McIlroy's surge keeps him near lead

By Rex HoggardSeptember 12, 2014, 7:40 pm

ATLANTA – The storm that sent officials at the Tour Championship scrambling on Friday never materialized, but another tempest emerged for the other two dozen or so players looking to close out the season with a victory.

After opening with what he figured was a pedestrian 69 on Thursday at East Lake, Rory McIlroy did what Rory McIlroy does on Day 2 – rolling in four birdie putts from inside 11 feet, overpowering a soft golf course with towering drives and even making par from a spectator’s pocket on his way to one of the easiest 65s this side of the Humana Challenge.

When the round was completed well before happy hour on the East Coast, the world No. 1 had jumped nine spots up on a crowded leaderboard and into a tie for second place, just two strokes behind the prince of these playoffs, Billy Horschel.

Perhaps it doesn’t hold the cachet of the claret jug or the historical significance of a Masters green jacket, which would complete the career Grand Slam for the 25-year-old, but the FedEx Cup playoffs have a compelling hold on McIlroy.

Tour Championship: Articles, videos and photos

Two years ago the Northern Irishman began the Tour Championship atop the points list after a dominant run that included victories at two of the first three post-season stops only to watch the $10 million payday go to Brandt Snedeker in what can only be considered the game’s most expensive pencil whipping.

McIlroy has no problem with the often-skewed math that determines the yearlong champion, but he does have a score to settle.

“It would be the icing on the cake, really,” McIlroy said. “Before coming into these FedEx Cup playoffs, having won four times in a season, two majors, a World Golf Championship, the flagship event on the European Tour, it was going to be a great season anyway, I wanted to cap it off in style and I've given myself a chance to do that over the next two days.”

Although the math becomes a little complicated depending on the scenarios, the only outcome McIlroy is interested in is winning because at fourth on the playoff point list that would assure him the FedEx Cup regardless of what Horschel & Co. pull off.

And on Friday he moved to within 36 holes of the only prize in golf other than that green jacket that has eluded him with a dominant performance that is becoming far too familiar for some of his Tour frat brothers.

Although comparisons to Tiger Woods remain unrealistic, McIlroy’s name on a weekend leaderboard is starting to draw players’ attention the way the guy in the red shirt used to.

“Rory is a good front-runner and he is tough to catch when he is up. I look forward to the challenge,” said Rickie Fowler, who went head-to-head with McIlroy on Sunday at Royal Liverpool. “This summer he’s made his presence known a bit more.”

After turning in 2 under on Friday, three hours earlier than originally scheduled because officials moved up tee times in hopes of avoiding an approaching storm that never arrived, McIlroy pulled to within two shots of the lead with his two longest birdie putts of the day at Nos. 17 and 18.

Although he remains two shots off the lead, McIlroy has, as he has done all season, maintained a machine-like consistency according to every statistical matrix. He’s fourth this week in driving distance, first in approach shot distance to the pin, third in strokes gained-putting and first in distance of putts made.

It was the driver, however, that set up all those short approach shots and continues to separate him from the rest of the pack.

“I’m not quite as good as I was about a month ago, but I'm still driving the ball well,” McIlroy said. “I wouldn't say I'm driving it as good as I was driving it (at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) and PGA (he won both). But I'm still driving it good enough to give myself a chance to win this tournament.”

Even when he wasn’t perfect, like at the par-4 14th hole when his drive clipped a tree limb and ended up in a spectator’s pocket, he still managed to sidestep trouble and make par.

But then he’s used to the occasional wayward tee ball.

“I hit it off someone's leg at the Scottish Open this year,” smiled McIlroy. “I need to stop hitting it off line. Bad things happen.”

The way he is playing the 28 other players in this week’s field may be hoping for a few more adventures, say a few foul balls in the direction of Buckhead, to even the playing field because they’ve all seen these storm clouds before.

Getty Images

Kang on cheating allegation: 'I did the right thing'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 1:26 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Three weeks after his playing partner claimed that he “cheated” while taking an improper drop at the Quicken Loans National, Sung Kang insisted Thursday that he did nothing wrong.

Joel Dahmen tweeted that Kang cheated after a lengthy dispute about where his ball had last crossed the line of a hazard. A PGA Tour official ruled in Kang’s favor, he made par on the hole, shot 64 and earned one of the available spots in the Open Championship.

Kang didn’t learn of the controversy until the next day, when he received an email from a PGA Tour communications official seeking comment. He researched online what the furor was about, then issued a brief statement through the Tour (which added its own statement, saying that there was “no clear evidence” to suggest that Kang dropped incorrectly).

Kang said he tried to clear the air with Dahmen before the first round of last week’s John Deere Classic, but they never had the opportunity to discuss their differences.

“I followed the rules official and I think I did the right thing,” Kang told a handful of reporters Thursday following his opening round at Carnoustie, where he shot a 2-under 69 to sit three shots off the early lead.

Kang said he was hesitant to discuss the incident with reporters, because he said there clearly was a difference in opinions. He said he’d already told his side to South Korean news outlets but that “whatever I say, some people are going to trust it and some people are not going to trust it. Then I’ve got to think about it more and more when it’s not going to help my golf game.”

“I really want to say a lot of things about it, the truth about what happened,” he added, “but I’m not going to say anything.”

Kang said that he wouldn’t alter his approach when dealing with rulings in the future.

“No. Why?” he said. “I did the right thing. There’s no point in changing.”

Getty Images

Kisner (67) enjoying 'frat' life, soccer matches with Jordan and Co.

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 12:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The frat house tradition continued this year at The Open, with a group of seven high-profile Americans rooming together for the week, including early first-round leader Kevin Kisner.

Kisner explained after his opening 5-under 66 that the group – which includes Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler – has spent the week talking about how demanding Carnoustie is playing and enjoying the summer weather.

“We're out there playing soccer at night and hanging out,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

To be clear, this isn’t a proper soccer match, but instead a penalty-kick situation with all but one player taking turns trying to score.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

Although Kisner said he’s always impressed with the athletic prowess of other players, Spieth has proven himself particularly adept on the impromptu pitch.

“Jordan scored when Duf tripped, it was hilarious,” Kisner smiled. “[Spieth] is good until he sends it over the goal four houses over, and we've got to go knock on a neighbor’s door for the soccer ball.”

The group is actually staying in two local houses that are next to each other, one with a large enough back yard and a soccer net, but perhaps not enough soccer balls.

“We’re going to have to Amazon Prime a couple new balls to replace the ones we lost,” Kisner said.

Getty Images

Van Rooyen continues links run with impressive 67

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 12:27 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For Erik van Rooyen familiarity has not bred contempt.

The South African, like many European Tour players, has been on a links golf odyssey the last three weeks, playing the Irish Open, Scottish Open and this week’s Open Championship in consecutive weeks, and the crash course paid off on Day 1 at Carnoustie when he opened with a 4-under 67 to assure himself a spot among the early leaders.

Although van Rooyen missed the cut last week just down the coast at Gullane Golf Club, he entered the final round in Ireland with a four-stroke lead.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I didn't pull it off the final day,” said van Rooyen, who closed with a 74 to tie for fourth place. “I still think I played pretty well. I was nervous. That's completely normal, and I'll learn how to deal with that. I'll take that experience into tournaments like this.”

Van Rooyen, who was alone in second place when he completed his round, began his round with back-to-back birdies and was bogey-free until the last hole. It was just what one would expect from a player who has immersed himself in links golf for the better part of a month.

“We've been playing nice golf now the last three weeks, so definitely used to the way this course is playing, definitely used to handling the wind,” he said. “So I'll be ready.”