Newsmaker of the Year No. 1: Rory McIlroy

By Rex HoggardDecember 31, 2012, 1:00 pm

It was, of all people, probably a former American Ryder Cup captain, one of just four winning skippers in the last 27 years it should be noted, that helped wrest Europe’s best and brightest out of a slump and back into the leading role as the Continent’s undisputed alpha male.

Or maybe the credit should go to a salt-of-the-earth lawman from middle America for keeping a great season from being marred by an embarrassing time zone snafu at the Ryder Cup.

Or perhaps the competitive climb that is Rory McIlroy should be owned by all of us. Born in Holywood, Northern Ireland, seasoned to play a global game, but it is his status as a bona fide American favorite that made the Ulsterman the year’s top newsmaker.

Newsmaker No. 10: Stacy Lewis | No. 9 PGA Tour | No. 8: Jim Furyk | No. 7: British Open | No. 6: Bubba Watson | No. 5: Anchored putters | No. 4: Augusta National | No. 3 Tiger Woods | No. 2 Ryder Cup

It is a nod to McIlroy’s priorities, and his upbringing, that he is equal parts sensational talent and showman. In 2012 he didn’t just win, he did it with style points to spare.

There were plenty of champions in 2012, but few demanded our attention like McIlroy. It is an asset etched into his DNA and on display even when he’s not playing from the front of the pack.

Early into his opening turn at the 2011 PGA Championship McIlroy strained a tendon in his right wrist when he played a shot off an Atlanta Athletic Club tree root. Despite suggestions from his caddie and trainer to take a knee and not risk further injury he played on.

At the time we asked McIlroy’s father, Gerry, why his only son refused to yield and the answer was almost prophetic, although it certainly wasn’t intended to be. “He thinks all these people are here to see him,” Gerry McIlroy said.

And they watched in droves in 2012, marveling at the 23-year-old’s play and poise. He began his ’12 PGA Tour campaign with a runner-up showing at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and held off a charging Tiger Woods on Sunday at The Honda Classic to reclaim the top spot in the world golf ranking.

Late Sunday at PGA National, McIlroy was asked about the state of the game and his lofty position atop the heap. “Exciting times,” he smiled, elegant and, as it turns out, wildly understated.

Around the globe McIlroy would post a “fab five” start to the season, finishing runner-up (Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship), fifth (Dubai Desert Classic), runner-up (Match Play), first (Honda) and third (WGC-Cadillac Championship). What followed, however, was a forged-by-conflict season that transformed a good calendar into something truly special.

Following a playoff loss to Rickie Fowler at the Quail Hollow Championship McIlroy missed three consecutive cuts around the world and posted just two top-10 finishes in a run of seven events.

Publicly McIlroy dismissed suggestions that he had played his way into the first valley of a career that until then had been largely dominated by peaks, but there were signs that his slide had set off alarms in Camp Rory.

In early June he added the FedEx St. Jude Classic to his schedule as he searched for answers and consistency and for the first time in his young career McIlroy had his swing coach, Michael Bannon, join him on Tour. But it was another member of McIlroy’s inner circle that helped wrest the Ulsterman out of his swoon and the tonic had little to do with the mechanics of his swing.

“I turn on the TV and look at him and see he’s not playing well. I told him I don’t want to know that,” McIlroy’s short-game coach and the ’91 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Dave Stockton Sr. told the Ulsterman in August. “I drilled him last week. I said, 'You can’t do that, you just cannot do that. Jack (Nicklaus) never did that. Tiger never did that. Nicklaus was the best.' I’m sure he got mad but I don’t remember him ever showing it.”

In his next start McIlroy tied for fifth at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and followed that with his second major romp.

Of all the accolades McIlroy collected at the PGA Championship it was his eight-stroke margin of victory that set a new historical footnote, supplanting Nicklaus in the record books, and rocked the status quo.

“He never gave anyone the vaguest whiff, maybe on the breeze, just a little something. No. That was locked up so tight the entire round. It was perfect. He did what all great players can do, he played the best possible golf as if it had the least possible consequence,” said David Feherty, the on-course reporter following McIlroy on Sunday at Kiawah Island. “It’s the greatest round of golf I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Tiger Woods play a lot of golf, but that was something special.”

