Player of the Year? Peers say it's McIlroy

By Rex HoggardSeptember 10, 2014, 8:44 pm

ATLANTA – Normally the master of self-deprecation, even Rory McIlroy had a hard time playing this one straight.

“Hopefully by the end of this week there shouldn’t be any doubt about the Player of the Year Award . . . but depending on who wins this, you never know,” the world No. 1 allowed with only the beginnings of a smirk etched into his face.

The ballots for the PGA Tour Player of the Year Award will be sent out on Sunday night but if an informal poll of players on Wednesday at the Tour Championship is any indication the circuit may as well forgo the formality and ship the hardware to McIlroy’s South Florida digs right now.

While the world No. 1 successfully choked back a laugh when asked about the year-end award, his frat brothers couldn’t muster the same detached discipline.

“It’s a no-brainer. It’s about as easy a decision as they come,” Hunter Mahan said.

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There are 10 million reasons to respect the FedEx Cup and what it means to the players, but many players, including Mahan, figured the Tour could already start engraving McIlroy’s name into the Jack Nicklaus Award regardless of what transpires this week at East Lake after the year he’s had.

“I think everyone knows who it’s going to be,” Jason Day said. “Everyone is 99.9 percent sure it will be Rory.”

Considering the Northern Irishman’s resume this year it’s hard to argue with Day and Mahan. McIlroy won the Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship in consecutive weeks.

McIlroy – who won the Player of the Year Award in 2012 – wrested the top ranking from Adam Scott in July, hasn’t missed a cut, has finished in the top 10 in 11 of his 16 starts and moved to within a green jacket of the career Grand Slam with his victory at Royal Liverpool.

Yet while the Player of the Year voting seems like a forgone conclusion, an argument – however farfetched – could be made for Martin Kaymer or Jimmy Walker.

Kaymer won The Players and U.S. Open by eight strokes and in theory could claim the FedEx Cup with a victory this week at East Lake; while Walker would be the season’s only four-time winner if he were to win the Tour Championship and would also likely cash the $10 million bonus.

“It would be Rory, but I’d probably wait until after this week to make my decision,” Ryan Palmer said.

Chris Kirk, who also would become a three-time Tour winner with a victory this week, conceded that this week’s big finish could make the vote for Player of the Year a little more interesting, but it probably wouldn’t change his mind.

“Possibly, I guess. But still, unlikely. To win three of the biggest tournaments of the year and to win all of them pretty comfortably, 11 top 10s, his whole body of work is still going to be better than whoever wins this week,” Kirk said.

It’s more a testament to McIroy’s dominance than the current relevance of the FedEx Cup, but to most players this week’s scramble for $10 million will not factor into the Player of the Year balloting.

“I appreciate the FedEx Cup and the importance to win this. Jimmy Walker winning four times and a FedEx Cup is a big deal, but two majors and a World Golf Championship, especially in the time he did it means a lot,” Mahan said.

It’s a much different scenario than what occurred last year, when Tiger Woods (who won the award), Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott all had legitimate chances to win the Nicklaus hardware depending on how things played out in Atlanta. In fact, this may be one of the most straightforward POY votes in recent years.

“The way (McIlroy) played during the summer is pretty spectacular. To do that at such a young age, you don’t like to compare but it’s Tiger-like,” Day said. “Since Tiger hasn’t been playing his best, this is pretty convincing.”

As for McIlroy, he had more immediate concerns this week with the FedEx Cup hanging in the balance, which along with a Masters title is the only thing he hasn’t accomplished in his young career.

“It’s been a good season for me,” he said. “It’s been consistent. I’ve had big wins. Like I said, I’d love to finish it off.”

Of course, “finish it off” is a reference to winning this week’s Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, because it seems the Player of the Year race has already been decided.

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Ball headed O.B., Stone (68) gets huge break

By Mercer BaggsJuly 19, 2018, 2:14 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brandon Stone knew it when he hit it.

“I knew I hit it out of bounds,” the South African said following his opening round in the 147th Open Championship.

Stone’s second shot on the par-4 18th, from the left fescue, was pulled into the grandstands, which are marked as O.B. But instead of settling in with the crowd, the ball ricocheted back towards the green and nearly onto the putting surface.

Stone made his par and walked away with a 3-under 68, two shots off the early lead.

“I really didn’t put a good swing on it, bad contact and it just came out way left,” Stone said. “I feel so sorry for the person I managed to catch on the forehead there, but got a lucky break.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“When you get breaks like that you know you’re going to have good weeks.”

It’s been more than just good luck recently for Stone. He shot 60 in the final round – missing a 9-foot birdie putt for the first 59 in European Tour history – to win last week’s Scottish Open. It was his third career win on the circuit and first since 2016. It was also just his first top-10 of the season.

“A testament to a different mental approach and probably the change in putter,” said Stone, who added that he switched to a new Ping Anser blade model last week.

“I’ve been putting, probably, the best I have in my entire life.”

This marks Stone’s sixth start in a major championship, with his best finish a tie for 35th in last year’s U.S. Open. He has a missed cut and a T-70 in two prior Open Championships.

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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,” 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. Kang 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).

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

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.”

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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.