Stroker Ace: McIlroy in the grip of cross-handed putting

By Rex HoggardMarch 6, 2016, 12:41 am

DORAL, Fla. – Rory McIlroy was worried about the perception he was copying Jordan Spieth.

Turns out, that’s not a bad thing.

For the last two days your front-runner at Doral has needed just 50 putts on his way to a three-stroke lead. He ranks 11th in strokes gained-putting, has converted 49 of 55 attempts from 10 feet and has generally breezed his way around to a 4-under 68 on a windswept and demanding golf course.

“I've seen Rory play some great golf. I think he's going to be very satisfied with that round,” said Adam Scott, who was paired with McIlroy on Saturday. “It looked like he was under total control. He scrambled when he had to. He executed a lot of great shots. He drove the ball great.”

Unmentioned in Scott’s assessment was McIlroy’s putting this week, which fell under a particularly intrusive microscope when he revealed via social media that he’d switched to a cross-handed putting grip.

McIlroy’s putting has always been the lone blind spot in an otherwise flawless game. It’s not as though the Northern Irishman has ever been a bad putter, as if that’s possible for someone who ascends to No. 1 in the world and collects multiple majors, but by contrast to the rest of his game there has always been room for improvement.

It’s interesting that it wasn’t a fear of the unknown or the predictable awkward moments that come with a new putting stroke that gave McIlroy pause to switch.

It was, in fact, the perceived notion that he was following Spieth’s example to the cross-handed crossroads.


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“I've been playing it around in my head a little bit about making the switch, and the one thing that I was sort of worried about was the McIlroy-copying-Spieth,” McIlroy said on Friday. “That was my big thing.”

You can call Rory a copycat, figure him a Johnny-come-lately, chide him for being late to the dance; but on Saturday there was only one title that mattered to the world No. 3 – 54-hole leader.

This is, after all, a guy who has converted 6-of-8 outright 54-hole leads in his Tour career and is keen to rejoin the conversation after an ankle injury sidelined him last season.

Yes, yes, McIlroy is impressive with his driver – like on the 18th hole on Saturday when he obliterated his tee shot 324 yards, some 20 yards deep of Scott, into a hurting wind.

But it’s been his putting and that cross-handed grip that has made the difference at Doral.

For the first time this year McIlroy pieced together a bogey-free round on Saturday thanks, in large part, to key par saves at No. 12 from 8 feet and the 18th hole from 6 feet.

“Just look at some of the saves I had out there today and some of the big par putts; those were the things that were missing over the past three or four tournaments,” McIlroy said. “To be able to correct that and go out and play in a final group on a Saturday in a golf tournament like this on a golf course like this, and play bogey-free, it gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

There will be a rush to judgment that McIlroy’s cross-handed experiment is an instant success, that he’s effortlessly made a transition it takes others years to manage.

But as is the case with every aspect of a top player’s game, the road to renewal has been well-traveled for McIlroy.

McIlroy explained that after missing the cut at last week’s Honda Classic he spent four days, two hours a day honing a stroke that wasn’t exactly foreign to him.

“So I've put the work in and I've kept putting the work in,” said McIlroy, who putted cross-handed briefly when he first turned pro in 2008. “I've found a really nice routine that I go through before every round now, and you see me sort of holing putts from all around the hole from 3 feet, 6 feet, 9 feet, and that gives me a nice feel before going out there.”

Maybe the most impressive part of McIlroy’s transition to cross-handed is that it was a self-made move. Like all aspects of his game, he wanted to “own” his new stroke and only after hours of practice did he send a video to Dave Stockton Sr., who has worked with Rory on his putting in recent years.

According to McIlroy, Stockton liked what he saw, which is no surprise considering that two weeks ago at Riviera the putting guru explained that Rory is at his best when uses his left hand to putt.

“I didn't seek anyone out, but I guess I sent videos to a couple of people for confirmation more than anything else,” McIlroy said. “But it felt really good to me from the start. I think when something does feel that right, you just have to go with it.”

If imitation is the best form of flattery consider McIlroy’s shift to “Spieth’s” putting grip a success for everyone involved, and it didn’t hurt that the two were paired together the first two days at Doral, giving McIlroy a chance to see up close the game’s best putting stroke.

“I stood up on the podium yesterday saying I didn't want that perception of me copying Jordan, but that hasn't really been the case this week,” McIlroy said.

Not to mention that if McIlroy wins on Sunday it would be a much more welcome comparison to Spieth.

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Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.

The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.

The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.

After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.

“I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”

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Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.

Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.

“I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.

To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.

“More punishment,” he said.

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DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.

Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.

Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.

It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.  

With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.

Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.

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TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 3:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:

• Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.

• This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.

• Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery

 


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


• In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”

• At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.

• Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.

• My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.