Hawk's Nest: Rory, Ryder Cup in playoff spotlight

By John HawkinsAugust 22, 2014, 5:32 pm

PARAMUS, N.J. – For a state that gets picked on pretty often, New Jersey sure does have a lot of great golf courses, and Ridgewood CC is one of them. A classy A.W. Tillinghast design with a terrific medley of holes and plenty of elevation change, Ridgewood is something of a rarity in today’s game: an old-school gem still capable of challenging the world’s best players.

That said, close to half the field shot under par Thursday in the opening round of the 2014 FedEx Cup playoffs. One of those 55 men was not Rory McIlroy, who respectfully let Tiger Woods do most of the talking during their joint appearance on “The Tonight Show” last Monday.

Tiger clearly was in a buoyant mood while hanging with host Jimmy Fallon, hamming it up a bit and even making fun of his recent shoddy play. We don’t get that kind of stuff in the media center. If Red Shirt announces one more time that he’s “close” and just needs to get his power back, I’m gonna call the electric company and pay his delinquent bill myself.

McIl-rebound, of course, has done his career no harm since ditching his fiancee back in May, although he did struggle to beat Fallon in a little test of shot-making accuracy the other night. Keep in mind that he’s been kicking back since winning the PGA Championship, doing cool stuff like hanging out with his boy Harry from the boy band “One Direction.”

Once you’ve fired the girlfriend, a man can do sillier things than find a pal who has 18,000 screaming lasses in his grill every time he picks up a microphone. So Thursday at Ridgewood, it made perfect sense that McIlroy’s tee ball was seen heading in One Direction:

Right of the fairway.

“We don’t play many courses where you have to drive the ball straight,” veteran caddie John Wood told me after his boss, Hunter Mahan, posted a 66. “Here, you have no chance if you’re playing from the rough.”

A CHANCE. THAT’S all a bunch of U.S. players are hoping to accomplish over the next 10 days: a realistic opportunity to earn one of Tom Watson’s three Ryder Cup captain’s picks. After talking to a half-dozen or so knowledgeable people at Ridgewood, you get an even greater sense of how difficult Watson’s task is.

Regardless of whom he selects, this U.S. squad is vastly inferior to the Europeans, at least on paper, which makes compatible partnerships even more important than usual—and Keegan Bradley a virtual lock to receive a bid.

Bradley’s performance alongside Phil Mickelson in 2012 was a lasting highlight from a week that ended with an infamous U.S. collapse. The pair won their first three matches in routs, and when the Yanks blew a four-point lead in singles, skipper Davis Love III was roundly criticized for having rested the Mickelson-Bradley combo the previous afternoon.

Besides, Bradley has had a very solid year despite not winning: 12 top-25 finishes in 23 starts, four of them top-fives, including Bay Hill, the U.S. Open and Firestone. When you look at the other options, Bradley’s case only gets stronger, which is another way of saying the other two picks are pure guesswork.

One guy who hasn’t gotten much notice is Mahan. He has an exceptional match-play history and has played on six Ryder/Presidents Cup teams, compiling a 13-9-4 record. His flubbed chip late on the 17th hole in his singles match against Graeme McDowell made him a target of blame in the 2010 loss – an unfair charge if ever there was one.

This squad isn’t good enough to leave behind a guy who has won 15 points in 26 matches over the years. As much as some people love Brandt Snedeker, another top American having an off-year, he can’t touch Mahan in terms of experience and performance.

“You know what it’s like to face an opponent who hits every fairway, like Hunter does?” Wood says. “It can get pretty demoralizing. He’s never out of a hole.”

THEN THERE IS the curious case of Jason Dufner, who led many to believe he might be done for the year after a neck problem forced him to withdraw from the PGA Championship. The injury basically cost Dufner an automatic spot—he fell to 10th in the final week of qualifying.

“As of now, he’s in the field next week,” his agent, Ben Walter, told me Thursday.

You may recall Dufner’s frustration after walking off at Valhalla. When asked by TNT about the seriousness of the neck issue and when he might return, Duf quipped, “It may be next week, it may be next month, it may be next year, it may be never.”

It wasn’t exactly the most encouraging self-prognosis ever, but a couple of weeks have passed, and it appears Dufner won’t have to retire after all. As well as so many Americans played during the first two days at Medinah, few, if any, were better than Dufner, a ball-striking machine who can make life very easy for a partner in the alternate-shot format.

