Inspired Pressel near first-day Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 21, 2014, 2:16 am

PHOENIX – Morgan Pressel had barely finished the first round Thursday at the JTBC Founders Cup when her phone vibrated with a text message.

It was Paula Creamer congratulating her for a brilliant start.

“You inspired me,” Pressel texted back after posting a 7-under-par 65. “I tried to putt like you.”

Creamer, 27, ended a nearly four-year victory drought earlier this month winning the HSBC Women’s Champions in dramatic fashion. Creamer buried a 75-foot putt to win in a playoff. Pressel was there at the end in Singapore to help Creamer celebrate.

Pressel, 25, ended the first round alone in second place, trailing rookie Mirim Lee by a shot. She knows there’s a long way to go at J.W. Marriott’s Wildfire Golf Club, but Pressel likes the way her game is trending as she seeks to end a victory drought of her own. She’s after her third LPGA title, her first since ’08.

Pressel got off to a blistering start Thursday, making birdies at her first four holes. When she rolled in a Creamer-esque 50-foot putt for eagle at her sixth hole, something special appeared in the making. Pressel would go on to birdie her eighth, 10th and 11th holes to officially launch a 59 watch. She was 9 under through 11 holes.

“It’s definitely the hottest start I’ve ever had, but I don’t know that I was necessarily thinking 59,” Pressel said.

A wild tee shot at her 12th hole cooled Pressel’s run. She pulled her drive under a bush, and though an official looked at burrowing animal holes near her ball, it was determined she would not get relief.

“I didn’t deserve it,” Pressel said.

After taking a penalty and a drop for an unplayable lie, Pressel grinded out a bogey, holing a 15-foot putt in doing so. The fire was out, though. Pressel also bogeyed her next hole. She finished with five consecutive pars.

“It wasn’t the finish I would have hoped for, but it gives me a little bit of confidence knowing how many birdies I can make,” Pressel said.

Pressel, the ‘05 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, made her first LPGA title something to marvel over. She won the Kraft Nabisco Championship in ’07, becoming at 18 the youngest woman to win a major. She won the Kapalua Classic in ’08 but her game swooned after she hurt her left wrist hitting a shot out of thick rough at Locust Hill in the 2012 LPGA Championship. She tried to play through the ailment that summer but had to withdraw from the U.S. Women’s Open and other events. The injury knocked Pressel into the first prolonged slump of her career, but she bounced out of it last summer, making a hard run at winning in her return to the LPGA Championship.

“I feel like I’m in a good place,” Pressel said.

Even with her golf swing a work in progress.

Nobody was more surprised at her blazing start Thursday than Pressel. She said she was unusually crooked on the driving range. In fact, she was concerned about the state of her swing when she got up in the morning and changed her routine, arriving two hours early for an extra long warm-up on the range.

“I’m working on my golf swing,” Pressel said. “It hasn’t quite been where I want it to be.”

Pressel was texting with her coach, Ron Stockton, on the range. She ran out of time trying to fix her swing with her tee time swiftly approaching.

“I didn’t really have it going to the first tee,” Pressel said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

She didn’t expect to birdie her first four holes.

Pressel made her way onto the U.S. Solheim Cup team last year, and she’s off to a good start this year. She got herself in contention at the Australian Women’s Open in February, tying for sixth, and again at the HSBC Women’s Champions earlier this month, tying for fourth. Her game is trending upward again.

“I just feel like I’m getting better, both mentally and physically,” Pressel said.

Her aim is to follow her friend, Creamer, and take home a trophy.

“It’s the first round, there are three more days, but it’s definitely a confidence-builder,” Pressel said.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

Getty Images

McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

Getty Images

Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

“You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

“He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

“I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

“I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

“I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.