McIlroy magnificent in earning first PGA Tour title

By Rex HoggardMay 3, 2010, 4:06 am

Quail Hollow ChampionshipCHARLOTTE, N.C. – He wasn’t supposed to take a major championship venue in waiting and turn it into the Bob Hope. He wasn’t supposed to rope a 7-iron from a fairway bunker at the 16th on Sunday to 5 feet, to say nothing of the 5-iron he rifled to 3 ½ feet for eagle a hole earlier. He wasn’t supposed to make the cut.

Yet there he was beaming from beneath a ball cap stuffed full of curly black locks celebrating the improbable with an impossibly stellar round just two days shy of his 21st birthday which would allow him to imbibe and possibly explain such behavior.

But on a wilting weekend Rory McIlroy was stone sober and stone cold, like a staff ace who plows through lineups on his way to a no-hitter.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlory celebrates his birdie putt on the final hole Sunday. (Getty Images)
On Sunday, on the other side of the globe, Ryo Ishikawa carded a final-round 58 to win the Japan Tour’s Crowns tournament. McIlroy’s Sunday 62 at the Quail Hollow Championship was better, at least if professional perception is indeed reality.

“How about that round?” a wide-eyed Dustin Johnson sighed as he slumped onto the bench in front of his locker late Sunday.

How about it, indeed? And to think, with three holes to play in his second round on Friday McIlroy was closer to the weekend off than he was a weekend few will forget. But at that moment the turn came, with the flash of a 4-iron from the middle of the seventh fairway that sailed to 5 feet for eagle. He made the cut on the number, and history the rest of the way.

The rest of the way is the stuff of legend. Over his final 36 holes McIlroy was 16 under par on a golf course that was playing to a 72.9 average. That he did it on a pitch that seems destined to join the major championship rota was impressive to the extreme. That he did it with his first PGA Tour victory on the line and the lofty likes of Phil Mickelson, Angel Cabrera and Davis Love III keeping time with him is filthy.

“There’s wins and then there’s whatever this is,” gushed CBS Sports analyst David Feherty, who recently took up U.S. citizenship but couldn’t resist, “Almost makes me want to be an Ulsterman again.”

For the better part of the week the conversation was dominated by one superstar (Tiger Woods) haunted by questions and another (Mickelson) happily answering the call.

Mickelson’s game was not Augusta National sharp, but good enough to keep pace with the Monday-qualifying pacesetter Billy Mayfair through three rounds. Neither would be part of the conversation as Sunday afternoon turned to early evening at Johnny Harris’ slice of southern hospitality.

Mickelson struggled to find fairways, played from the pine straw (at the 10th hole, sound familiar?) and simply didn’t make enough putts to keep pace with McIlroy, while Mayfair, Love and Cabrera all failed to break 70. As for Woods, if he was watching the proceedings from home, like he joked on Friday after missing his second cut in three years, he must have enjoyed the show.

It was a two-part drama that started fast, with McIlroy going out in a clean 4-under 32, and ended in a flash.

“I didn't feel a 62 was coming, but I felt as if my game was definitely getting a lot better. The 66 yesterday was probably the worst I could have shot. I gave myself so many chances. I had five eagle putts,” said McIlory, whose 62 was a course record and 272 total was one shot off the tournament record set by Anthony Kim in 2008.

“You know, the last two days it seemed as if everything had just gone right. You get yourself into sort of a mindset like that, and you just keep going.”

After McIlroy’s third-round 66 vaulted him into the Sunday conversation, he started the final turn four back. By the turn he’d narrowed the gap and nosed ahead as the winds picked up with a birdie at the 11th hole.

He traded birdies with Mickelson, playing two groups behind McIlroy, at the 14th and held a one-shot lead as he walked to his tee shot at the 15th hole. From there, he pulled away like “Super Saver” on the rail in the third turn at Churchhill Downs.

The “3” at No. 15, one of six consecutive to close his round, was the front end of an eagle-birdie-par-birdie walk off that turned Quail Hollow’s famed “Green Mile” into the “Green Mild.” To put McIlroy’s trip into perspective, he played the hardest three-hole stretch on Tour six of the last seven years in 2 under par on a Sunday with hardware on the line.

Mickelson got a shot back with his own birdie at the 16th, but it was window dressing. Potential meet proof.

“He is some kind of player,” said Mickelson, who finished alone in second place, four strokes back at 277. “On the back nine I thought I’d be able to catch him until he played the 15th . . .”

As coronations go Quail Hollow makes for good theater and it seemed apropos that Kim was along for the Rory ride on Sunday. AK had set his own standard here, winning in record fashion in 2008, and could appreciate like few others the quality of McIlroy’s performance.

“It was unbelievable, I don’t know how else to say it,” Kim said. “He was in a zone. He hit a lot of fairways and made a lot of big putts. It seems like a lot of the younger guys don’t make those putts, but he did.”

McIlroy’s final heroic moment even got Kim’s blood pumping, a tumbling 42-footer at the last that charged into the back of the cup at the 72nd hole prompting a vicious low-five from the 2008 champion.

For a Tour rookie whose best stroke-play finish before Sunday was a tie for 40th and whose ailing neck had produced more newsprint in the United States than his game his four-stroke masterpiece was both heralded and harbinger.

But then McIlroy’s performance at the Mini-Masters – which, like its elder cousin to the south, was set up for speed, not comfort on Sunday – was a breakthrough that was foreshadowed last week on the chilly Northern Irish links at Royal Portrush.

Knowing his man needed a spark, McIlroy’s caddie J.P. Fitzgerald convinced him to take an impromptu trip to the famed links last Thursday and Friday.

“I told him, ‘Let’s go play and put a score on the board,’” Fitzgerald said. “He played fantastic and it was a spark. He’d been playing well and not scoring.”

As McIlroy worked the autograph line late Sunday the crowd broke into a chorus of “Happy Birthday,” his Tour breakthrough as good a gift as one could expect for the Northern Irishman, and for golf.
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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.