on Saturday to sleep on a six-shot lead but held off hard-charging Sergio Garcia (66) and Rickie Fowler (67) on Sunday to shoot 71, good for a 17-under-par 271 total and two-shot victory. McIlroy is the youngest player in history to win two majors wire-to-wire without any ties.

“I’m immensely proud of myself,” McIlroy said, jug in hand. “To sit here 25 years of age and win my third major championship and be three-quarters of the way to the career Grand Slam, yeah, I never dreamed of being at this point in my career so quickly.”

Don’t let the final-round 71 get in the way of the bigger picture. While the likes of Garcia, Fowler, Jim Furyk, Marc Leishman, Adam Scott and Shane Lowry were throwing darts into greens and collecting birdies like it was a weekend scramble, McIlroy did what he needed to do in the final round even though it wasn’t picture perfect.

The beautiful part was the first 54 holes, where McIlroy opened with a flawless 66, slayed the demons of recent poor Friday performances in Round 2 and closed with that eagle flurry in the third round. The common theme during that stretch was that he launched booming drive after booming drive, sent laser-like iron shots into greens at will and made every crucial putt. That deadly trifecta allowed McIlroy to build the massive lead and give him wiggle room on a Sunday with the revered claret jug on the line.

“Just envious and respectful and appreciative of the curly-haired kid,” McIlroy’s compatriot Graeme McDowell said.

Tiger Woods, who finished 23 shots behind McIlroy, said, “When he gets it going, he gets it going.”

For most of the week McIlroy teased media by saying he had two simple words that he kept repeating to himself that had him insanely focused. Some predicted it would be words like “claret” and “jug” but ultimately McIlroy confessed that it was “process” and “spot.” His goal was to focus on the process, no matter the result, and putt to a spot on the greens that would allow him to make putts.

“It’s going to be a big letdown for everyone,” he said before the big reveal. “That was it.”

True, it was a letdown, but no one particularly cares. Point is, McIlroy has won another major, and many more seem in the offing. In the past 18 months McIlroy has gone through an equipment change, a change in representation and an end to a high-profile relationship that seemed headed for marriage, among other snafus. He didn’t play his best golf during that span, but he’s back on top now with a renewed vigor for his craft. It’s good for the game that Rory’s got his groove back.

“I've really found my passion again for golf,” he said. “Not that it ever dwindled, but it's what I think about when I get up in the morning, it's what I think about when I go to bed. I just want to be the best golfer that I can be. And I know if I can do that, then trophies like this are within my capability.”

About those trophies, now we look ahead. McIlroy’s length and precision – or process and spot, I guess we should say – could prove handy on a massive Valhalla track that will host the PGA Championship in three weeks just east of Louisville, Ky. No one is going to hand him the Wanamaker Trophy but he’ll be the heavy favorite and it’d be a surprise if he’s not in the hunt at the very least.

“I want to be the guy that goes on and wins majors and wins majors regularly,” McIlroy said emphatically.

At the risk of getting way ahead of ourselves, there will be suffocating hype for McIlroy heading into the Masters next April as he looks for the final piece of the career Grand Slam. He’s had a chance to win there but crashed and burned for the whole world to see. Everyone remembers the 2011 debacle where he led after 63 holes but butchered the back nine with a 43 to shoot 80 and tie for 15th place. He tied for eighth-place this year. Augusta National suits McIlroy’s game as much, if not more, than any other major venue.

Five men have captured the career Grand Slam in the modern era, but the only man to earn the final piece of the puzzle at the Masters is Gene Sarazen in 1935. Hysteria awaits.

“That’s a pretty impressive thing for him to do, especially given that the one that he’s missing is the Masters,” Phil Mickelson said. “And you know with his length and the way he plays and how well he plays that golf course, that that definitely will happen and probably soon. And that just shows that he’s such a complete player at such a young age.”

Much like Mickelson wasn’t afraid to face career Grand Slam talk after last year’s Open win at Muirfield, McIlroy stepped up to the plate and didn’t duck similar questioning.

“I’ve always been comfortable from tee to green at Augusta,” he said. “It’s just taken me a few years to figure out the greens and figure out where you need to miss it and some different little shots that you might need that week. I’ll be going into Augusta next year pretty confident.”

And he’s leaving Hoylake as confident as ever before. Scary.

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Simpson overtakes DeChambeau in Ryder Cup race

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:09 pm

A T-12 finish at The Open allowed Webb Simpson to move past Bryson DeChambeau into the eighth and final automatic qualifying spot in the U.S. Ryder Cup points race with just three weeks to go.

Simpson finished the week at 3 under, five shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. Adding another strong result to his win at TPC Sawgrass and T-10 finish at the U.S. Open, he's now edged in front of DeChambeau by less than 41 points. But with players earning one point per $1,000 each of the next two weeks and 1.5 points per $1,000 at the PGA Championship, the race is far from over.

Jordan Spieth's T-9 finish strengthened his position at No. 6, as the top six players are essentially assured of qualifying automatically. Rickie Fowler held onto his spot at No. 7, while Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner both moved onto the bubble following T-2 finishes at Carnoustie. After a T-6 finish, Tiger Woods jumped from 31st to 20th.

Here's a look at the updated American standings, with the top eight after the PGA qualifying automatically and captain Jim Furyk adding four picks in September:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Bubba Watson

6. Jordan Spieth

7. Rickie Fowler

8. Webb Simpson

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9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Xander Schauffele

12. Matt Kuchar

13. Kevin Kisner

14. Tony Finau

15. Brian Harman

On the European side, Molinari was already in position to qualify automatically but is now assured of a spot on Thomas Bjorn's roster this fall. Fellow major champs Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy also solidified their footing with runner-up performances.

Here's a look at how things look for the Europeans, with the top four from each list after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

European Points

1. Francesco Molinari

2. Justin Rose

3. Tyrrell Hatton

4. Tommy Fleetwood

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Thorbjorn Olesen

Russell Knox

Eddie Pepperell

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Alex Noren

3. Rory McIlroy

4. Paul Casey

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Matthew Fitzpatrick

Sergio Garcia

Ian Poulter

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.