McIlroy still trying to clear Masters 'mental' hurdle

By John FeinsteinApril 13, 2016, 1:00 pm

One of the more fascinating aspects about observing Rory McIlroy is watching him answer questions. Unlike many athletes, McIlroy actually listens to every question.

He never responds quickly, because he actually thinks about the question before answering. He will pause, tilt his head and then nod when he’s decided what to say.

Sunday, after he finished a roller-coaster final round at the Masters – seven birdies and six bogeys en route to a 1-under-par 71 – McIlroy was asked a simple question: Assess your week.

Most players react to that sort of broadly general query by looking at the bright side, trying to find the glass as close to half-full as possible. McIlroy didn’t go there.

“I was in great position going into the weekend and I just didn’t play the golf I needed to play when it really mattered,” he said. “I felt very tentative, played very defensively, felt very similar to how I played the last round at Doral playing with the lead.

“You’re just trying not to make mistakes instead of attacking and making birdies. Trying not to make mistakes is not my game. That’s not what I do.”

It absolutely isn’t what he does. And, it’s pretty clear watching him play at Augusta National that he is still trying to figure out the puzzle that the golf course can be. Five years ago, he made it look easy for three rounds, bolting to a four-shot lead after 54 holes before a final-round 80 dropped him to 15th place.

He admitted that day that he had played defensively, trying to protect the lead and said he had learned a lesson from it. Perhaps he did. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had the chance to put that lesson to use, since he hasn’t led at the Masters since then. He’s finished in the top 10 the last three years: T-8; 4th; T-10, but that’s not what he’s after. He wants to complete the career Grand Slam and he wants to do it soon. Before it becomes, ‘a thing.’



The question now is this: Has it already become ‘a thing?’ Clearly, McIlroy has given that some thought.

“I’ve been in position (at the Masters) before and I haven’t got the job done when I needed to and I don’t think that’s anything to do with my game,” he said. “I think that’s more me mentally and I’m trying to deal with the pressure of it and the thrill of the achievement if it were to happen. I think that’s the thing that’s really holding me back.”

Players would usually rather try to play standing on their heads than admit something may be grinding on them mentally. McIlroy isn’t like that. Prior to the start of the tournament last week, he readily admitted that he had been distracted by all the talk about completing the career Grand Slam a year ago and that had led to a poor start. He was 3-over-par for 27 holes, before playing the last 45 holes in 15 under. The rally got him to fourth place but never within shouting distance of the runaway train that was Jordan Spieth.

This year, he did exactly what he needed to do for 36 holes, hanging in under the sort of windy conditions that he doesn’t like. Five years ago at the Open Championship, he sent much of the British media into a tizzy when he admitted after the third round at Royal St. George’s that he didn’t like playing in adverse conditions. For someone from Northern Ireland to make such an admission was akin to someone from Kentucky saying they weren’t wild about college basketball. Or a New Yorker saying he wasn’t crazy about thin-crust pizza.

But, in spite of the windy conditions, he walked to the tee on Saturday afternoon one shot out of the lead and paired with Spieth in the final group. This should have been a challenge that McIlroy relished. He’s made it pretty clear that he has no desire to cede his spot as the world’s best player to Spieth or Jason Day. He’s always played well in the past when paired with Spieth and here was his chance to teach the kid a lesson or two on golf’s grandest stage.

Except he didn’t do that. He fizzled completely, hitting the ball all over the place, never making a putt and finally trudging up the hill to the 18th green to finish with a 77 that included zero birdies. Rory McIlroy playing 18 holes at Augusta National without a single birdie?

Impossible. Except, on Saturday, not only possible, but true.

He talked Saturday about still believing he could win thanks to the fact that Spieth’s bogey-double bogey finish meant he was only five shots back. As it turned out, he was only one shot behind Danny Willett, the man who ended up with the green jacket on Sunday, so if he had been able to go low, he still could have won.

But he didn’t go low. Every time he made a birdie, a bogey followed soon after. And so, he spent the day running in place. He began tied for 11th place and finished tied for 10th.

McIlroy won’t be 27 until next month. Plenty of players haven’t won a single major at that age – Phil Mickelson, remember, was 33 before he won one – but McIlroy doesn’t want to be plenty of players. He wants to be the player. He wants to be No. 1 in the world again and he badly wants the career Grand Slam.

The fact that he’s not in denial about the pressure he feels at Augusta is probably a good thing. So often, players try to claim they aren’t bothered by something when clearly they are. Colin Montgomerie repeatedly said it didn’t bother him not to have won a major. “If I never win one, I’ll still have had a great career,” he often said.

He did have a great career. And he never won a major.

McIlroy has already won four majors and his spot in the Hall of Fame is assured. But that’s not enough for him. He is still trying to become a more consistent putter and he very badly wants a green jacket. One with the Augusta National crest on it.

He still has plenty of time to take care of that one hole in his golf resume. There’s little doubt, though, that with each passing year he is more and more aware of the need to get it done – sooner, rather than later.

Getty Images

Romo rallies to win American Century Championship

By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:42 am

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. - Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo rallied from four points back to win his first American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe on Sunday.

