Spieth-McIlroy Masters duel one for fans to savor

By Rex HoggardApril 9, 2016, 12:34 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – For all the attempts to manufacture suspense with contrived marquee pairings on Days 1 and 2 of a major, it never has the same feel as when these types of title bouts emerge organically.

When players like world No. 2 Jordan Spieth and No. 3 Rory McIlroy find themselves setting out for a weekend round in the day’s ultimate two-ball as a result of stellar play – and not the strained creations of marketing executives – is when the game is at its best.

If Game 7 is the best phrase in all of sports, a final pairing of Rory and Jordan on Day 3 at Augusta National is only slightly less inspiring than if the duo ended up setting out together on Sunday.

But it’s best not to get ahead of ourselves.

After all, it’s not as though this was blaze-of-glory stuff. When Spieth opened with a first-round 66, the rest of the pack was always going to need a little help making a game of this. And on another challenging day for golf the defending champion obliged.

After opening up a five-stroke lead with birdies at Nos. 1 and 3, Spieth four-putted the fifth hole for a double bogey-6. As an aside, Ernie Els, who endured a six-putt on Thursday at the first hole, can take some solace that even the game’s best putter can succumb to the cruel fortunes of Augusta National’s demanding greens.

After playing his next 10 holes in even par (two birdies, two bogeys), Spieth finished with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 16 and 17 for his first ever over-par round at the Masters and an afternoon engagement with McIlroy, who grinded his way to a second-round 71.


 


“It will be a fun round tomorrow,” said Spieth, whose 2-over 74 left him at 4 under par and a stroke clear of McIlroy. “We enjoy playing with each other. We've both played well. We've both played poorly. Just both seem to be on our games right now and obviously really focused on this week.”

Of course, how Spieth and McIlroy ended up in Saturday’s final group is best left unanalyzed. After all, you really don’t want to know how the sausage is made.

It’s the “who,” more so than the “how,” that matters when the stars align in such a desired way.

Spieth and McIlroy will need no introduction on the first tee Saturday afternoon. The duo has been paired together 13 times in PGA Tour events – with McIlroy holding a 7-4-2 advantage – but just once on the weekend.

For the record, neither player was particularly interested in fueling what promises to be a frenzied build up to Saturday’s main attraction.

McIlroy, who admits to having a tendency of peeking at leaderboards throughout the round, was less interested in Nos. 2 and 3 playing alongside one another than the numbers posted to the iconic board that looms over Augusta National’s 18th green.

“If anything, I don't really look at the names on the left of the leaderboard. I'm looking at the number that's on the very far right just to see how many shots I'm back,” McIlroy said. “It doesn't make a difference to me who it is up there.”

And while Saturday’s pairing of two of the game’s most compelling and competitive players may count as bucket-list stuff for your average golf fan, the two leading men would muddle on just fine Saturday if they would have found themselves with, say, Soren Kjeldsen or Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who are both relatively unknown in American golf circles and both on the leaderboard.



As compelling as the last twosome is to the general population, the added element of a heavyweight tilt is a distraction they could live without.

“I'd rather be playing with someone less threatening, to be honest,” said Spieth, who has now held at least a share of the lead after seven of his 10 rounds at Augusta National, including the last six consecutive. “He's certainly proven himself in majors. But I think it's going to be fun, a really fun challenge.”

The appeal of these types of duels, beyond the obvious competitive curiosity, is that they don’t happen very often.

For years fans pined for a Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson duel at Augusta National but the two legends have been paired together just twice at the Masters, and just once (2001) when it mattered, when they teed off on Sunday in the day’s last group.

It’s why Saturday’s pairing is destined to be a cause célèbre whether the two players choose to embrace it.

“I don't think I can get wrapped up in that and buy into the ‘Big Three,’” McIlroy said. “Of course, it's great for the game. But whenever I'm out there playing and competing, that's absolutely not what I should be thinking about.”

Luckily the rest of us can leave the competitive blinders to the professionals and savor the all-to-rare distraction of a genuine marquee matchup on a major stage.

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.


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In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.