McIlroy does enough to keep Grand Slam hopes alive

By Rex HoggardApril 9, 2015, 9:33 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – You know what they say, you can’t win the career Grand Slam on Thursday at Augusta National.

Not that Rory McIlroy drop-kicked his career Grand Slam chances into the azalea bushes on Day 1 at the Masters, but his opening 71 under sunny skies in the first round certainly narrowed the margin of error in his historic pursuit.

In what turned out to be more of a battle than he would have liked, the world No. 1 chipped a few like Tiger Woods, hit a few iron shots like Natalie Wood and ended the day the way it began – a green jacket away from becoming the sixth player to win the career Grand Slam.

In a game that defies instant analysis, a single round is well short of an honest sample size when it comes to something as endearing as the career Grand Slam, but for many – maybe even McIlroy – Round 1 at Augusta National was a measure of how much pressure is seeping its way through Rory’s tightly confined circle.

When McIlroy pulled his drive at the second into the “Delta Counter” – the wooded area left of the fairway where lore has it that players can book their tickets out of town and out of contention – it prompted more than a few raised eyebrows.

When he bogeyed the sixth after hitting a chip that inched just onto the putting surface and then rolled back down the slope, some even wondered if he’d spent too much time near Woods this week in the short game area.

But on cue he did what potential Masters champions do, hitting a 322-yard drive at the 13th hole to set up a two-putt birdie and get back to even par.

A deft chip from right of the 15th green led to another birdie and left him under par for the day, if not under the radar.

“I haven't put too much pressure on myself. Look, I obviously know what I can achieve this week, but I'm not letting myself think about it too much,” said McIlroy, who hit 12 of 18 greens in regulation on Thursday and cut short his time with the media to work out the issues on the practice tee.

“Today was a pretty good day. I feel like I can do better. But happy after Day 1 and go out and just try and do a little bit better tomorrow.”

The truth is, the world No. 1 will have a lifetime of opportunities to etch his name into the history books and become the sixth player to win all four major championships. And most consider McIlroy’s quest an inevitability.

“With the type of length and ball-striking he has and putting touch, I think this is a course he'll be tough at the rest of his career,” said Phil Mickelson, McIlroy’s playing partner on Thursday, who also just happens to be one trophy shy of the career Grand Slam (U.S. Open). “I'm sure he'll win, whether it's this week or not, you never know.”

Still, history is littered with players who finished their careers one good bounce away from the career Grand Slam – Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson immediately come to mind – and of the five who do own the major four-pack, only Gene Sarazen secured the final leg at Augusta National, back in 1935 when this event went by the less-intimidating title of Augusta National Invitational.

“Rory has had his adversity on the golf course having led, so now he's got a big challenge,” said Gary Player, who completed the career Grand Slam when he was 29. “So he's going to feel that stretch, but he's ready to tackle it and very, very fit. I think fitness and patience.”

The fitness portion is not up for debate, as anyone who has glanced at the cover of this month’s Men’s Health can attest, but the patience portion of that equation is still to be determined.

While the current version is far more poised then the 2011 model that imploded on Sunday for a closing 80, evidenced by his Zen-like temperament in the last two majors, there has never been this much on the line.

“The only thing is the pressure,” Ernie Els said recently. “The pressure he puts on himself is one thing, but I think the outside pressure, the media is going to be scrutinizing him, so it depends on how he handles it. He’s got a little bit of fire in him, if he can control that I think he’ll have a good week. If things don’t go his way and he loses it, it will be tough.”

In many ways, Thursday was an interesting litmus test for the Northern Irishman. While most agree the immediacy of what he can accomplish is measured in decades, not days, there is no ignoring that a round that “could have gotten away from me” didn’t.

McIlroy didn’t win the career Grand Slam on Thursday, but somehow he seemed to move closer to that milestone.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 146th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Royal Birkdale, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.

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Knox relishes round with 'mythical figure' Woods

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Russell Knox was expecting the worst and hoping for the best Thursday at The Open.

Playing with Tiger Woods tends to have that effect.

The native Scot received a treat earlier this week when he saw his name on the tee sheet alongside his boyhood idol, Woods.

“Felt good out there, but obviously my swing, it was just like I had too much tension,” Knox said after an opening 73. “I just wasn’t letting it go as normal. First round with Tiger, I expected to feel a little bit different. The way I felt was better than the way I swung.”

Knox said that he was nervous playing alongside Woods, a player he’d only encountered on the range. “He’s almost like a mythical figure,” he said.

