As Open nears, McIlroy faces scrutiny on, off course

By Rex HoggardJune 8, 2012, 11:42 pm

In the whirlwind 12 months since Rory McIlroy made mincemeat of Congressional and U.S. Open history, the likeable Ulsterman won the Honda Classic, became No. 1 in the world golf ranking, tied for 40th at Augusta National, lost a playoff to Rickie Fowler at Quail Hollow, and now leads through two rounds of the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

In his spare time he ran afoul of the United Kingdom press for what was viewed in some circles as petulant behavior at the BMW PGA Championship, raced around Rome on a moped with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki and missed three consecutive cuts to drop out of the top spot in the world order.

In other words, he’s behaved precisely like one would expect a 23-year-old globetrotting superstar to behave.

If McIlroy’s eclectic existence isn’t exactly what the golf world had in mind as he nonchalantly strolled up Congressional’s 18th green last Father’s Day with one hand on his first major championship and the other covering his stunned face, it wasn’t from a lack of warning.

Tee times: McIlroy grouped with Donald, Westwood at U.S. Open

Even after his eight-stroke masterpiece last year at Congressional, with a shag bag full of broken records and the U.S. Open trophy resting in front of him, McIlroy cautioned when the inevitable comparisons to Tiger Woods cropped up.

To paraphrase, McIlroy figured the last 13 majors are the hardest to win if he were ever to catch Woods, not to mention his idol Jack Nicklaus’ haul of 18 Grand Slam tilts.

So if the defending champion doesn’t exactly sport the look of the first back-to-back U.S. Open champion since Curtis Strange, in 1988-89, the second coming a month after McIlroy was born, he has come by it honestly.

Not that McIlroy’s youthful wisdom has been much solace as he navigates the first competitive valley of his young career. It’s been a free fall that’s been aggravated by startling expediency.

Following his playoff loss at the Wells Fargo Championship, McIlroy missed the cut at The Players, although that was little surprise considering his dreadful record at golf’s so-called “fifth major.” Another MC at Wentworth, where he’d played well in the past, wasn’t as easily dismissed and after he failed to advance to the weekend at Muirfield Village it became official in some media circles – Rory was slumping.

“These two-day weeks aren't really that good for me,” McIlroy laughed at his pre-tournament news conference at the Memorial.

But that easy smile concealed a growing impatience with his substandard play as did a break from his normal pre-major routine, which rarely has included playing the week before a Grand Slam.

A player who has adhered to a strict less-is-more approach for much of his young career has, in recent weeks, embraced quantity on the road to quality. At least that’s the idea.

“When you're working on things, you're always scrutinizing everything maybe a little bit more than you would when everything is going well or when you're not really thinking much about your swing or about this or that,” said McIlroy.

“But hopefully that's just a process where the more swings you make and the more holes you play, the less you'll start to think about it.'

That philosophy appears to be working. McIlroy has one eagle, nine birdies and four bogeys through 36 holes at TPC Southwind. His 7-under total has him one clear of the field.

'It's nice to see my name on that part of the leaderboard,' McIlroy said. 'It's not nice when you're struggling to make the cut on a Friday afternoon. It was great. It's nice to be through to the weekend obviously. It's obviously even nicer to be leading and have a great chance.'

Prior to teeing it up in Tennessee, McIlroy heard that the sky was falling. And maybe he believed it a little bit, as the addition of the Memphis stop and extended sessions with swing coach Michael Bannon suggested he was feeling the heat with the Open looming.

McIlroy and Bannon, who has rarely traveled with his most high-profile student, huddled in an Ohio hotel room last week looking for answers on tape. “I said to (Bannon) that I felt like I haven't really seen my swing that much this year,” McIlroy said.

But finding the proper swing plane is likely only half the battle. For the better part of a calendar, McIlroy almost effortlessly sidestepped many of the same pitfalls that have beset first-time major champions, balancing the new rigors of fame with a private life that at times was anything but.

