Rory Off and Running

By Rex HoggardApril 8, 2011, 12:38 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Drought, what drought? So it’s been 12 years since a European slid a pale arm into a green jacket. So the glory days of Faldo and Ballesteros and Woosnam seem like the dark ages.

Drought? Rubbish.

At least that’s the Round 1 quick quote following a good day for the Continent by any measure. Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros lead the European contingent, to say nothing of the entire Masters field, following a pair of feels-like-a-62 65s, followed in short order by the likes of a suddenly resurgent Sergio Garcia and a safely on the ground Ross Fisher.

It is Tour player law that any good round could have been better, but on a clear, cloudless day even McIlroy’s playing partners were feeding the legend: “It could have easily been two or three strokes better,” Jason Day said of McIlroy’s card. “Watching Rory today was special.”

The Masters
Rory McIlroy had seven birdies and no bogeys Thursday. (Getty Images)

Special? Sure. But we’ve seen this before – a first-round 63 at St. Andrews last year followed by a wind-whipped 80 on Day 2. Pubs across Northern Ireland ran dry that night.

McIlroy is a five-tool guy and every bit the world beater we were led to believe he was, but this is just his third Masters. A continent that won nine of 17 Masters starting in 1980 is hungry for green and knows “Rors” may be their best chance to get off the 12-year schnied, but hardly its only option.

As “plan Bs” go Quiros is a keeper, a megawatt smile combined with crazy length and the type of quick wit golf writers dream of, even on deadline. Almost enough to make Spanish standard bearer Seve Ballesteros beam with pride. Almost.

“Seve has the hands of a surgeon,” Quiros laughed. “I have the hands of a bricklayer.”

And the swing speed of a Formula 1 driver. Paired with Gary Woodland, the new face of American power, Quiros bombed with abandon, blasting driver, 8-iron for birdie. It’s the kind of anecdote that gets green jackets looking for new tee boxes.

More subdued but just as intriguing is Fisher, who could not escape the synergy of the week following a 3-under 69.

Fisher, you may recall, set out at Turnberry two years ago deep in the hunt with one eye on the leaderboard and the other on his cell phone. His wife, Joanne, was back home in England expecting the birth of the couple’s first child, which was four days overdue. Fisher made a quadruple bogey-8 at Turnberry’s fifth and tied for 13th but he made it home in time for the birth.

This time Joanne is back home awaiting No. 2 and, so far, Fisher has avoided a snowman.

“Last time, she hung on and I didn’t, so hopefully I can hang on this time,” said Fisher, who was aboard Lee Westwood’s plane late Sunday that was forced to make an emergency landing when the cabin filled with smoke.

And if all else fails, Europe has Garcia. El Nino used to live for this, playing his best golf when the lights were brightest, but that was a nasty breakup and a dark episode ago.

The Spaniard took a sabbatical to clear his head at the end of last year, drove a golf cart at the Ryder Cup, an exhibition he used to own, and has emerged re-energized. His opening 69 at Augusta National follows an eighth-place finish at Bay Hill.

It is, at the least, a good start for Europe. But there is no escaping the math – it’s been 12 years since Jose Maria Olazabal brought home green. They’ve been close, most recently last year when Westwood came within one poor Sunday start of ending the drought.

Sure, the Continent owns the United States in Ryder Cup play having won six of the last eight matches, and laps the yanks in Twitter posts, followers and 140-word creativity, but majors pay the legacy bills and the Masters is the unofficial first major.

Which makes McIlroy’s opening salvo so promising. Seven birdies, just a single putt longer than 20 feet is light duty at Augusta National regardless of conditions.

As work days go this one felt like a half day.

Sure, it’s just his third trip down Magnolia Lane but he’s an old 21 with a golf IQ observers say is off the charts. He knows his potential. More importantly he knows his limitations. “I feel like I have a lot of learning to do,” he reasoned.

Augusta National is an exam with limitless multiple choices. Every swing is a question – miss short right or long left? Take the 20 footer up the hill over the 6 footer down the hill. Go at the pin on No. 12 or the middle of the green?

For those scoring at home, grade McIlroy on a scale.

