Epic Crossroads

By Randall MellJune 17, 2011, 8:22 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Something spectacular awaits this weekend.

History is in the making here at the 111th U.S. Open.

That’s the feeling Rory McIlroy brought to Congressional Country Club Friday with his bold march into the championship’s record book just half way through the event.

Whether it’s a spectacular runaway rout rivaling what Tiger Woods did in the 2000 U.S. Open or a spectacular collapse surpassing what Greg Norman did at the 1996 Masters, you feel the epic nature of this storyline building.

Is McIlroy built more like his generation’s Tiger or Shark?

While the former seems far more likely given the form of the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland, there’s enough doubt in McIlroy’s resume to prevent engravers from getting a head start on etching his name on the U.S. Open trophy.

The final-round 80 McIlroy shot to blow The Masters two months ago sits in the back of your cranium. So does the 80 he shot to derail his opening 63 at St. Andrews in the British Open last summer.

So even on this riveting Friday, there was reason to pause after McIlroy’s errant shot at the finish, his hooked approach into the water at the 18th. His closing double bogey was the only blemish on two otherwise beautiful scorecards.

Backing up his first-round 65 with Friday’s 66, McIlroy set the 36-hole U.S. Opening scoring record. His 131 total is one shot better than the mark Ricky Barnes set at Bethpage Black two years ago.

“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Steve Stricker said.

When McIlroy signed his scorecard, he was eight shots in the lead, two shots better than the U.S. Open record 36-hole lead Woods built at Pebble Beach in his historic romp 11 years ago. By day's end Y.E. Yang trimmed his lead to six.

Stricker was an accidental spectator for much of McIlroy’s run. He was standing at the ninth tee waiting to play when a roar erupted around the eighth green. That’s where McIlroy holed a wedge from 114 yards for eagle.

The hole out was historic because it got McIlroy to 10 under par, making McIlroy the fastest player to reach double digits under par in U.S. Open history.

Stricker, David Toms and Retief Goosen didn’t see who hit the shot, but they knew.

“We kind of had a feeling it was Rory,” Stricker said. “Players get in those kind of grooves or those kind of rolls where they start to make everything.”

McIlroy’s run is making more than just the paying customers marvel here at Congressional. Mickelson turned in the eighth fairway and applauded McIlroy after he holed out there. Though Mickelson turned in 33, he actually lost ground to McIlroy.

“He’s striking it flawlessly,” Mickelson said.

All day long, Stricker, Toms and Goosen heard the roars behind them. They didn’t have to see the leaderboards to know McIlroy was mounting a special run.

“Every time we turned around, he was 320 yards down the middle,” Toms said. “We knew how good he was playing. We talked about it a number of times during the round, about what he was shooting, what a good score it was for a U.S. Open. I mean, I’d be happy to be at even par and he got himself to 13 under.”

With a birdie at the 17th, McIlroy reached 13 under, a magical number nobody had ever reached in a U.S. Open.

“It’s funny to me,” McIlroy said. “It feels quite simple. I’m hitting fairways. I’m hitting greens. I’m holing my fair share of putts.”

McIlroy’s on quite the major championship streak in his bid to win his first major. He’s led five of the last six major championship rounds played. He’s led at some point in the last four majors. He’s now shot in the 60s in 12 of 38 major championship rounds.

“I put myself in great position going into the weekend,” McIlroy said. “But I know more than anyone else what can happen. So I’ve got to stay really focused and try and finish this thing off.”

Nobody’s giving McIlroy anything despite his stellar ball striking.

“There’s a long ways to go,” said Stricker, who trails McIlroy by 13 shots. “He’s got to come back. The way he’s playing now, it doesn’t seem like he’ll do that, but you’ve just got to keep fighting and see what happens. But it’s pretty incredible what he’s done.”

U.S. Open history has witnessed miraculous comebacks before. Lou Graham was 11 shots down after 36 holes and came back to win at Medinah in 1975. Arnold Palmer was seven back in the final round when he won at Cherry Hills in 1960.

In two rounds, McIlroy’s hit a staggering 32 of 36 greens in regulation. He’s hit 20 of 28 fairways. He’s made 11 birdies, an eagle and a double bogey.

It’s that double bogey that provides the field a ray of hope. After driving into the left rough, McIlroy tried to reach the 18th with a 7-iron but hooked it into the water.

It’s all about closing now and McIlroy will tell you that’s about more than skill. He learned that in his Augusta National collapse.

While McIlroy’s winning over a legion of new fans with his good-natured temperament, he’s trying to cultivate a cold heart between the ropes.

“I needed to be a little more cocky, a little more arrogant on the course and think a little bit more about myself, which I’ve tried to incorporate a little bit, just on the course,” McIlroy said. “I just try to have a bit of an attitude.”

Whether McIlroy’s found the attitude he needs to complement his ball striking prowess may determine whether this is a spectacularly memorable or forgettable weekend for the Ulsterman.

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Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 23, 2018, 3:00 pm

Tiger Woods has a three-shot lead entering the final round of the Tour Championship and is alongside Rory McIlroy in the final group. We're tracking him.

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Rose tries to ignore scenarios, focus on winning

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:59 am

ATLANTA – No one has more to play for than Justin Rose on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

The Englishman will begin the day three strokes behind front-runner Tiger Woods after a third-round 68 that could have been much worse after he began his day with back-to-back bogeys.

Winning the tournament will be Rose’s top priority, but there’s also the lingering question of the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus, which he is currently projected to claim.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“The way I look at tomorrow is that I have many scenarios in play. I have the FedExCup in play. I have all of that to distract me,” Rose said. “But yet, I'm three back. I think that's my objective tomorrow is to come out and play good, positive golf and try and chase down the leader and win this golf tournament. I think in some ways that'll help my other task of trying to win the FedExCup. It'll keep me on the front foot and playing positive golf.”

Although there are many scenarios for Rose to win the season-long title, if Woods wins the Tour Championship, Rose would need to finish fifth or better to claim the cup.

There’s also the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to consider. Rose overtook Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. He will retain the top spot unless Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Johnson win the finale and he falls down the leaderboard on Sunday.

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McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:29 am

ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.

Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.

“I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.

The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.

McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.

“I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”

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Glover trails Straka at Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2018, 12:19 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Web.com Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.

With the top 25 earners in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.

''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''

Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Web.com Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.

''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''

Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship

Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.

''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''

Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.

McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.

The series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.