But after a while, he settled into the rhythm of the round at Carnoustie.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I thought it would be worse,” he said, “I feel like I should know what I’m doing. It’s cool playing with Tiger, but I’ve got to get over that. I’m here to win, not just enjoy my walk around the course.”

Knox probably had more interaction with Woods than he anticipated, if only because the third member of the group, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, keeps to himself because of the language barrier.

“It’s kind of a blur,” Knox said. “It’s like, Oh, I’m chatting away with Tiger here like normal. I don’t even remember what I was saying.”

There have been countless stories from this year as the next generation of players – guys who grew up watching Woods dominate the sport – get paired with Woods for the first time.

It was no less special for Knox on Thursday.

“It’s nice for him to say things like that,” Woods said, “and we enjoyed playing with each other. Hopefully we’ll play a little bit better tomorrow.”

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Rain expected to shower Carnoustie Friday morning

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:43 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – By the end of the day Friday, we’ll be able to determine which side of The Open draw ended the first two rounds at Carnoustie with more favorable conditions. With rain expected for most of Friday morning, it seems those who played early/late may be more pleased.

According to Weather.com, there is a 75 percent chance of rain beginning at 2 a.m. local time Friday here in Scotland. That percentage vaults up to 95 percent by 7 a.m., with the first tee time scheduled for 6:35. At 11, the number drops to 55 percent. After 2 p.m., the percentage chances of rain are 25 percent and below for the remainder of the day.

Temperatures during the day are expected to be from the low 50s to the low 60s and winds will vary between 14-18 mph, again per Weather.com.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


This is The Open’s official weather report for the weekend:

Saturday: A dull start with some drizzle possible. Staying cloudy for much of the day but gradually becoming brighter with a chance of some sunny intervals during the afternoon and evening. Winds light and variable in direction but should predominantly settle in to a SSE 8-12mph during the afternoon. Max temp 20C (68F).

Sunday: Often cloudy but mainly dry. A better chance of some decent sunny spells compared to Saturday. Most likely the windiest day of the Championship; SW 12-18mph with gusts 20-25mph. Feeling warm, especially in any sunshine with a max temp of 23C (73F).

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Bandaged Woods 5 back after even-par 71

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods arrived Thursday with therapeutic tape on the back of his neck.

Carnoustie’s back nine inflicted even more pain.

Playing in the most difficult conditions of the day, Woods’ progress was stalled by two late bogeys as he settled for an even-par 71 that left him five shots off the lead at The Open.

“I played better than what the score indicates,” he said. “It certainly could have been a little bit better.”

Woods created a stir when he showed up with black kinesiology tape on his neck. Afterward, he said that his neck has been bugging him “for a while” and that Thursday was merely the first time that the tape was visible.

“Everyone acts like this is the first time I’ve been bandaged up,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been doing this for years.”

Woods said that the discomfort didn’t really affect his swing, other than a few shots “here and there.” It didn’t seem to affect his score, either, as he went out in 2 under before a few stumbles on the back nine.

On the fast, baked-out turf, he played conservatively off the tee, using driver only once and 3-wood just twice. Apparently he didn’t need the added distance, not with his 6-iron traveling 240 yards. He tried to play to his spots, even if it routinely left him more than 200 yards for his approach.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


That’s the strategy he employed at Hoylake in 2006, where he hit driver just once and captured the third of his Open titles. Despite some of the similarities in firmness, Woods said that Carnoustie presents a different challenge off the tee.

“These fairways are very small,” he said. “They’re hard to hit right now. They’re so fast, and they’re so moundy.”

Finding the fairway wasn’t the chief problem for Woods on Day 1, however. He missed just four fairways but found only 11 greens.

More damaging to his score was his play on the par 5s. Despite having only an 8-iron in, he failed to birdie each of the two par 5s and then bogeyed Nos. 10, 13 and 15 to squander his early momentum.

Though the draw here won’t be a significant factor – or at least not like in recent years, with a wide range in scores from morning to afternoon – it’s clear that Woods (in game 47 of 52) encountered the most difficult of the conditions Thursday, with the wind gusting to 20 mph and the fairways running even faster after another sun-splashed afternoon.

Still, his opening 71 was one of the better scores in the late wave.

“He hit it good,” said playing partner Russell Knox. “He plotted his way around, which I expected him to do, and he was very conservative off the tee. It’s kind of fun to watch him do that, to be honest.”

Even more fun would be a major with Woods in contention.

He hasn’t broken par in the opening round of his last eight majors. Indeed, for Woods, these slow starts have been the real pain in the neck.