Great expectations

By Rex HoggardJune 22, 2011, 9:16 pm

The accolades have rained down like a Northern Irish squall. As countryman Graeme McDowell opined, you can run out of things to say about Rory McIlroy’s victory last week at Congressional, but that hasn’t stopped the pundits from trying.

Among the headlines that awaited Monday morning, The Washington Post went with “The future is now,” while Sports Illustrated gave us “Golf’s New Era.” With a monsoon of respect to both institutions, Dewey didn’t win.

If the Chicago Daily Tribune’s infamous “Dewey defeats Truman” headline in 1948 was a tad premature, the modern media’s incessant hyperbole is equally misplaced. McIlroy’s eight-stroke U.S. Open romp was historic, brilliant, as the Northern Irish might say, maybe even a game changer, but to declare that the 22-year-old is poised to step in for the injured and widely invisible Tiger Woods is unfair and wildly unrealistic.

For the record, McIlroy now has one major – the same number, it should be noted, as Shaun Micheel, Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton. Hold off on the emails and “reader’s comments” for a moment – we’re not saying McIlroy is a similar “one-hit” wonder, just that we may be getting ahead of ourselves.

That he’s been in the hunt at four of the last seven majors and is possibly two cards of 80 away from the front-end of a “Rory Slam” is certainly reason to sit up and take notice, but before we dub him the next king let’s take a moment and listen to the man himself.

“It is nice that people say that he could be this or he could be that or he could win 20 major championships, but at the end of the day I've won one,” McIlroy said in Sunday’s victory glow.

It’s worth noting that at 22, McIlroy may have been the coolest head in the Congressional media room Sunday night.

It wasn’t that long ago we were handing Woods the major championship crown, Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Grand Slams an easy mark as he marched to history at an alarming clip. He’d won 14 majors in 41 Grand Slam starts as a professional, a .350 batting average that put the Golden Bear’s benchmark in danger long before Woods’ 40th birthday.

But then Woods got sideways on a residential Isleworth thoroughfare, sent to the DL by an assortment of injuries and, in the wake of Wednesday’s announcement he will not play next week’s AT&T National, appears destined for the toughest climb of his career.

Like they were for Nicklaus before him, the last four majors promise to be the toughest for Woods.

Similarly, forgive our reluctance to anoint McIlroy the next king. Despite the media’s quick-draw declarations there is going to be nothing easy about the next 13 majors for McIlroy.

This has nothing to do with McIlroy’s U.S. Open performance or a golf course on the softer side of par. His victory had nothing to do with his relation to par, although his assortment of shattered scoring records are nothing short of mind blowing, as much as it was his relation to the rest of the field.

The best player won, by a touchdown and then some.

Nor is this about the level of competition. Many of the same scribes who have declared McIlroy the game’s next alpha male have penned that his victory at Congressional came against a deeper level of competition than Woods faced, an opinion that dismiss Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, a Hall of Famer and a future Hall of Famer, respectively, as bit players.

The field is not deeper now, although the collective confidence may be at an all-time high thanks in no small part to Woods’ recent swoon.

Lost amid the Rory hyperbole is also the logistical truth that the Northern Irishlad is happier at home, content to ply his trade on the European Tour with only the occasional American cameo on his calendar.

As a former PGA Tour member who let his membership lapse last year, McIlroy is limited this season to 10 Tour starts plus The Players Championship, which he skipped. He already has seven Tour starts and currently plans to play only the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship the rest of the way.

On this McIlroy’s charismatic manager Chubby Chandler has been clear – don’t expect to see his client playing full-time in the United States any time soon.

“It will be three or four years before he tries the PGA Tour again,” Chandler said in April at Augusta National. “The scoreboard says he’s probably got it right. He’s very aware that he doesn’t want to get burnt out. It’s not a slap on the (PGA) Tour. If he could play 12 or 13 he’d be all right.”

Bypassing a PGA Tour card is certainly his right and it’s impossible to argue with the results McIlroy’s limited schedule has produced, but from a pure marketing point of view it will be difficult to build the kind of momentum Woods had with a limited Tour schedule.

Time will tell if McIlroy eventually challenges Woods, or Nicklaus, for the Grand Slam crown. Recent history certainly suggests he’s on the right road, but as the last two years have taught us that byway is filled with more potholes than a Northern Irish alley. Let’s enjoy the moment and let history and his own limitless potential dictate how far McIlroy will go.

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Reed match taught McIlroy the need to conserve energy

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 10:18 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – One of the most memorable Ryder Cup singles matches in recent history was also one of the most exhausting.

Rory McIlroy was asked on Wednesday at Le Golf National about his singles bout with Patrick Reed two years ago at Hazeltine National, when the duo combined for eight birdies and an eagle through eight frenzied holes.