By comparison, the rest of 2012 was little more than a victory lap, although it felt more like a coronation. McIlroy won back-to-back FedEx Cup playoff events (Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship) – with apologies to Brandt Snedeker, McIlroy’s inability to secure the season-long title seemed more like a pencil whipping than an outright loss – and staved off a potentially embarrassing faux pas at September’s Ryder Cup thanks to the efforts of Lombard (Ill.) deputy police chief Patrick Rollins, who raced the European hero to Medinah just in time to help secure Europe's one-point victory.

For McIlroy 2012 wasn’t a dramatic leap forward in how he performed so much as it was an attitude adjustment to a more single-minded, some have even suggested tougher, player.

“I have probably changed my mindset a little bit over the past 12 or 18 months, and it's definitely helped and obviously helped me to win more tournaments,” said McIlroy, who added money titles on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for good measure. “My personality away from the golf course hasn't changed, but definitely when I get to the golf course I'm maybe a little more professional, a little more businesslike and go about my business like that.”

Over the past 12 months, McIlroy endured the ultimate competitive bell curve, mid-summer travails book-ended by historic triumph. That he did it with a panache that transcended a passport made him a true American favorite.

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.

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Playoff streaks in jeopardy for Garcia, Haas

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:12 pm

Since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007, only 13 players have managed to make the playoffs each and every year. But two of the PGA Tour's stalwarts head into the regular-season finale with work to do in order to remain a part of that select fraternity.

Sergio Garcia has rarely had to sweat the top-125 bubble, but the Spaniard enters this week's Wyndham Championship 131st in the current standings. Left with even more work to do is former FedExCup winner Bill Haas, who starts the week in Greensboro 150th.

Garcia got off to a strong start in the spring, sandwiching a pair of top-10 finishes in WGC events around a fourth-place showing at the Valspar Championship. But quality results largely dried up after Garcia missed the cut at the Masters; he has made only two cuts in 10 Tour starts since April, including early exits in all four majors.

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Garcia has some history at Sedgefield Country Club, having won this event in 2012 to break a lengthy U.S. victory drought. He also finished fourth in 2009 but hasn't played the Donald Ross layout since a T-29 finish as the defending champ in 2013.

It's been a difficult year for Haas both on and off the course, as the veteran was involved as a passenger in a car accident on the eve of the Genesis Open that killed the driver. He returned to action three weeks later in Tampa, and he tied for seventh at the RBC Heritage in April. But that remains his lone top-10 finish of the season. Haas has missed 11 cuts including three in a row.

While the bubble will be a fluid target this week at Sedgefield, Garcia likely needs at least a top-20 finish to move into the top 125 while Haas will likely need to finish inside the top 5.

One of the 13 playoff streaks is assured of ending next week, as Luke Donald has missed most of the year with a back injury. Other players to qualify for every Tour postseason include Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Charles Howell III, Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore.

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Airlines lose two sets of Olesen's clubs in 10 days

By Grill Room TeamAugust 15, 2018, 7:50 pm

Commercial airlines losing the golf clubs of a professional golfer is not exactly a groundbreaking story. It happens.

But European Tour pro Thorbjorn Olesen is on quite the roll, losing two sets of clubs and five suitcases in the span of 10 days.

Olesen, the reigning Italian Open champ, claimed his primary set of golf clubs were lost last week. Having little faith they'd be found before this week's Nordea Masters, he decided to bring his backup set for the event in Sweden.

A veteran move by the 28-year-old, unless, of course, those clubs were lost too. And wouldn't you know it:

After pestering the airlines with some A+ GIFs, Olesen was reunited with at least one of his sets and was back in action on Wednesday.

He also still plans on giving his golf bag away to some lucky follower, provided it's not lost again in transit. Something he's no longer taking for granted.

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Podcast: Brandel compares Tiger and Hogan's comebacks

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 15, 2018, 6:48 pm

Tiger Woods on Sunday at Bellerive recorded his seventh runner-up finish in a major and his first in nine years.

A favorite guest of the Golf Channel Podcast, Brandel Chamblee joins host Will Gray to compare and contrast Tiger's return to competitive golf with that of Ben Hogan and Babe Didrikson Zaharias in the 1950s.

Chamblee also discusses Brooks Koepka's major dominance, Bellerive as a major venue, Tiger and Phil as Ryder Cup locks, and who else might be in line to receive Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn's remaining captain's picks.

Finally, Brandel shares what it was it was like to qualify for the Senior Open Championship and compete for a major title on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Listen here: