Time to Capital-ize

By John FeinsteinJune 17, 2011, 10:59 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – There has been a lot made the past few days about Rory McIlroy’s trip to Haiti last week, which is understandable. Upon his return, McIlroy spoke eloquently about how the devastation he saw shook him and made him think about how lucky he is to be living the life he is living.

And so, the oldest cliché in sports was put into play: McIlroy’s trip helped him put his meltdown on Sunday at Augusta into perspective.

No, it didn’t.

McIlroy already had plenty ofperspective. That was evident in the moments after he signed for an 80 on that April Sunday and finished the Masters in a tie for 15th place after leading by four shots going into the final round. At a moment when almost every golfer in the world would have bolted the grounds, he stayed and answered every question.

It was the most impressive post-collapse performance in golf since 1996, when Greg Norman blew a six-shot Sunday lead at Augusta and behaved with equal grace in the face of a humiliating defeat.

Of course Norman was 41 at the time and had been through the ups and downs that come with life in the professional golf fishbowl. McIlroy was not quite 22. Had he said, ‘not today fellas,’ – the way Dustin Johnson did after falling apart at Pebble Beach a year ago – no one would have blamed him.

On Tuesday, relaxing in the Congressional locker room after playing nine holes, McIlroy smiled when someone complimented him on the way he had handled himself at Augusta.

“I had a lot of time to think about what I was going to say didn’t I?” he said with a smile. “It was a round of golf – a bad one. But that’s all it was, nothing more.”

Clearly, McIlroy believes that. And based on his stunning play for 36 holes this week, he wasn’t shaken by what happened to him. Athletes often claim that a collapse or a shocking defeat doesn’t really bother them much. Then, years later, they admit that they were never quite the same after that loss.

Arnold Palmer never won another major after blowing a seven-shot lead on the back nine on Sunday in 1966 at the Olympic Club and then losing an Open playoff to Billy Casper. Norman never won another major after the ’96 Masters. Although Tom Watson has had some extraordinary moments, he never won another major title after letting the lead get away to Seve Ballesteros in 1984 on the back nine at St. Andrews.

McIlroy’s collapse is probably more analogous to Watson’s 79 at Winged Foot in 1974 when Watson was 24. Watson learned from his loss and it appears that McIlroy did too. Of course there are still 36 holes to go in this U.S. Open and no one is writing McIroy’s Hall of Fame induction speech just yet.

Golf is too uncertain to start anointing 36-hole leaders as anything other than, well, a 36-hole leader.

But there are some things about McIlroy that are certain: He is as mature, bright, likeable as any young player the sport has seen in a long time. When someone asked McIlroy after his opening-round 65 about his ability to lead the next major after the Augustameltdown, he laughed and said, “I guess it shows that I have a very short memory.”

What really tells the tale about McIlroy is what other players say about him. When the Tiger Woods burst onto the scene in 1996, others were awed by him. They understood he was going to win and win often. But they didn’t necessarily like him.

Some of it was jealousy. Some was the simple fact that Woods rarely spent much time hanging out with anyone, except Isleworth neighbors Mark O’Meara and John Cook. Even they have always been kept at arm’s length.

There are plenty of reasons to be jealous of McIlroy. He isn’t Woods but he’s a huge talent who is already a millionaire many times over. His demeanor and smile make the girls sigh and the sponsors come running. He’s the son everyone would love to have.

So, here’s a small sampling of what players were saying about McIlroy – the person – on Friday.

Sergio Garcia, at 2 under par, nine shots behind McIlroy, smiled and said, “I really hope he can win.”

Brandt Snedeker, who is also 2 under said, “If he wins, it will be great for the game.”

That’s exactly right.

It isn’t because the game needs another great player with Woods’ career in limbo and Mickelson’s future uncertain. It’s because McIlroy has the ability to become a champion who won’t just be respected for his talent but will be genuinely liked because he’s likeable in every possible way.

If he continues to dominate this weekend there will be inevitable comparisons with Woods’ performance at Pebble Beach 11 years ago. That’s unfair. That tournament was the beginning of arguably the greatest streak in the history of golf.

McIlroy isn’t going to become the golfer that Woods became. But he’s also not going to become the person Woods became.

That’s not a comment on Woods’ personal problems. Long before any of that happened, Woods had little time to sign autographs, almost never stopped to talk after a poor round of golf and acted as if there was a conspiracy against him on rare occasions when he missed a key putt.

Right here at Congressional 14 years ago, he stormed off after an opening-round 74 and then showed up all smiles a day later after a 67 saying it was unfair that he was asked to talk when he wasn’t on the leaderboard. On the same day that Woods stalked off players like Mickelson, Norman, Davis Love and Fred Couples – all of whom shot a score equal or higher than Woods – talked to the media and stopped to sign autographs.

Woods was just 21 at the time, but that’s the same age McIlroy was on that April afternoon in Augusta two months ago.

Everyone connected to golf will be overjoyed if McIlroy leaves Congressional with the U.S. Open trophy in his possession.

Getty Images

Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

Getty Images

Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.

Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

Getty Images

Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

Getty Images

NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)