One-Man Show

By Rex HoggardAugust 13, 2009, 4:00 pm
CHASKA, Minn. ' As widely foretold, the 91st PGA Championship has quickly been condensed into the Tiger & the Bombers Show, with special guest Paul Goydos.
 
Just when it was starting to appear as if Supermans cape was slightly askew, when the forewarning of the Tune-up Slam would translate into something less than pure dominance, Tiger Woods hits fairways and greens and every putt that matters for a stress-free stroll that added up to a 5-under 67 and a one-stroke lead. He came by it honestly on the longest thing this side of an Alvaro Quiros drive.
 
Tiger Woods PGA Championship
Playing Hazeltine National was no sweat for Tiger Woods Thursday. (Getty Images)
Welcome to TW National ' sprawling with no surprises and generous fairways, at least by major championship standards, and the perfect tonic for Woods Grand Slam woes.
 
They dont hand out the Wanamaker Trophy on Thursday, but the engraver may want to start etching given the world No. 1s performance on a gray, breezy Thursday.
 
This is not a slight to the assembled millionaires at Hazeltine National, but if a hole in Woods PGA Championship resume exists it is a sometimes scruffy opening effort.
 
In his four PGA Championship victories, Woods has held the Day 1 lead just once (2000) and was no better than 11th in his other three victory laps. In 11 PGAs, his opening-round scoring average is 70.9, more than a stroke higher than his second- and third-round averages and well more than his final loops (70.27).
 
Just keep yourself around, you dont have to be eight ahead after the first round, thats not it, said Woods, who picked apart the Minnesota marshmallow by hitting 12 fairways, 15 greens in regulation and 29 putts. Just keep plodding along because major championships are set up so theyre difficult. They beat you into making mistakes.
 
Not that it really matters to Woods. Like his athletically dominant equal Lance Armstrong, he cares little about yellow jerseys after the first stage.
 
And as impressive as his record is when spotted the odd stroke, hes not automatic. He led after Day 1 at the 1998 PGA following an opening 66 only to fade with rounds of 72-70-71 and is 4-for-6 in majors after holding the first-round lead and 13-for-24 in his Tour career.
 
But those are the exceptions to the rule, particularly when hes churning out seemingly generic gems like he did on Thursday. The closest he came to a bogey was a 6 footer at the first hole (his tenth hole of the day) that he calmly holed much like he did at the fifth for par from 4 feet and 3 feet for birdie and the outright lead at the seventh.
 
All of which begs the question, when 4 and 5 footers dont register concern what is left to rock the boat? Missed fairways, an often trotted out critique of Woods game? He hit a little more than half of Firestones table tops last week and didnt seem to have much trouble hauling in Tour tilt No. 70.
 
Its just how efficient he was today, said Rich Beem, the third member of Thursdays box office smash three-ball. There was nothing crazy. He never looked like he would make a bogey. It was easy.
 
At 7,674 yards Hazeltine National was dubbed a bombers paradise and the Robert Trent Jones layout stayed on topic on Thursday with a leaderboard straight out of a bomb-and-gouge casting call. Just behind Woods and Harrington is Robert Allenby (43rd on Tour in driving distance) Hunter Mahan (33rd) , Quiros (who stunned Woods with a driver-driver combo to reach the unreachable 11th green in two shots) and . . . well, Goydos.
 
Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, 5,000 iHops, or so it seems, and 155 of the worlds best players left putting into the grain.
 
Its kind of ominous. Hes got a pretty good track record (when leading), Beem said.
 
There was a light that peaked through the clouds and onto the rolling farm country, however. The PGA Championship is not over, Padraig Harrington will make sure of that. After clearing up the final piece of his swing reconstruction on Sunday at Turnberry with swing coach Bob Torrance, the Irishman didnt seem put out at all by his unsightly finish at Firestone and Thursday at Hazeltine National quickly became Paddy vs. Woods Part Deux, sans the stopwatch.
 
I asked (Harrington) if he was bothered when Tiger caught him after seven holes (on Sunday at Firestone)? said Dr. Bob Rotella, Harringtons sports psychologist. He said, Bothered? No. I loved the way I was playing.
 
Almost as much as he loves going head-to-head with Woods, who has an affinity for Harringtons work ethic and dedication to improvement.
 
If youre playing with Tiger Woods youre doing well, said Harrington, alone in second place after a 68. If you dont want to be in that spot, you shouldnt be playing golf. More so than any of the antagonist who have challenged Woods over the years, Harrington has the swing and resolve to play with him at his best. Of course, given Woods first-round effort Harrington will need to be at his best to keep this showdown from becoming a one-man show.
 
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    Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

    Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

    Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

    This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

    While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

    Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

    Getty Images

    McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

    Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

    “It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

    “Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

    He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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    Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

    A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

    Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

    Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

    And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

    Getty Images

    Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

    “You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

    The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

    “He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

    But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

    And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

    It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

    That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

    “I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

    It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

    McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

    “I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

    It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

    “I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

    A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

    Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.