Romo, who retired after the 2016 NFL season and is now an NFL analyst, had 27 points on the day to beat three-time defending champion Mark Mulder and San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, the the leader after the first two rounds.

''It's a special win,'' said Romo, who had finished second three times in seven previous trips to the annual celebrity golf tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. ''It feels like you're playing a tournament back home here. The day felt good for a lot of reasons.''

Romo tapped in for par, worth one point, on the 18th hole to finish with 71 points, three ahead of Mulder, the former major league pitcher. He then caught a flight to Berlin, Wis., where he was to compete in a 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament on Monday.

The American Century Championship uses a modified Stableford scoring system which rewards points for eagles (six), birdies (three) and pars (one) and deducts points (two) for double bogeys or worse. Bogeys are worth zero points.

Pavelski had a 7-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th that could have tied Romo, but it slid by. He finished with 66 points, tied for third with Ray Allen, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 7.


Full-field scores from the American Century Championship


''It feels like nothing went in for me today,'' Pavelski said. ''But I couldn't ask for more than to have that putt to tie on the last hole.''

Romo plays as an amateur, so his $125,000 first-place check from the $600,000 purse will go to local charities and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, the primary charitable arm of title sponsor American Century Investments.

Rounding out the top five were Trent Dilfer, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, and former tennis player Mardy Fish. Each had 62 points.

Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, who fell out of contention with a mediocre round Saturday, jumped into Lake Tahoe amidst much fanfare after losing a bet to his father, Dell. The elder Curry jumped into the lake last year, so he negotiated a 20-point handicap and won by two points.

Other notable players in the 92-player field included John Smoltz, the MLB hall of Fame pitcher who two weeks ago competed in the U.S. Senior Open and finished 10th here with 53 points; Steph Curry, who finished tied for 11th with retired Marine and wounded war hero Andrew Bachelder (50); actor Jack Wagner (16th, 47 points); Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (tied for 18th, 44 points); actor Ray Romano (tied for 71st, minus-26 points); comedian Larry the Cable Guy (tied for 77th, minus-33 points); and former NBA great Charles Barkley, who finished alone in last with minus-93 points.

The tournament drew 57,097 fans for the week, setting an attendance record for the fourth straight year.

Getty Images

Singh tops Maggert in playoff for first senior major

By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:10 am

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. - Vijay Singh birdied the second playoff hole to beat Jeff Maggert and win the Constellation Senior Players Championship on Sunday.

Singh knocked in a putt from about 2 feet after a nearly perfect approach on the 18th hole at Exmoor Country Club, giving an understated fist pump as the ball fell in. That gave him his first major title on the PGA Tour Champions to go with victories at the Masters and two PGA Championships.

Singh (67) and Maggert (68) finished at 20-under 268. Brandt Jobe (66) was two strokes behind, while Jerry Kelly (64) and defending champion Scott McCarron (71) finished at 17 under.

Maggert had chances to win in regulation and on the first playoff hole.

He bogeyed the par-4 16th to fall into a tie with Singh at 20 under and missed potential winning birdie putts at the end of regulation and on the first playoff hole.

His 15-footer on the 72nd hole rolled wide, forcing the playoff, and a downhill 12-footer on the same green went just past the edge.


Full-field scores from the Constellation Energy Senior Players


The 55-year-old Singh made some neat par saves to get into the playoff.

His tee shot on 17 landed near the trees to the right of the fairway, and his approach on 18 wound up in a bunker. But the big Fijian blasted to within a few feet to match Maggert's par.

McCarron - tied with Maggert and Bart Bryant for the lead through three rounds - was trying to join Arnold Palmer and Bernhard Langer as the only back-to-back winners of this major. He came back from a six-shot deficit to win at Caves Valley near Baltimore last year and got off to a good start on Sunday.

He birdied the first two holes to reach 18 under. But bogeys on the par-4 seventh and ninth holes knocked him off the lead. His tee shot on No. 7 rolled into a hole at the base of a tree and forced him to take an unplayable lie.

Getty Images

Davies a fitting winner of inaugural USGA championship

By Randall MellJuly 15, 2018, 11:26 pm

Laura Davies confessed she did not sleep well on a five-shot lead Saturday night at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

It’s all you needed to know about what this inaugural event meant to the women who were part of the history being made at Chicago Golf Club.

The week was more than a parade of memories the game’s greats created playing in the USGA’s long-awaited showcase for women ages 50 and beyond.

The week was more than nostalgic. 

It was a chance to make another meaningful mark on the game.

In the end, Davies relished seeing the mark she made in her runaway, 10-shot victory. She could see it in the familiar etchings on the trophy she hoisted.

“I get my name on it first,” Davies said. “This championship will be played for many years, and there will only be one first winner. Obviously, quite a proud moment for me to win that.”

Really, all 120 players in the field made their marks at Chicago Golf Club. They were all pioneers of sorts this past week.