The kid took his lumps last year at St. Andrews and studied more, rallying to tie for third place, his third T-3 in his last five majors.

“It was a very valuable lesson in my development as a golfer,” he said.

Wednesday night Quiros ran into his European running mate in a local mall tossing around “a rugby ball.” McIlroy, who drew the ire of a local neighbor when he and his mates started an impromptu game of catch in front of their rented house, says he’s getting better with the American football.

Quiros was a bit more critical. “He was terrible,” landing the punch line with impeccable timing. Asked if he gave the “rugby” ball a toss the Spaniard flashed his signature smile, “I’m too fragile to play the rugby.”

Good times for the Continent.

Early Thursday afternoon McIlroy leaned into his approach shot to the final green, a gaze fixed on his face with shades of Faldo. Moments later he was asked his first memory of the Masters growing up in Northern Ireland.

“It was 1996 . . . Faldo,” he smiled widely.

So forgive the Continent for feeling a tad bullish on its title chances this year. As Ben Crenshaw might say, they have a good feeling about this.

Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard 
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Stricker, Jobe share lead in Sioux Falls

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 11:57 pm

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Steve Stricker and Brandt Jobe topped the Sanford International leaderboard again Saturday after another cool and breezy day in the inaugural PGA Tour Champions event.

After matching Jerry Smith and David McKenzie with first-round 7-under 63s, Striker and Jobe each shot 67 to get to 10-under 130 at Minnehaha Country Club.

''It was a challenge out there today,'' Stricker said. ''It was gusty, the wind came out of the south, where we played yesterday it was out of the north, so it was a totally different golf course.''

Jobe made an 18-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th, and Stricker missed a 6-footer to leave them tied.

Full-field scores from the Sanford International

''It's pretty straightforward off the tee and the greens are what make it difficult at times and you've just got to be in the right spot to have good birdie putts at it,'' Stricker said. ''If not, then you've got to play pretty defensive at times. ... It's a simple game plan, but try to stay out of trouble and keep trying to put pressure on everybody.''

Stricker won in Arizona and Mississippi in consecutive starts in May for his first senior victories. Next week in France, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants.

Jobe birdied four of the last five holes. He won last year in Iowa for his lone senior title

''I think we kind of got used to what the wind was,'' Jobe said. ''Of course, there's some scoring holes on the back. The front played very difficult. It was just kind of try not to screw up for a while there.''

Smith was a stroke back after a 68.

Scott McCarron also had a 68 to get to 8 under. Woody Austin was 7 under after a 64.

McKenzie had a 77 to drop into a tie for 43rd at even par.

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Final-round tee times: Tiger, Rory in last pairing

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 22, 2018, 11:40 pm

It's Tiger Woods. It's Rory McIlroy. It's the final pairing in the final round of the Tour Championship.

Here's a look at tee times for Sunday at East Lake Golf Club.

(All times ET)

11:45AM: Patrick Reed (+8), Phil Mickelson (+11)

11:55AM: Keegan Bradley (+5), Bubba Watson (+5)

12:05PM: Brooks Koepka (+4), Francesco Molinari (+4)

12:15PM: Kevin Na (+2), Patrick Cantlay (+2)

12:25PM: Bryson DeChambeau (+2), Cameron Smith (+2)

12:35PM: Jason Day (E), Rickie Fowler (E)

12:45PM: Marc Leishman (E), Patton Kizzire (E)

12:55PM: Tommy Fleetwood (-2), Hideki Matsuyama (-1)

1:05PM: Justin Thomas (-4), Webb Simpson (-3)

1:15PM: Gary Woodland (-4), Xander Schauffele (-4)

1:25PM: Aaron Wise (-4), Dustin Johnson (-4)

1:35PM: Tony Finau (-5), Billy Horschel (-5)

1:45PM: Jon Rahm (-6), Paul Casey (-5)

1:55PM: Justin Rose (-9), Kyle Stanley (-6)

2:05PM: Tiger Woods (-12), Rory McIlroy (-9)

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FedExCup projections through Rd. 3 of the Tour Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 22, 2018, 11:26 pm

Justin Rose remains the man to beat for the FedExCup title. Though he trails Tiger Woods by three shots through three rounds of the Tour Championship, he's still the projected winner of the $10 million bonus.