“If he’s healthy, he’ll play [at Deutsche Bank].” Walter added. “If he’s not healthy, he won’t play just to try and grab a spot on the team.”

And if I’m Captain Watson, I think long and hard about making Dufner my third and final pick. You can talk all you want about how Ryder Cup experience can become a negative, how the U.S. could use some new blood on its side, but I’ll take my chances on guys who have been there before.

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Fleetwood, with his fancy umbrella, fires 65 on Day 2

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 12:34 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tommy Fleetwood looked like an Open rookie when he set out on Friday under gray skies and a cold, steady rain.

Because the Englishman doesn’t have an equipment sponsor he made a quick turn through the merchandise tent for an umbrella – but at least he didn’t have to pay for it.

“We stole it,” he laughed when asked about his Open-brand umbrella. “We got one given for free, actually. We didn't steal it. We don't always carry an umbrella. So it just so happens this week that we've got a nice Open Championship [umbrella]. It looked quite nice, the yellow and the course.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

It was Fleetwood’s only rookie move on Day 2 at Carnoustie, posting a flawless 65 to move into an early tie for second place at 5 under par.

Fleetwood holds the competitive course record at Carnoustie, a 9-under 63 he shot last fall during the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship, but given Friday’s conditions and the difficulty of this course during The Open, his 65 on Friday might have been better.

“It's not a course record, but it's pretty good,” said Fleetwood, who was stroke behind leader Zach Johnson. “If you went out, you wouldn't really fancy being 6 under out there. So I think that's a good indication of how good it was.”

It was a dramatic turnaround for Fleetwood on Friday. He said he struggled with his ball-striking, specifically his tee shots, on Day 1, but he was able to turn things around with an hour-long session on the range following his opening round.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 10:15 am

Following an even-par 71 in the first round of the 147th Open Championship, Tiger Woods looks to make a move on Day 2 at Carnoustie.

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McIlroy responds to Harmon's 'robot' criticism

By Mercer BaggsJuly 20, 2018, 6:53 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy said during his pre-championship news conference that he wanted to play more "carefree" – citing Jon Rahm’s approach now and the way McIlroy played in his younger days.

McIlroy got off to a good start Thursday at Carnoustie, shooting 2-under 69, good for a share of eighth place.

But while McIlroy admits to wanting to be a little less structured on the course, he took offense to comments made by swing coach Butch Harmon during a Sky Sports telecast.

Said Harmon:

“Rory had this spell when he wasn’t putting good and hitting the ball good, and he got so wrapped up in how he was going to do it he forgot how to do it.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“He is one of the best players the game has ever seen. If he would just go back to being a kid and playing the way he won these championships and play your game, don’t have any fear or robotic thoughts. Just play golf. Just go do it.

“This is a young kid who’s still one of the best players in the world. He needs to understand that. Forget about your brand and your endorsement contracts. Forget about all that. Just go back to having fun playing golf. I still think he is one of the best in the world and can be No.1 again if he just lets himself do it.”

McIlroy, who has never worked with Harmon, responded to the comments when asked about them following his opening round.

“Look, I like Butch. Definitely, I would say I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum than someone that's mechanical and someone that's – you know, it's easy to make comments when you don't know what's happening,” McIlroy said. “I haven't spoken to Butch in a long time. He doesn't know what I'm working on in my swing. He doesn't know what's in my head. So it's easy to make comments and easy to speculate. But unless you actually know what's happening, I just really don't take any notice of it.”

McIlroy second round at The Open began at 2:52 a.m. ET.

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How The Open cut line is determined

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 5:57 am

Scores on Day 1 of the 147th Open Championship ranged from 5-under 66 to 11-over 82.

The field of 156 players will be cut nearly in half for weekend play at Carnoustie. Here’s how the cut line works in the season’s third major championship:

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

• After 36 holes, the low 70 players and ties will advance to compete in the final two rounds. Anyone finishing worse than that will get the boot. Only those making the cut earn official money from the $10.5 million purse.

• There is no 10-shot rule. That rule means anyone within 10 shots of the lead after two rounds, regardless of where they stand in the championship, make the cut. It’s just a flat top 70 finishers and ties.

• There is only a single cut at The Open. PGA Tour events employ an MDF (Made cut Did not Finish) rule, which narrows the field after the third round if more than 78 players make the cut. That is not used at this major.

The projected cut line after the first round this week was 1 over par, which included 71 players tied for 50th or better.