Muddy Merion may be perfect match for McIlroy

By Rex HoggardJune 11, 2013, 9:25 pm

ARDMORE, Pa. – The insult was not intended, yet just as muddy Merion was beginning to dry late Tuesday it took a metaphorical shower.

“The East Coast has been battered these last U.S. Opens I've played, the ones I've played, Bethpage, Congressional, here this week,” Graeme McDowell said on Tuesday. “It is what it is this time of the year in the Northeast. It's tough. I feel for everyone involved this week, volunteers and maintenance staff, the USGA, really.”

Weather sympathy ... from a Northern Irishman. Tough times indeed.

While G-Mac’s take on the torrents that have swamped East Coast Opens in recent years – from the bath that was Bethpage in 2009 to soggy Congressional in 2011 – may be a harsh reality, it is historically accurate and a fact worth digesting as we inch closer to the start of the 113th U.S. Open.

Note to the USGA: if hosting Opens at historical gems like Merion is going to be a competitive imperative may we suggest digging up the East Course and moving it to Southern California.

Soggy conditions will be an occupational hazard this week at Merion, so much so officials may want to consider replacing the iconic wicker baskets used to mark holes to something more apropos, say a squeegee.

Twice on Monday, Merion was closed by storms and more is forecast for Thursday, which will likely narrow the list of potential champions dramatically.

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In 2009 at Bethpage no one was driving the ball better than Lucas Glover – he ranked 13th for the week in fairways hit. Ditto for Rory McIlroy two summers ago at Congressional, where the Ulsterman was 26th in finding fairways.

While Merion is a dramatically different monster, the math remains the same.

For Glover and McIlroy it was a unique combination of power and precision that lifted them to Open glory. It is a game that the world No. 2 is uniquely suited for despite a season that has been defined by a series of peaks and valleys.

“I didn’t really enjoy the Olympic Club last year. I much prefer this sort of golf,” McIlroy said on Tuesday at Merion. “When you hit a shot and it doesn’t bounce one way or the other, when you hit it and it stays where you think it’s going to stay.”

Despite a fitful year, McIlroy still ranks 14th in total driving, a combination of distance and accuracy, and even in his last start, an eventful tie for 57th at the Memorial, he led the field with a 292-yard average.

“I like the way (Congressional) was set up initially,” McDowell said. “Then by the time the rains came down and Rory split the fairway 14 times out of 14, 330 (yards) down the middle and decimated the place, you know, it was never going to really be my kind of U.S. Open.”

And if McIlroy’s recent record doesn’t exactly scream champion-in-waiting, he preceded his tie for 57th at Muirfield Village with a missed cut at the European Tour’s marquee event in England, consider that the two-time major champion has made a career out of lowered expectations.

In the run-up to last year’s walk-off at the PGA Championship, McIlroy had missed a cut (U.S. Open), tied for 60th (British Open) and tied for fifth (WGC-Bridgestone Invitational). And before his Open breakthrough at Congressional he’d missed a cut (Wells Fargo Championship) and finished fifth (Memorial).

“I’m still waiting to see what happened like it did last year at (the Bridgestone),” said Dave Stockton Sr., McIlroy’s putting coach. “When it doesn’t happen I’m surprised.”

There have been distractions this season. The wholesale equipment change to Nike Golf was heavily scrutinized and not as seamless as he would have liked, and swirling rumors that he is primed to make his second management team change in three years has created concern in some corners.

Throughout it all, however, McIlroy has remained consistently upbeat and somewhat immune to the slings and arrows of Monday morning quarterbacking.

“There’s always going to be a little bit of a transition period switching over (to Nike equipment),” he said. “I would rather do it right away than sort of let it linger for any period of time. I would rather do it in the first two or three months of the year and get it over and done with.”

If that doesn’t exactly sound like the ramblings of your average 24-year-old, McIlroy’s golf IQ has always defied the typical learning curve.

Where others see lost opportunities, McIlroy has embraced the inevitable ebb and flow of a prolonged competitive career. Where the status quo sees a golf course that on the scorecard (6,996 yards) would appear to be a square peg for the Northern Irishman’s round-peg game, McIlroy sees soggy similarities with Congressional, where he won the Open by eight strokes.

Where some have seen failure, McIlroy’s judge of progress has been much more nuanced.

“You never lean a whole lot when you win, it’s the hard weeks that really teach you something,” Stockton said.

And as the golf world learned in 2009 and ’11, wet U.S. Opens are won by great drivers, which may make muddy Merion and McIlroy a perfect fit.

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Dunlap, in 'excruciating pain,' shares early Dominion lead

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:29 pm

RICHMOND, Va. – Scott Dunlap and Fran Quinn shot 5-under 67 on Friday to share the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Fighting a left wrist injury that will require surgery, Dunlap matched Quinn with a closing birdie on the par-5 18th on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''Maybe excruciating pain is the key to playing good golf because I'm not getting nervous on a shot, you're just trying to get through it,'' Dunlap said. ''The worst parts are gripping it and getting the club started ... that's when that bone hits that bone.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

The 55-year-old Dunlap entered the week 29th in the standings. Playing through the wrist injury, he's coming off ties for ninth and seventh in his last two starts.

''I think I finally taped it the right way,'' Dunlap said. ''Or maybe it's the pain meds kicking in. I don't know, one of the two.''

Quinn is 64th in the standings.

''I finished up strong last year, too, kind of secured my privileges for the following year making eagle on 18,'' Quinn said. ''I played solid all day. I had a lot of opportunities. A couple hiccups.''

Jay Haas was a stroke back with Kent Jones, Stephen Ames, Woody Austin and Tim Petrovic. The 64-year-old Haas won the last of his 18 senior titles in 2016.

Vijay Singh and Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, were at 69 with Joey Sindelar, Tom Gillis, Billy MayfairLee Janzen, Glen Day and Gene Sauers.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer opened with a 70. The 61-year-old German star won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the points lead. He has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

Defending Charles Schwab Cup champion Kevin Sutherland had a 71. He's 14th in the standings. No. 3 Jerry Kelly shot 72. No. 4 Scott McCarron, the 2016 tournament winner, had a 74.

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Weather continues to plague Valderrama Masters

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 7:55 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Marc Warren helped his chances of retaining his European Tour card by moving into a tie for second place behind Englishman Ashley Chesters at the rain-hit Andalucia Valderrama Masters on Friday.

Bad weather interrupted play for a second straight day at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain before darkness caused the second round to be suspended until Saturday, with overnight Chesters still ahead at 5-under.

Weather delays on Thursday, including a threat of lightning, had kept 60 golfers from finishing their opening round. They included Scottish player Warren, who went out on Friday and finished his first round with a 2-under 69.

He then made three birdies to go with one bogey on the first nine holes of the second round before play was halted. He joined Frenchman Gregory Bourdy one shot behind Chesters.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

''I'm hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time,'' Warren said. ''Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing.''

Chesters and Bourdy were among several golfers unable to play a single hole in the second round on Friday.

Warren, a three-time European Tour winner, has struggled this season and needs a strong performance to keep his playing privileges for next year.

Currently ranked 144th, Warren needs to break into the top 116 to keep his card.

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.