Graeme McDowell was sent through the same rinse cycle following his Grand Slam breakthrough at the 2010 U.S. Open and marveled at McIlroy’s ability to find balance in uncharted waters.

“The difference between Rory and myself is that he’s been groomed for stardom. It’s no surprise that he’s doing the things he’s doing because he’s been a phenomenal talent for many, many years,” McDowell said. “He’s really taken his first major championship in stride and gone from strength to strength.”

As for the state of McIlroy's game – prior to his first two rounds in Memphis – McDowell was in the majority, figuring one could temporarily lose confidence but not talent. Particularly not the depth of talent that produced a record 16-under-par winning total last year at Congressional.

That McIlroy – who made the most of his weekend off at the Memorial with a four-day scouting trip to The Olympic Club – was taking this first detour in stride was further evidence that he may sometimes act like a 23-year-old away from the golf course but his golf IQ far exceeds his relative experience.

“Everyone goes through this, where they just don't feel that comfortable with their game,” McIlroy said in his signature maturity. “I just started to doubt myself a little bit.”

Besides, compared with last year, when he arrived at Congressional fresh off an epic Masters meltdown that some predicted would take years to recover from, this Open should be a breeze.

“This year I don't really have anything to prove,” he smiled.

Spoken like a true 23-year-old.

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Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

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Austin wins Champions tour's playoff opener

By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:35 pm

RICHMOND, Va. -- Woody Austin knew Bernhard Langer was lurking throughout the final nine holes, and he did just enough to hold him off.

Austin shot a 3-under 69 for a one-stroke victory Sunday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Langer, the defending tournament champion and series points leader, made the turn one shot off the lead, but eight straight pars kept him from ever gaining a share of the lead. Austin's birdie from 6 feet on the closing hole allowed him to hang on for the victory.

''It seemed like he couldn't quite get it over the hump,'' Austin said about Langer, who also birdied No. 18. ''I'm not going to feel bad for the guy. The guy's kind of had things go his way for the last 12 years. Now he sees what it's like to have it happen.''

The 54-year-old Austin finished with an 11-under total for three rounds at The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course. He won his fourth senior title and first since 2016, and said windy and cool conditions that made scoring difficult played to his advantage.

''I was happy to see it. I really enjoy a difficult test,'' he said. ''... I enjoy even par meaning something. That's my game.''

Langer closed with a 70. The winner last week in North Carolina, the 61-year-old German star made consecutive birdies to finish the front nine, but had several birdie putts slide by on the back.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

''I made a couple important ones and then I missed a couple important ones, especially the one on 16,'' Langer said. ''I hit three really good shots and had about a 6-footer, something like that, and I just didn't hit it hard enough. It broke away.''

Austin dropped a stroke behind Jay Haas and Stephen Ames with a bogey on the par-3 14th. He got that back with a birdie from about 5 feet on the par-4 15th and then got some good fortune on the final hole when his firmly struck chip hit the flag and stopped about 6 feet away.

''I always say usually the person that wins gets a break on Sunday,'' he said. ''That was my break.''

The 64-year-old Haas, the second-round leader after a 65, had a 74 to tie for third with Fran Quinn (69) and Kent Jones (70) at 9 under. Haas was bidding to become the oldest winner in the history of the tour for players 50 and older.

''Disappointed, for sure,'' Haas said. ''Not going to get many more opportunities like this, but it gives me hope, too, that I can still do it.''

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

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After Further Review: American success stories

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 8:35 pm

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the global nature of Koepka's rise to No. 1 ...

Brooks Koepka is an American superstar, and a two-time winner of his national open. But his rise to world No. 1 in, of all places, South Korea, emphasizes the circuitous, global path he took to the top.

After winning the CJ Cup by four shots, Koepka was quick to remind reporters that he made his first-ever start as a pro in Switzerland back in 2012. He cracked the top 500 for the first time with a win in Spain, and he broke into the top 100 after a good week in the Netherlands.