“It was very emotional seeing the USGA signs, because I've had such a long history, since my teens, playing in USGA championships,” said Amy Alcott, whose Hall of Fame career included the 1980 U.S. Women’s Open title. “I thought the week just came off beautifully. The USGA did a great job. It was just so classy how everything was done, this inaugural event, and how was it presented.”

Davies was thankful for what the USGA added to the women’s game, and she wasn’t alone. Gratefulness was the theme of the week.


Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open


The men have been competing in the U.S. Senior Open since 1980, and now the women have their equal opportunity to do the same.

“It was just great to be a part of the first,” three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Hollis Stacy said. “The USGA did a great job of having it at such a great golf course. It's just been very memorable.”

Trish Johnson, who is English, like Davies, finished third, 12 shots back, but she left with a heart overflowing.

“Magnificent,” said Johnson, a three-time LPGA and 19-time LET winner. “Honestly, it's one of the best, most enjoyable weeks I've ever played in in any tournament anywhere.”

She played in the final group with Davies and runner-up Juli Inkster.

“Even this morning, just waiting to come out here, I thought, `God, not often do I actually think how lucky I am to do what I do,’” Johnson said.

At 54, Davies still plays the LPGA and LET regularly. She has now won 85 titles around the world, 20 of them LPGA titles, four of them majors, 45 of them LET titles.

With every swing this past week, she peeled back the years, turned back the clock, made fans and peers remember what she means to the women’s game.

This wasn’t the first time Davies made her mark in a USGA event. When she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1987, she became just the second player from Europe to win the title, the first in 20 years. She opened a new door for internationals. The following year, Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann won the title.

“A lot of young Europeans and Asians decided that it wasn't just an American sport,” Davies said. “At that stage, it had been dominated, wholeheartedly, by all the names we all love, Lopez, Bradley, Daniel, Sheehan.”

Davies gave the rest of the world her name to love, her path to follow.

“It certainly made a lot of foreign girls think that they could take the Americans on,” Davies said.

In golf, it’s long been held that you can judge the stature of an event by the names on the trophy. Davies helps gives the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open the monumental start it deserved.

Getty Images

Suwannapura beats Lincicome in playoff for first win

By Associated PressJuly 15, 2018, 10:49 pm

SYLVANIA, Ohio - Thidapa Suwannapura's main focus going into the Marathon Classic was trying to put together four solid rounds that would help her keep her LPGA card.

She doesn't have to worry about that any longer.

Suwannapura picked up her first win on Sunday, closing with a 6-under 65 and birdieing the first playoff hole to defeat Brittany Lincicome at Highland Meadows.

In the playoff, Suwannapura converted a short birdie putt after Lincicome hit her second shot into a water hazard and scrambled for par.

''I never expect it was going to be today at all. I've just been struggling the whole year,'' said Suwannapura, whose previous best finish was seventh at the 2014 Kingsmill Championship. ''Finally all my work I've been doing has come out and shown up today. After I knocked that last putt in, it just felt like a dream come true.''

With the win, the 25-year-old Thai player has an exemption through the 2020 season. She is also the sixth first-time winner on tour this year

Suwannapura picked up three strokes over her final two holes, making eagle on the par-5 17th and closing with a birdie on the par-5 18th to finish at 14-under 270. She then had to wait for the final seven groups to finish.

''I did not think or expect that 14 would be good enough, because I know there were two par 5s coming in on 17 and 18, and it's a good opportunity for players to make birdie,'' Suwannapura said. ''I was just chilling in the clubhouse, you know, being silly and stuff, trying to relax, and see what they're doing. Now, like, 'Oh, I have to go warm up and try to win the tournament.'''


Full-field scores from the Marathon Classic


Lincicome shot 67. She had a chance to win in regulation, but her birdie putt from about 10 feet did a nearly 360-degree turn around the edge of the cup and stayed out.

Despite having eight career victories, including this season's opener in the Bahamas, the 32-year-old Lincicome said she was extremely nervous standing over that putt.

''I was shaking so bad. I had to take so many deep breaths. So it's kind of cool to have those nerves, but learning how to play through them after 12 years of being a pro ... 14 years of being a pro, I still haven't figured it out, so that's a little disappointing,'' she said. ''(The putt) caught a lot of the hole, so I feel like I hit a pretty good putt for how nervous I was. I really haven't seen one that aggressive in a long time, so that was just unfortunate, really.''

Next up for the big-hitting Lincicome: a start against the men at the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship in Kentucky. She will become the first woman since 2004 to play in a PGA Tour event.

Third-round leader Brooke Henderson led by two shots after six holes, but struggled the rest of the way. Back-to-back bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes dropped her out of the lead. The 20-year-old Canadian finished with a 2-under 69, one shot out of the playoff.

''Sometimes golf is weird. Sometimes it just doesn't go your way, and that was kind of me the last four holes,'' said Henderson, who lost for only the second time in six occasions she has led after 54 holes.

Besides the tour exemption, Suwannapura's win came with another bonus. She was one of five players to earn a spot in the Women's British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

The top five players not already exempt earned spots. The other qualifiers were Daniela Darquea, Celine Herbin, Mina Harigae and Mel Reid.