Hawk's Nest: Horschel, McIlroy define 2014 playoffs

By John HawkinsSeptember 15, 2014, 3:30 pm

Hey, at least the guy earned his $10 million, although we certainly can debate whether Billy Horschel should have been eligible for it in the first place. A 125-man postseason? That’s a jailbreak, not a playoff format. One top-10 finish in 22 full-field, regular-season starts? That’s a 7-11 conference record and 17-15 overall – not exactly worthy of a ticket to the Big Dance.

In the 10 ½ months prior to The Barclays, where he would miss the cut, Horschel dropped steadily in the world ranking (34h to 59th). He loitered outside the top 50 in the FedEx Cup standings from mid-March onward, closing at 69th, yet he’d earned enough points to qualify for the season-ending playoff derby by the first week of June.

It’s a system designed primarily to cushion the blow of mediocrity, and Horschel took complete advantage. He ran the table at precisely the right time, and when Rory McIlroy’s limousine ran out of gas a mile short of the Atlanta branch of Finchem Savings & Loan, we had ourselves a 2013-14 champion.

So the hottest golfer in the world, who happens to be an American, won’t be at Gleneagles, which happens to be the site of next week’s Ryder Cup. And the Yanks happen to be something akin to a two-touchdown underdog, which leaves me to wonder if one of our boys might suddenly pull a hammy or happen to come down with flu-like symptoms.

Looking for all the drama this year’s postseason derby couldn’t provide? Horschel’s wife, Brittany, is expecting their first child Sept. 27 – Day 2 of U.S. vs. the Euros.

“I honestly wasn’t going to play in the Ryder Cup if we couldn’t induce labor early,” Horschel said Sunday night. “When I started playing [poorly] this year, I put it out of my mind that I’d get picked. Obviously I wasn’t, and it’s going to work out perfectly.”

Well, sort of. If Billy Ho’s hotness doesn’t convince the PGA of America to start holding a captain’s pick until the week before the matches, perhaps future team sweaters should be woven from the wool of a sacrificial lamb. I stand by the notion that choosing hot players is overrated, simply because there’s close to a month between the selections and the first national anthem.

It doesn’t take long for any tour pro to cool off, but then, we’ve never had a situation like this.

“I still don’t feel like I deserve to be on the team,” Horschel added.

Pardon me, William, but that’s not for you or Brittany’s obstetrician to decide.

NINETY PERCENT AIR. If you’re a 16 handicap spending an afternoon in the right trees, it’s an adage steeped in optimism, an unofficial measure of hope with potentially expensive consequences. If you’re a tour pro such as McIlroy, you simply whip out a wedge and fly it over the wooded area, as he did Sunday at East Lake’s par-5 ninth.

There was a problem, however, and it also came with expensive consequences: McIlroy was cooked. The familiar bounce in his step was gone, his pursuit of the FedEx Cup overall title punctured by a tee shot that didn’t come close to finding land at the par-3 sixth. A modest back-nine rally would leave him three strokes behind Horschel, with whom he began the day sharing the lead.

The scenario would bear a passing resemblance to 2012, when McIlroy entered the final round three strokes off the pace and in excellent position to claim the $10 million, only to stumble home with a 74. In both cases, he entered the Tour Championship as the game’s best player, riding a stretch of dominance but unable to apply a finishing kick on the season’s last day.

“I’m looking forward to a few days off and not seeing my golf clubs for a little while,” were the first words from the Irish Lad’s mouth in his post-round press gathering. “And then, when I’m ready and excited to get back out again, I’ll get ready for the Ryder Cup.”

What should be of significant concern in Camp Ponte Vedra is McIlroy’s long-term commitment to the four-week postseason, particularly in Ryder Cup years. Not only has he squandered two pretty good chances to win the pot o’ gold; he has done it at points in his career when he had nothing to prove.

When you’ve won back-to-back majors and a World Golf Championship, as McIlrampage did this summer – or a major and back-to-back playoff tilts, as he did in ’12 – additional participation becomes solely about money. If rich people don’t buy lottery tickets, greatness doesn’t chase cash, and McIlroy’s body language suggested a pronounced lack of interest once things went wrong Sunday.

He’s Player of the Year, hands down, owner of one of the best non-Tiger seasons in the modern era. Sunday’s falter doesn’t change that a bit, although it is very likely to change how McIlragged arranges his schedule in future Septembers.

“If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have taken a week off somewhere in this stretch of tournaments,” said a guy who already had been wobbly about playing four straight. “Not that you feel obligated, but you want to support the events and give the sponsors something to be happy about and proud of. I’ve got a great relationship with BMW, and that was probably the only reason I did play in Denver.”

Ahem, it’s nice to know the young man has his priorities in order.

NOW THAT I’VE gone over the FedEx Cup playoff results for like the 19th time, I thought it might be interesting to review how America’s 12 Ryder Cuppers performed at each event.

Player The Barclays D. Bank BMW Tour Champ.
Bubba Watson  T-30  T-29  2nd  14th
Rickie Fowler  T-9  T-23  T-4  8th
Jim Furyk  8th  T-23  T-4  T-2
Jimmy Walker  MC  T-9  T-20  T-17
Phil Mickelson  78th  T-45  WD  DNQ
Matt Kuchar  T-5  T-29  T-46  13th
Jordan Spieth  T-22  T-29  T-8  T-27
Patrick Reed  T-9  T-74  T-53  T-19
Zach Johnson  T-22  T-16  T-43  21st
Keegan Bradley  53rd  T-16  WD  DNQ
Hunter Mahan  Won  64th  T-59  T-23
Webb Simpson  MC  T-9  T-53  T-23

A little too much information for you to consume at this point in the day? Allow me to help with some crib notes:

Skipper Tom Watson’s dubious dozen accumulated 13 top-10s in 50 total starts. Mahan obviously picked up the only victory – that’s why he’s on the team. What strikes me about the data is how infrequently U.S. players contended on any of the four Sundays, although a spot in the final-round hunt is a subjective appraisal.

For instance, I’m unwilling to give Fowler credit for contending at the Tour Championship. He finished solo eighth, six back, and wasn’t a realistic factor after a water ball at the sixth. There are lots of different ways to finish T-5, as Kuchar did at The Barclays – Kooch ended up one shot ahead of third-round co-leader Jim Furyk. Although neither had a chance of winning as the tournament reached its homestretch, I’ll begrudgingly give both credit for contending because they finished within four of Mahan.

As was the case a month ago, Furyk and Fowler remain America’s most consistent players – both performed solidly at all four postseason affairs. Neither, however, has won in forever, which means whatever you want it to mean. You want hot golfers? Talk to Brittany Horschel’s doctor.

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McIlroy battles back into tie for BMW PGA lead

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 4:09 pm

Rory McIlroy got off to a rocky start on Saturday in the third round of the BMW PGA Championship, including hitting a spectator and making a double bogey. But after that incident on the sixth hole, he didn't drop another shot, birdieing the final hole to shoot a 1-under 71 and tie for the lead.

McIlroy had gone into Moving Day with a three-shot lead, but Francesco Molinari had the round of the day, a 6-under 66. "It was nice keep a clean scorecard," said Molinari, who hasn't made a bogey since the 10th hole on Friday.

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

McIlroy and Molinari will be paired in Sunday's final round. They are tied at 13 under par, four shots clear of Ross Fisher, Branden Grace, Sam Horsfield and Alexander Noren.

The Wentworth course ends with back-to-back par-5s, and McIlroy birdied both of them. He got a break on the 18th hole as his drive hit a spectator and bounced into light rough.

"It was a struggle out there today," McIlroy said. "I think when you're working on a few things in your swing and the wind is up and you're stuck between trying to play different shots, but also try to play - you know, make good swings at it, I just hit some loose tee balls on the first few holes. But I'm proud of myself. I stayed patient. I actually - I'm feeling a bit better about myself after today than I was even walking off the course yesterday."

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Watch: McIlroy hits spectator on hand

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 2:58 pm

We never cease to wonder at how close fans crowd in to the intended line of some shots, and just how skilled Tour players are in not hitting someone.

But every once in a while, golf ball and spectator intersect, with painful results. It happened to Rory McIlroy during the third round of the BMW PGA Championship, after he had hit a wayward drive on the sixth hole. Attempting to hack out his second shot from under a bush, McIlroy struck a female spectator on her right hand. There was no official word on her condition, but she was clearly - and understandably - in pain.

McIlroy went on to make double bogey but was able to put the incident behind him, as he promptly birdied the next hole.

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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.

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Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.

''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.

McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''

Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.

''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''

Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.

''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''

McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.

''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''

McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.

McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.

Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.

''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.

Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.

''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''