McIlroy ready for history's spotlight at Masters

By Rex HoggardApril 6, 2015, 11:30 am

Rory McIlroy knew it the moment he calmly two-putted for par at the final hole last July to etch his name into the claret jug. He knew it when he began his PGA Tour season in February at the Honda Classic. And he’ll certainly know it when he motors down Magnolia Lane this week.

He knew the history, he knew the pressure and, most importantly, the world No. 1 knew he had to embrace all the hyperbole and hysterics that are sure to come with his seventh start at the Masters. At the tender age of 25, McIlroy is poised to become the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam.

Among the Northern Irishman’s vast attributes it’s been his keen sense of historical context that has made the build-up to this week’s start something worth embracing.

“After my previous couple of performances in the majors, I can see why it has got like this,” he conceded earlier this season.

“I mean, I'm going for three majors in a row, going for my first Masters. If I win Augusta, I have the chance to hold all four at one point. There’s a lot of storylines.”



And, of course, there is that career Grand Slam, which – at least in many of his frat brothers' minds is the accomplishment that defies definition.

Ask a Tour player to rank the significance of McIlroy’s career Grand Slam potential and it’s almost always followed by a lifeline. How many players have done it?

Five.

“Well, there you go. A lot of people played golf over the years,” Lee Westwood said. “It’s really special. I would imagine he is one of the youngest to do it.”

If McIlroy is able to add a green jacket to his legacy this week he will become the second-youngest to secure all four majors, behind Tiger Woods, who was 24 when he won the 2000 Open Championship.

Jack Nicklaus was 26 when he wrapped up the career Grand Slam, Gary Player 29, Ben Hogan 40 and Gene Sarazen 33 and the only one of the five to complete the slam at the Masters, which he won in 1935.

In the hierarchy of accomplishments – Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, Woods’ “Tiger Slam,” Byron Nelson’s 11 consecutive PGA Tour victories – the career Grand Slam stands apart, at least to McIlroy’s contemporaries.

“You want to talk about the ones that are feasible? The Tiger Slam, winning four in a row, I don’t see that happening. I don’t see winning 18 [majors] happening,” Brandt Snedeker said. “So I think the most feasible and realistic one is the career Grand Slam.

“It shows your game can travel, just because it shows you can play in any kind of conditions, any kind of weather, any course and you are the best at what you do.”


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It’s a legacy McIlroy has embraced, dreamed about, actually, since he was 7 years old. The idea of the career Grand Slam became a very real item on his lofty “to do” list when he held off Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler last year at Royal Liverpool to secure the third leg of the lifetime impregnable quadrilateral, which is what New York Sun writer George Trevor dubbed the feat when Bobby Jones won the single-season Grand Slam in 1930.

“It’s phenomenal, I mean at his age, there are only five guys who have ever done it. To be 25 and going for it speaks to the kind of player he is and what kind of game he has,” Snedeker said. “If he doesn’t win this year he’s going to win soon. I cannot see him not winning a career Grand Slam just because of the kind of game he has.”

Whether it’s a vehicle to direct the pressure elsewhere or a nod to the obvious, many contend that even if McIlroy doesn’t complete the career Grand Slam this week he will have plenty of opportunities.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if he does it at some point, but to me it’s just a matter of time,” said Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion. “At this point, why should there be any pressure? He’s 25, he has so much time to try and get it. He’s already done a lot. I’d think it would be motivation, not pressure.”

Even McIlroy has embraced this theory. “This isn't going to be the only Masters I play in for the rest of my career,” he said.

That reasoning, however, provides only so much cover from the spotlight. As hallowed as the list of players who have won the career Grand Slam is, it’s equally eye opening to study the roll call of players who fell one major short of the accomplishment.

Phil Mickelson is still a U.S. Open shy, Arnold Palmer never won a PGA Championship, and of Sam Snead’s 82 PGA Tour titles he never hoisted the U.S. Open trophy.

Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Walter Hagen, Raymond Floyd, Nelson and Tommy Armour all failed to secure the fourth and final leg of the career Grand Slam.

“I think we are going to get a great understanding of Rory by the way he handles this,” Butch Harmon said. “We all expect him to have the chance. That’s easy to say and hard to do, but I sure expect him to be there with a chance.”

That McIlroy’s “one more” is at Augusta National also has a good news/bad news element. This is, after all, the same tournament he led by four strokes after 54 holes in 2011 only to finish tied for 15th place.

On a course most observers say is perfectly suited for his power game, McIlroy has been sensational (opening 65 in 2011) and shocking (closing 80 in 2011). The year’s first major has been equal parts feast and famine for McIlory, who has carded more rounds over 75 (six) then he has in the 60s (five).

Ernie Els can empathize with McIlroy’s plight. At 25 years old, Els had won the 1994 U.S. Open and took a three-stroke lead into the final round of the ’95 PGA Championship.

“I blew that. That’s still one I’m looking for and obviously at the Masters I had a couple of chances,” Els said. “I don’t think there are many guys that think that way. Maybe 10 in a cycle that can think that way. He’s obviously one of them.”

With the weight of that reality perched on broad shoulders that graced the cover of Men’s Health magazine this month, McIlroy sets off in search of history. But then, he’s known this moment was coming for months.

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”