“I could play it for nine holes, and then it suddenly hit me,” said McIlroy, who was 5 under through eight holes but played his final 10 holes in 2 over par. “The level sort of declined after that and sort of reached its crescendo on the eighth green, and the last 10 holes wasn't quite as good.”

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In retrospect McIlroy said the match, which he lost, 1 down, was educational and he realized that maintaining that level of emotion over 18 holes isn’t realistic.

“It looked tiring to have to play golf like that for three days,” he said. “I learnt a lot from that and learnt that it's good to get excited and it's good to have that, but at the same time, if I need and have to be called upon to play a late match on Sunday or whatever it is, I want to have all my energy in reserve so that I can give everything for 18 holes because I did hit a wall that back nine on Sunday, and it cost me.”

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U.S. team gives Tiger 'cold shoulder' after Tour Championship win

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 10:08 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Tiger Woods was one of the final members of Team USA to make it to the team room late Sunday in Atlanta after his travel plans were delayed by his victory at the Tour Championship.

As the team waited, captain Jim Furyk concocted a plan for Woods.

“I ran into Jim Furyk and he said, ‘We were thinking about giving Tiger the cold shoulder like they do in baseball when the guy hits his first home run.’ He asked, ‘Do you think Tiger will be OK with that?’” Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava told Ryder Cup Radio on Sirius/XM. “I was like, ‘Of course he would. He’s got a sense of humor.’”

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The U.S. team had plenty to cheer on Sunday with vice captain Steve Stricker also winning on the PGA Tour Champions. But it was Woods’ reception following his 80th PGA Tour victory and his first in five years that provided the best reaction.

“Tiger shows up about a half-hour later and is looking for some high-fives from everybody and they wouldn’t give him the time of day. They weren’t even looking at him, they all have their backs to him,” LaCava said. “He’s looking at me like what’s going on? He’s not a guy who is looking for fanfare, but these are his boys. He’s looking for 11 guys to run up and give him a good hug.”

LaCava said the team ignored Woods for about two minutes before breaking the silence with cheers and congratulations.

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How FedExCup has changed Ryder Cup prep

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:56 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The improved play of the U.S. Ryder Cup team might be attributed to more than just youthful exuberance or camaraderie.

Phil Mickelson said the PGA Tour schedule is also a factor.

Mickelson argued this week that the advent of the FedExCup Playoffs, in 2007, has contributed to the Americans’ better results in the biennial matches. Save for the disastrous blowout in 2014 at Gleneagles, the Americans have either won or been locked in a tight match with the Europeans.

“I think the FedExCup is a big asset for us,” Mickelson said. “In the past, we’ve had six weeks off in between our last competition and the Ryder Cup. This year, although we might be tired, we might have had a long stretch, our games are much sharper because of our consistent play week-in and week-out heading into this event.”

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When presented with Mickelson’s theory, Justin Rose, the new FedExCup champion, countered by saying that the Europeans are the fresher team this week – and that could be more important during such a stressful event.

Seventeen of the 24 players here were in East Lake for the Tour Championship, meaning they not only played the minimum number of events for PGA Tour membership, but also played in at least three of the four playoff events.

Some of the European players, however, have remained loyal to their home tour and taken more time off. Henrik Stenson missed a few events to rest his ailing elbow. Sergio Garcia didn’t play for four weeks. And even Rose has adjusted his schedule during the latter part of the season, to make sure that he was as fresh as possible for the Ryder Cup. That meant skipping the pro-am in Boston and flying in on Thursday night, on the eve of the tournament, and reducing his number of practice rounds.

“It’s interesting,” Rose said. “They might feel like they are playing their way in and our guys are going to have a bit of gas in the tank. We’ll have to evaluate it on Sunday, but I’m hoping our strategy is going to be the one that pays off in the long run.”

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Rose hoping for FedEx/Ryder Cup party on Sunday

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:41 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Justin Rose is hoping for the biggest party of all on Sunday night.

With the quick turnaround with the Ryder Cup, the newly crowned FedExCup champion hasn’t had much time to celebrate his season-long title that he earned Sunday at the Tour Championship.

“The FedExCup, for me, it finished on the plane,” Rose said Wednesday. “I enjoyed the plane ride over, but once I landed in Paris, I was one of 12 guys. I didn’t want it to carry over into this week. This week is about another job to do.”

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Rose said his Ryder Cup teammates have resorted to the usual tactics – “Apparently all the drinks are on my tab this week,” he joked – but just as Team USA may have used a boost with Tiger Woods winning, the Europeans can take confidence in having the FedExCup champion on their side.

As for any premature celebrations, Rose said: “I can shelve that for another week or so. I will certainly enjoy it. It’s kind of a season-long title that you really want to enjoy. But I’d like to maybe start that party on Sunday night and here for the right reasons, because of this week.”