Koepka languished on the developmental Challenge Tour for a year before earning a promotion to the European Tour, and he didn’t make a splash in the States until contending at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

It’s a testament to Koepka’s adaptability and raw talent that he can handle the heights of Crans-Montana as well as the slopes of Shinnecock Hills or rough of Nine Bridges. And as the scene shifts to China next week, it highlights the global nature of today’s game – and the fact that the best in the world can rise to the occasion on any continent. - Will Gray

On the resurgence of American women  ...

American women are on a nice roll again. Danielle Kang’s victory Sunday at the Buick LPGA Shanghai was the third by an American over the last five events. Plus, Annie Park and Marina Alex, emerging American talents looking for their second victories this season, tied for second. So did American Brittany Altomare. Two years ago, Americans won just twice, their fewest victories in a single season in LPGA history. Overall, women from the United States have won seven times this season.

The Americans are making their move with Stacy Lewis on maternity leave and with Lexi Thompson, the highest ranked American in the world, still looking for her first victory this year. Yes, the South Koreans have won nine times this season, but with four LPGA events remaining in 2018 the Americans actually have a chance to be the winningest nation in women’s golf this year. With all the grief they’ve received the last few years, that would be a significant feat. - Randall Mell

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In Buick win, Kang overcame demons of mind and spirit

By Randall MellOctober 21, 2018, 3:33 pm

Danielle Kang beat three of the most formidable foes in golf Sunday to win the Buick LPGA Shanghai.




Kang overcame these demons of mind and spirit to win for the second time on tour, backing up her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victory last year.

“I’ve been going through a lot mentally,” Kang said.

Kang birdied four of the last eight holes to close with a 3-under-par 69, coming from one shot back in the final round to win. At 13-under 275, she finished two shots ahead of a pack of seven players, including world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko (66).

It hasn’t been easy for Kang trying to build on her major championship breakthrough last year. She started the fall Asian swing having missed three cuts in a row, five in her last six starts.

“I had to go through swing changes,” Kang said. “I had the swing yips, the putting yips, everything possibly you could think of.

“I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball. This week I just kept trusting my golf game.”

Through her swoon, Kang said she was struggling to get the club back, that she was getting mentally stuck to where she could not begin her takeaway. She sought out Butch Harmon, back at her Las Vegas home, for help. She said tying for third at the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week felt like a victory, though she was still battling her demons there.

“Anxiety over tee balls,” Kang said. “People might wonder what I'm doing. I actually can't pull the trigger. It has nothing to do with the result. Having to get over that last week was incredible for me. Even on the first round, one shot took me, I think, four minutes.”

Kang, who turned 26 on Saturday, broke through to win last year under swing coach David Leadbetter, but she began working with Harmon while struggling in the second half this year.

Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos

“I was actually very frustrated, even yesterday,” Kang said. “Things just weren't going my way. The biggest thing that Butch tells me is to stay out of my own way. I just couldn't do that. If I had a short putt, I just kept doubting myself. I couldn't putt freely.”

Kang said her anger and frustration built up again on the front nine Sunday. She made the turn at 1 over for the round. She said her caddie, Oliver Brett, helped her exorcise some anger. After the ninth hole, he pulled her aside.

This is how Kang remembered the conversation:

Brett: “Whatever you need to do to let your anger out and restart and refresh, you need to do that now.”

Kang: “Cameras are everywhere. I just want to hit the bag really hard.”

Brett: “Here's a wedge. Just smash it.”

Kang did.

“Honestly, I thank him for that,” Kang said. “He told me there are a lot birdies out there. I regrouped, and we pretended we started the round brand new on the 10th hole. Then things changed and momentum started going my way. I started hitting it closer and felt better over the putts.”

Kang said the victory was all about finding a better place mentally.

“I'm just so happy to be where I'm at today,” Kang said. “I'm just happy that I won.

“More so than anything, I'm finally at a place where I'm peaceful and happy with my game, with my life . . . . I hope I win more. I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.”