McIlroy plays through knee pain, fires 63 at Memorial

By Rex HoggardMay 29, 2014, 11:34 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – After limping his way through most of 2013 Rory McIlroy has come alive over the last fortnight, scorching a defenseless Muirfield Village on Thursday with a 9-under 63.

That he did so with an actual limp only adds to his aura.

McIlroy continued his momentum from last week when he won the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour for a three-stroke advantage at the Memorial despite a “tweaked” left knee.

“I wear spikes and sometimes your foot can get stuck in the ground,” said McIlroy, who also tweaked his back last week at the BMW PGA. “It’s strange. I’ve never really had that before.”

It’s worth noting that throughout 2013 pundits attributed McIlroy’s relatively pedestrian performances to distractions, specifically his jump to Nike Golf, and yet he’s playing his best golf since he won the 2012 PGA Championship amid the most intense media maelstrom.

Last week the 25-year-old announced he had broken off his engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki and endured an emotional press conference on the eve of the European Tour’s flagship event.

Despite the distraction, the Ulsterman rallied from seven strokes back on Sunday with a closing 66 and his first victory of 2014 and first on European soil.

Following a transatlantic flight on Monday and more questions about his failed engagement, McIlroy began his round with a stress-free opening nine of 32. That’s when things got interesting.

He birdied No. 10 and eagled the 11th to move into the lead before a poor sand wedge from 113 yards at the 14th hole found the bunker. From there he “made a mess” of things, needing four strokes to reach the putting surface on his way to a double bogey-6.

“I hit my sand wedge 116 yards and needed to take a little off and just flipped it left,” McIlroy said.

He would rebound with an eagle at the par-5 15th and another birdie at the par-3 16th before closing his day with two clutch par saves coming in for a commanding lead and his best opening round since a 63 at the Honda Classic earlier this season.

While many observers tried to tie McIlroy’s improved play to the clarity of thought that comes after a milestone event, he quickly dismissed it.

“It's been coming,” he said. “My performances have been really good, been shooting really good scores. There's just been runs of holes in tournaments where I haven't played so well, and I've shot 4 or 5 over in the space of nine holes, and that's really just derailed my tournament.

“Last week I just didn’t do that.”

Perhaps McIlroy’s off-course issues have caused him to throw himself into his work. It’s not an entirely foreign concept, but there is also no denying that his game had been trending in the right direction for some time.

He won the Australian Open in December and has five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this year, although he concedes many of those results were of the “backdoor” variety.

“I was expecting this to happen,” he said. “Honestly, I don't think it's anything to do with what's happening off the golf course.”

He’s also been on runs like this before. In 2012 he won three events (including the PGA and two FedEx Cup playoff tournaments) in four starts and dominated the field on Thursday with just 22 putts and solid ballstriking (hitting 13 of 18 greens in regulation).

“It’s a very hard golf course,” Jordan Spieth said. “Anything under par is a good score. Obviously, Rory didn’t think that.”

McIlroy said earlier this week that he wanted to focus on his golf, not his broken relationship with Wozniacki. On Thursday at Muirfield Village he made the rest of us do the same thing.

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Randall's Rant: Too much Tiger for his own good?

By Randall MellAugust 20, 2018, 10:00 pm

We could be getting a dose of way too much Tiger Woods.

Yeah, that’s difficult to fathom, given how good his return to the game has been on so many levels, but the man might be too close to winning for his own good right now.

I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, and I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but a reasonable person has to wonder how playing the next three weeks in a row – five of the next six weeks – will affect Woods’ surgically fused spine.

That isn’t to say Woods is actually going to end up playing that much, but it looms as a real possibility.

In fact, dating back to the WGC Bridgestone, it’s possible he could be amid a run of playing seven times in the last nine weeks.

My sacroiliac joint is throbbing at the thought.

Beginning with The Northern Trust this week, Woods is committed to the first three legs of the FedExCup Playoffs, and it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t play the final leg at the Tour Championship if he qualifies.

It’s impossible to imagine he won’t be among Jim Furyk’s four captain’s picks to play the Ryder Cup.

So if Woods continues this streak of strong play, what’s going to give?

We hope it isn’t his back.

Or his neck.

Or his knees.

Only Woods and his doctors really know how much the 42-year-old can take physically, but there is more to lose than to gain by overdoing it now.

Yeah, the FedExCup Playoffs are great fun, more meaningful with each passing year, but it’s all about the major championships now for Woods.

Competitively, it’s all that matters.

Nobody but the most anal Tiger fans are going to remember how many FedExCups he won, but we’re all going to remember how many majors he won.

We’re all going to remember him resuming his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus, if that’s where his summer tease is taking us, with Woods’ T-6 at The Open last month and his second-place finish at the PGA Championship two weeks ago.

Whether you are a Woods fan or not, how can you not want to see a historic chase of Jack as Tiger’s last chapter?

The game soars to yet another level with that.

A legion of young, new fans come pouring into the game even if Tiger only gets to 17 major championship titles.

