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McIlroy's mind on fresh start in 2018

By Rex HoggardAugust 23, 2017, 7:55 pm

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – It’s not officially a lost season for Rory McIlroy, otherwise he’d be knee deep in the renovation of his new south Florida home and daydreaming about 2018.

The FedExCup means too much to the 2016 champion after having finally won the season-long race last year following so many bridesmaid finishes; and he conceded that his decision to finish the playoff season was based entirely on how his body responded after a week off following the PGA Championship.

“I was unsure of what I was going to do and I came pretty close to saying, you know what, I'm going to wait and get myself healthy,” McIlroy said on Wednesday at The Northern Trust. “But I still have a lot of time after these events to do that. I feel like I'm capable of winning. I feel like I'm capable of giving myself a chance to win this thing.”

So the world’s fourth-ranked player will finish the postseason, which may be just three starts unless the Northern Irishman makes a move up the rankings the next few weeks, and he’ll finish his year on the European Tour at the Dunhill Links Championship in October.

And then?

“2018,” he smiled.

It’s been that kind of year for McIlroy, who didn’t play his first PGA Tour event until March and was slowed throughout by a nagging rib injury.

Following the PGA Championship he suggested his year might be over, his patience finally worn thin by the on-again, off-again nature of a rib injury, but the chance to defend his title and finish what has been a challenging season on a high note drew him back for one final push.


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FedExCup standings entering the playoffs


The year hasn’t been a total loss. He finished tied for fourth at The Open, well out of serious contention but enough of a glimmer of hope to keep him interested. Oh, and he was married in April. But otherwise, 2017 has been a year best forgotten thanks to the combination of his ongoing injury, a forced equipment change when Nike Golf got out of the hard-goods business and a complete lack of victories.

“This thing has just been so niggly and it's flared up and then it's calmed down and then it's flared up again,” he said. “I haven't had the time to really let it settle down. I did at the start of the year, but I started to practice a little bit too hard, too early, when I came back from getting married and going on honeymoon, and then it flared up again.”

But if ’17 has been something best forgotten, at least from a professional standpoint, the normally jagged edge such a season would instill in a player was noticeably missing from McIlroy’s voice on Wednesday.

Despite his ’17 scorecard, McIlroy said he begins the playoffs confident in his FedExCup chances, noting that he began last season’s playoff push ranked 36th on the season-long points list. He’s currently 44th on the list.

“I feel like I'm capable of winning. I feel like I'm capable of giving myself a chance to win this thing,” he said.

But beyond the competitive necessities of the next few weeks, the bounce in McIlroy’s step was largely the result of coming up with a plan. After the Dunhill Links in October, he has a battery of tests scheduled that include a full-body scan and even a food intolerance test. He’ll take two weeks off after that before intensifying his focus on next season.

“All we'll be focusing on is getting me in the best possible shape with my body and my game going into 2018. So I'm excited for that,” he said.

That’s mind, body, game and beyond.

Following his news conference on Wednesday at Glen Oaks Club, McIlroy planned to meet with Mark Broadie, the mastermind behind the Tour’s strokes gained statistics and author of “Every Shot Counts.”

“I've become a big believer that they are very important and if you look at strokes gained from when they started to collect the ShotLink data [2003], the only guy that has ever averaged three strokes gained on the field in a year is Tiger [Woods], and he did it eight seasons,” McIlroy said.

McIlroy went on to explain that his best season was in 2012 when he led the Tour with a 2.406 average in the strokes gained-total category.

“That's my goal. My goal is to get to three. I want to be the only other player to get to three strokes gained-total average,” he said. “If I can do that, you'll win five or six times a year, at least.”

To do that, he’ll have to be healthy, which is why he’ll do what so few of the game’s top players do and take an extended break when the playoff dust settles.

His year isn’t over, not just yet, and he can still make lemonade out of what has been a lemon with a postseason run like the one that he rode all the way to last year’s $10 million payday at East Lake; but it wasn’t the thought of a walk-off that filled McIlroy’s voice with optimism.

No, that silver lining was the byproduct of what awaits in 2018.

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.


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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.


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"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.

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Vogel Monday qualifies for eighth time this season

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:27 pm

The PGA Tour's regular season ended with another tally for the Monday King.

While Monday qualifiers are a notoriously difficult puzzle to solve, with dozens of decorated professionals vying for no more than four spots in a given tournament field, T.J. Vogel has turned them into his personal playground this season. That trend continued this week when he earned a spot into the season-ending Wyndham Championship, shooting a 5-under 66 and surviving a 4-for-3 playoff for the final spots.

It marks Vogel's eighth successful Monday qualification this season, extending the unofficial record he set when he earned start No. 7 last month at The Greenbrier. Patrick Reed earned the nickname "Mr. Monday" when he successfully qualified six different times during the 2012 season before securing full-time status.

There have been 24 different Monday qualifiers throughout the season, with Vogel impressively turning 19 qualifier starts into eight tournament appearances.

Vogel started the year with only conditional Web.com Tour status, and explained at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May that he devised his summer schedule based on his belief that it's easier to Monday qualify for a PGA Tour event than a Web.com tournament.


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"The courses that the PGA Tour sets the qualifiers up, they're more difficult and sometimes they're not a full field whereas the Web, since there's no pre-qualifier, you have two full fields for six spots each and the courses aren't as tough," Vogel said. "So I feel like if you take a look at the numbers, a lot of the Web qualifiers you have to shoot 8-under."

Vogel has made three cuts in his previous seven starts this year, topping out with a T-16 finish at the Valspar Championship in March. The 27-year-old also played the weekend at the Nelson and the Wells Fargo Championship, missing the cut at The Greenbrier in addition to the RSM Classic, Honda Classic and FedEx St. Jude Classic.

While Vogel won't have another Monday qualifier opportunity until October, he has a chance to secure some 2019 status this week in Greensboro. His 51 non-member FedExCup points would currently slot him 205th in the season-long race, 13 points behind Rod Pampling at No. 200. If Vogel earns enough points to reach the equivalent of No. 200 after this week, he'd clinch a spot in the upcoming Web.com Tour Finals where he would have a chance to compete for a full PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season.

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Woods adds BMW Championship to playoff schedule

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:01 pm

Tiger Woods is adding a trip to Philadelphia to his growing playoff itinerary.

Having already committed to both The Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship, Woods' agent confirmed to GolfChannel.com that the 14-time major champ will also make an appearance next month at the BMW Championship. It will mark Woods' first start in the third leg of the FedExCup playoffs since 2013 when he tied for 11th at Conway Farms Golf Club outside of Chicago.

This year the Sept. 6-9 event is shifting to Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., which is hosting the BMW for the first time. The course previously hosted the Quicken Loans National in both 2010 and 2011. Woods won the BMW en route to FedExCup titles in both 2007 and 2009 when it was held at Cog Hill in Illinois.


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Woods was already in good position to make the 70-man BMW field, but his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship vaulted him from 49th to 20th in the season-long points race and assured that he'll make it to Aronimink regardless of his performance in the first two postseason events.

Woods' commitment also means a packed schedule will only get busier leading into the Ryder Cup, where he is expected to be added as a captain's pick. Woods' appearance at the BMW will cap a run of five events in six weeks, and should he tee it up in Paris it could be his seventh start in a nine-week stretch if he also qualifies for the 30-player Tour Championship.