McIlroy follows own path to Augusta National

By Rex HoggardApril 9, 2013, 4:33 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Rory McIlroy is a big Bubba Watson fan.

The Ulsterman enjoys the left-hander’s wild and often wayward ways on the golf course as much as the rest of us, but it’s the reigning Masters champion’s legacy down the right side of the 10th fairway that McIlroy truly embraces.

In short, Watson changed the conversation with his roping recovery from the trees in last year’s playoff to claim his green jacket. This week folks have flocked to the spot where Watson carved a 52-degree wedge into Master lore, digging through the pine needles and snapping pictures.

Some 80 yards away, on the left side of the 10th hole, a spot wedged between two cabins, where McIlroy’s Masters mission unraveled two years ago, sits quiet, unnoticed by the hordes.

Thank you, Bubba.

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The space around McIlroy is also quiet these days, ostensibly thanks to his runner-up finish on Sunday in San Antonio. If, as Tiger Woods and Co. pointed out after regaining the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking at Bay Hill, winning takes care of everything, for the world No. 2 second doesn’t exactly suck these days.

Not after the grilling McIlroy has endured this year. To be accurate, much of McIlroy’s pain was self-inflicted, the byproduct of the scrutiny that comes with a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal. But at some point the frenzied criticism lurched into overkill.

“I thought last week went really well, almost perfectly,” McIlroy said on Tuesday. “I got what I wanted out of it in terms of playing more competitive golf, getting the scorecard in my hand, shooting scores. A bonus was getting into contention.”

Like he did last year, McIlroy added the Texas Open to his schedule to stave off a prolonged slump to begin 2013. Never mind the mechanics, the new equipment, the second guessing, the Northern Irishman needed to play because there is no substitute for “game speed.”

“I don’t think there is any concern with his game,” said Dave Stockton Sr., McIlroy’s putting coach. “It was important to get the reps. He’s still learning his schedule. I texted him when I heard (he’d added the Texas Open) and said it was a really brilliant thing.”

If Doral was where he “turned the corner” with his swing, San Antonio may be where he turned it on in 2013. The final-round 66 wasn’t enough to catch Martin Laird on Sunday, but it was the perfect prelude heading down Magnolia Lane.

If that closing-nine 43 in 2011 – which began with his wayward tee shot at the 10th – would haunt some, it’s only made McIlroy hungrier to win the tournament that means the most to him.

“I had a chance to win in 2011 and obviously that didn’t go well, but it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s my favorite golf tournament,” McIlroy said.

Whether you are a fan or not, there is no denying that McIlroy is a quick study. Just weeks after that meltdown in ’11 he claimed his first major at Congressional, and he emerged from last season’s summer slump just in time to notch Grand Slam No. 2 at the PGA Championship. So forgive the 23-year-old if he appeared reluctant to pull the eject cord when things didn’t go to script earlier this season.

“I always said my golf season is from early April to the end of August,” he said.

And he continues to learn, from his mistakes and his triumphs. Adding the Texas Open, for example, wasn’t easy because he had a charity trip to Haiti scheduled for UNICEF, but it had to be done. “Sometimes you have to be selfish,” he said, although clearly not entirely comfortable with the concept.

He learned that walking off the course after eight holes on Friday at the Honda Classic was not the right thing to do (the wisdom tooth is coming out in June, by the way). That it’s probably not best to try to overpower Augusta National, which has prompted a more measured approach off the tee this week.

But most importantly he’s learned the foolishness of expectations run amok.

When McIlroy began the season with a missed cut (Abu Dhabi), a first-round loss at the WGC-Accenture Match Play and a withdrawal (Honda Classic), it seemed as if the sky was falling.

But lost in that instant analysis was the fact that if you combined Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in a blender the byproduct would be McIlroy, a player capable of brilliant stretches and historic victories on demanding golf courses, scattered amid bouts of pedestrian play and missed cuts.

Prior to last year’s walk-off at Kiawah Island, Stockton persuaded McIlroy to smile more and enjoy his time between the ropes. It seems the lesson learned after a difficult start to 2013 is to listen less.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

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There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

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“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

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“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”