Will McIlroy build on PGA dominance?

By Randall MellAugust 13, 2012, 12:00 pm

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Foes must find Rory McIlroy the most confounding of champions.

If he were a boxer, he would knock your teeth out and then help you pick them up.

He is fearsome in such disarming fashion, an unnerving combination of likeable and dangerous with those curly brown locks and that schoolboy smile.

McIlroy showed just how charmingly ruthless he can be again Sunday, winning the PGA Championship in a rout.

Graeme McDowell couldn’t help singing McIlroy’s praises, even as his fellow countryman from Northern Ireland thrashed him and everyone else in a record eight-shot rout on Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.

“I’m just proud and impressed and blown away by Rory’s performance under pressure today,” McDowell said. “He’s great for the game, an absolute breath of fresh air. He’s got a great attitude, great charisma and great character.”

With his second major championship title, McIlroy, 23, skipped over Luke Donald and Tiger Woods to move back to No. 1 in the world rankings. McIlroy couldn’t hold on to the top spot when he gained it earlier this year, but he looks like he is prepared to hold it a lot longer than seven weeks this time. This title, on top of last year’s eight-shot U.S. Open rout, was more than validation of the young man’s talent. It felt like a warning.

When McIlroy won the U.S. Open, his 268 total broke a record that Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods shared with a pair of other champions. When McIlroy won at Kiawah Island on Sunday, his margin of victory broke Nicklaus’ record (seven shots) for the PGA Championship.

“It’s bad news for the rest of us, but he’s going to keep getting better,” McDowell said.

For a short spell this summer, with McIlroy’s game slipping, his peers weren’t so sure how committed he was to getting better.

The question that loomed over McIlroy since he whipped the U.S. Open field at Congressional last summer wasn’t about his giant talent. It was about his heart. It was all about his desire and whether he really wanted to be a great player.

McIlroy felt the sting of the question this past year. He admitted as much Sunday at Kiawah Island.

With his rising fame, McIlroy began making news for more than golf the past year. The British press speculated his romance with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki was hurting his game. They met a year ago at a boxing match in Germany and began dating. After the former No. 1 in women’s tennis started sliding down the world rankings, there were stories declaring they were destroying each other’s careers.

The questions about McIlroy’s commitment struck a nerve.

“To be honest, it did motivate me,” McIlroy said. “I did want to go out there and prove a few people wrong. That’s what I did. It took me four weeks to get my game back and in shape and get out of my mini-slump, and this is the result.”

McIlroy seemed to be tilting too much toward charming and not enough toward fearsome this summer.

After winning the Honda Classic in a hot start to the year, McIlroy swooned. He was third going into Masters weekend and shot 77-76. He missed three cuts in a row in May, and then he missed the cut in his title defense at the U.S. Open in June.

Even his peers wondered what was happening.

McDowell was asked if he ever wondered about McIlroy’s commitment to being the game’s best.

“Maybe a year ago, I might have said, `I don’t know,’ but now I think he is,” McDowell said.

McIlroy admitted staying up late Saturday night at Kiawah Island to watch Wozniacki win a quarterfinal match at the Rogers Cup on television. With an early wakeup call Sunday to finish the third round, he took a nap before starting the final round.

McDowell believes the relationship has helped McIlroy, who is working on his body as well as his swing this year.

“I think Rory has learned a lot being inside Caroline’s world and watching her and watching her team help her achieve her goals,” McDowell said. “He has always been driven and motivated, but now I think he’s obsessed, and he has the passion. He has his body in great shape. His golf swing just keeps getting better and better. He’s got the whole package.”

McIlroy is showing he can build on a lead like few others can. It’s Tiger-esque, his ability to run up the score in majors. McIlroy knows how to get a lead and then put the pedal down and turn it into a bigger lead. That’s a rare gift in the game. Closing 54-hole leads is no picnic, as we’ve seen this year, but McIlroy can close ruthlessly.

The question now is whether McIlroy can build on his lead in a larger sense. Can he build it in his career? Can he build on the No. 1 ranking? Can he keep building on his two majors? Can he build a legacy as the best player of his generation? Can he hold off Tiger Woods if Woods keeps returning to form?

“I think it will be easier for him to handle this position now that he has won his second major,” Padraig Harrington said. “I think he can handle that expectation now. Now that he has delivered again, it’s going to be a lot easier for him.”

And a lot harder on his foes.

“Rory is just fearless, a little bit like Tiger 10 years ago, when he won majors by 15, 12 and 8,” Peter Hanson said. “There’s maybe him and Tiger who can strike the ball a little different than the rest of us can. And they have an extra gear.”

An extra gear to help him run over foes.

“He’s going to get better,” Harrington said. “Tiger’s not going to pick off a major unless he has his 'A' game out here.”

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Woods on firing shot into crowd: 'I kept moving them back'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:14 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It added up to another even-par round, but Tiger Woods had an eventful Friday at The Open.

His adventure started on the second hole, when he wiped a drive into the right rough. Standing awkwardly on the side of a mound, he prepared for a quick hook but instead fired one into the crowd that was hovering near the rope line.

“I kept moving them back,” he said. “I moved them back about 40 yards. I was trying to play for the grass to wrap the shaft around there and hit it left, and I was just trying to hold the face open as much as I possibly could. It grabbed the shaft and smothered it.

“I was very, very fortunate that I got far enough down there where I had a full wedge into the green.”

Woods bogeyed the hole, one of four on the day, and carded four birdies in his round of 71 at Carnoustie. When he walked off the course, he was in a tie for 30th, six shots off the clubhouse lead.

It’s the first time in five years – since the 2013 Open – that Woods has opened a major with consecutive rounds of par or better. He went on to tie for sixth that year at Muirfield.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.