Woods can still win the cup if he wins the Tour Championship and Rose finishes in a three-way tie for fifth or worse. He also needs Bryson DeChambeau [currently T-21] to finish in a two-way tie for 15th or worse and Tony Finau [T-6] to finish in a two-way tie for third or worse.

Here are the FedExCup projections with 18 holes to play at East Lake Golf Club.

FedExCup Rank PLAYER NAME FedExCup Points
1 2 Justin Rose 2780
2 20 Tiger Woods 2219
3 1 Bryson DeChambeau 2160
4 3 Tony Finau 1887
5 4 Dustin Johnson 1576
6 5 Justin Thomas 1560
7 17 Rory McIlroy 1252
8 6 Keegan Bradley 1247
9 7 Brooks Koepka 1099
10 9 Billy Horschel 1007
11 8 Bubba Watson 927
12 24 Jon Rahm 660
13 25 Kyle Stanley 651
14 10 Cameron Smith 640
15 11 Webb Simpson 612
16 12 Jason Day 560
17 18 Xander Schauffele 531
18 26 Paul Casey 518
19 13 Francesco Molinari 491
20 21 Aaron Wise 486
21 16 Patrick Cantlay 453
22 19 Tommy Fleetwood 451
23 14 Phil Mickelson 448
24 15 Patrick Reed 432
25 28 Gary Woodland 413
26 23 Rickie Fowler 374
27 27 Hideki Matsuyama 354
27 22 Kevin Na 354
29 29 Marc Leishman 316
30 30 Patton Kizzire 307
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TT postscript: 'Good Lord' what a start to Rd. 3

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 22, 2018, 11:08 pm

ATLANTA – Sweet fancy Moses! That might be southern slang or just something heard on “Seinfeld,” but, holy moly does it apply to what we witnessed from Tiger Woods early Saturday afternoon. Here are some things I think I think after Round 3 of the Tour Championship.

• I don’t just think that Tiger has a three-shot lead with one round to play. That’s a cold, hard fact. His 5-under 65 at East Lake could have been much lower, but it’s hard to complain when you go from co-leader to 3 up by day’s end. Take a look at this start:

Six birdies in his first seven holes. That’s prettier than a peach in June [definitely southern slang, and just terrible]. He couldn’t keep the pace, and played his final 11 holes in 1 over. But that start was a work of art. Take it to France next week and hang it in the Louvre.

"Yeah, I got off to a nice start there. I made some nice putts," Woods said in near disbelief. "Good Lord."

• It felt like old times out there today. The crowd was roaring. Our man couldn’t miss. And it didn’t look like anyone could step up to his challenge. Ultimately, his tepid finish allowed Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy to stay within shouting distance. Thanks to a McIlroy birdie and a Rose par at the last, it’s Rory who gets to play alongside Tiger on Sunday.

• Can Tiger skip the ninth and 16th holes tomorrow? He’s played those two in a combined 5 over par this week, making bogey on both in the third round. He was fortunate to only drop one shot on 16, thanks to an incredible fourth shot.

Said Tiger: "The fourth shot was money, because I was practicing that in the practice round, hitting a 56 or a 60 [degree wedge], and I couldn't quite get it right. So I went with a 60 today, and I made sure I hooked it in there with a little bit of hook spin so that first hop kicked through the grain, and it came out nicely."

• Many of you noticed Tiger’s feet kept slipping on tee shots. I’d love to give you an explanation, but even Tiger doesn’t know why.

"My foot slipped a lot today. I don't know why," he said. "I'll analyze some of the video and some of the stuff, and we'll figure it out for tomorrow."

• Can Tiger win the FedExCup? He sure can. He needs to win tomorrow and then have Rose finish in a three-way tie for fifth or worse. He also needs Bryson DeChambeau [currently T-21] to finish in a two-way tie for 15th or worse and Tony Finau [T-6] to finish in a two-way tie for third or worse. But while the $10 million bonus would be nice, it’s just that: a bonus. Let’s end this five-year winless drought and get No. 80!