So while the FedExCup Playoffs give us a postseason in golf, make Player of the Year chases more interesting and Ryder Cup captain’s picks more intriguing, they are a mere prelude for Tiger.

The playoffs give him another chance to get ready for next year’s Masters.

They give him a chance to win something before heading to Augusta National.

They give him another chance to rebuild his closing skills.

Woods doesn’t have to win the overall FedExCup to do that.

And he doesn’t have to play every event he commits to playing. He’s 20th in FedExCup points right now. He can get to the Tour Championship without playing all three of the legs leading there.

The tough spot for Woods is withdrawing from a FedExCup event. It’s trickier for him. With all the extra tickets sold when he commits, with all the excitement his anticipated arrival creates, it feels like a broken promise when he backs out.

Yeah, other players WD before big events for reasons beyond injury, but they don’t create the massive disappointment Woods creates.

For somebody invested in wanting to see Tiger vs. Jack reprised, it’s a lot easier to live with seeing Woods pull out of a FedExCup Playoff event to rest than to see him WD from one with an injury.

There’s more excitement in the prospect of seeing a lot of Woods in the majors next year than seeing too much of him now.

Here’s hoping somebody helps Tiger gets his FedExCup Playoff dosage right. His pain could be golf’s pain.

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Watch: Marshawn Lynch's golf game could use some work

By Grill Room TeamAugust 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

NFL star running back Marshawn Lynch is pretty great at driving golf carts, but from the looks of a video that surfaced this weekend, his golf prowess starts and ends there.

"Beast Mode" was in attendance at Klay Thompson's charity event in San Francisco on Sunday, and luckily the Golden State Warriors shooting guard caught Lynch's swing on camera - because it is a sight to behold.

Dressed in a traditional golf hoodie, the former Super Bowl champion who has been thrilling fans with his raw athleticism and power on the gridiron for more than a decade showed off a swing that would make Charles Barkley blush.

Lynch was not questioned about the swing by members of media afterwards, although there's a pretty good chance you already know how he would've answered.

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Stenson (elbow) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 5:41 pm

Former FedExCup champ Henrik Stenson will start his postseason on the sideline, as he withdrew on Monday from The Northern Trust because of an elbow injury.

Stenson captured the season-long title back in 2013, when he won two of the four playoff events. At 50th in the current points standings, he's assured of a spot next week at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship and likely to make the field at the 70-man BMW Championship the following week.

A PGA Tour official confirmed that Stenson cited the elbow injury as the reason for his withdrawal. He was bothered by an injured elbow last month that led him to withdraw from the Scottish Open and limited his prep for The Open, where he tied for 35th.

The 42-year-old defended his title last week at the Wyndham Championship, tying for 20th place after shooting a 6-under 64 in the final round.

"It's fine, I can practice and I can play without any problems as of now, but I can't really go after it in the gym fully," Stenson told reporters last week in Greensboro. "The main thing that we can play and practice without having any problems there, so it's getting better."

The intrigue around Stenson's decision grows when the context of the Ryder Cup is taken into consideration. The Swede has represented Europe in the biennial matches four times, but he's currently 16th in both the European Points and World Points lists with only two weeks remaining in the qualification window.

Even before skipping this week's event in New Jersey, Stenson appeared likely to need a pick from captain Thomas Bjorn, who will round out his 12-man roster with four selections on Sept. 5. Other notable players who are not currently in position to qualify include Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Russell Knox, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Thomas Pieters.

Stenson becomes the fifth player to withdraw from this week's field, which does not feature alternates and is now down to 120 players. Rory McIlroy opted to rest up this week, while Patrick Rodgers is skipping the tournament to attend a wedding. Both Rickie Fowler (oblique) and Bud Cauley (June car accident) withdrew because of injury.

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PAC zeroing in on Tour's secondary cut

By Rex HoggardAugust 20, 2018, 4:29 pm

The season’s final player advisory council meeting will be held on Tuesday at Ridgewood Country Club, and one item of interest on the agenda appears to be gaining traction among the 16-member panel.

The secondary cut - introduced in 2008 to address large fields after the 36-hole cut and pace of play - has become increasingly unpopular. In 2014, the PGA Tour eliminated the secondary cut, which occurs if 78 players make the 36-hole cut, at the first two playoff stops. Following a 54-hole cut at this year’s Players Championship, some suggested it should not be used at the circuit’s marquee event.

The alternative that’s being studied is to reduce the cut at all Tour events from the lowest 70 players and ties to the lowest 65 players and ties. This would allow the circuit to eliminate the secondary cut at all events.

“I think I’m a fan of it, because I’m a fan of trying to play twosomes on the weekends as much as possible,” said PAC member Paul Casey. “In Europe it seems to work all the time. I don’t like the extra cut on a Saturday, never liked that. A guy could have an amazing Sunday, he could go out and shoot 61 or something and get a top 10.”

The European Tour utilizes a 65-and-ties cut, as does the Tour, which had 78 players or more make the cut in just three of 23 events this season.

The PAC requested more information and is expected to address the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting.