McCoy shines on Spieth's stage

By Ryan LavnerMarch 13, 2016, 11:59 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – In the scoring trailer, there is a prize-money chart so players can see how much will be deposited into their bank account Monday morning.

After signing their cards, Jordan Spieth turned to amateur Lee McCoy and told him not to look at the chart.

Solo fourth paid out $292,800.

“I looked,” McCoy said, pausing for effect. “I shouldn’t have looked.”

The 22-year-old University of Georgia senior can’t collect that six-figure check, of course, until he joins the play-for-pay set. A shame, too, because McCoy says he has about $350 in his bank account, enough for gas and some grub on the 7 1/2-hour drive back to Athens, Ga. McCoy has lived in the same cheap one-bedroom apartment for the past three years. He will turn pro in a few months, most likely after the NCAAs in early June, so his star-making performance here at the Valspar Championship couldn’t have been timed better with the Big Jump upcoming. 

“You better believe I’m going to be getting into some people’s ears and make sure everybody knows what happened this week,” he said.

McCoy is talking about sponsors and equipment representatives, the potential signing bonuses and bidding wars. He hopes his play this week, and on Sunday in particular, will help boost his marketing appeal.

How could it not? Playing about a par 5 away from his childhood home, McCoy closed with a 2-under 69, dusted world No. 1 Spieth by four shots and finished fourth in his fourth career PGA Tour start, just three shots out of the playoff eventually won by Charl Schwartzel. 

It was the best finish by an amateur in a non-opposite-field event since Justin Rose at the 1998 Open Championship (T-4). 

“I would say that being able to put on my résumé that I contended in a PGA Tour event is my absolute biggest accolade,” McCoy said. “At the end of the day, that’s what companies want is their logo on TV. I don’t know how much coverage I got …”

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Every shot on every hole, he was told.

“… Wow, um, well …” he started.

Turns out he just gave four hours of free advertising to Under Armour (shirt), FootJoy (shoes), Callaway (glove) and the Porzak Golf Academy (hat).

“I hope people were watching and I’ll be able to live a little more comfortably,” he said. “I’m trying to move down to Jupiter (Florida) and rent’s not cheap. If I can get a deal boosted up a little bit and not live in a dump, that would be awesome.”

McCoy is the 10th-ranked college golfer in the country, one of the rare seniors who has actually performed well in his final year at school. For a player like McCoy who has already appeared in the big leagues – he made three Tour starts last season, including in the U.S. Open – the pro game can’t arrive soon enough. He is reminded of that promising future on a weekly basis, with the distractions of trying to line up sponsorships and representation and playing opportunities once he turns pro. 

Though McCoy technically wasn’t playing for money Sunday at Innisbrook, well, in many ways he still was: The better he played, the higher he’d rise on the unofficial priority ranking for new pros, the more money in his pocket.

That’s why McCoy was openly rooting for a final-round pairing with Spieth on Sunday. More publicity, more pressure, more opportunity. On Saturday afternoon, after a 66, he watched the leaderboard on his phone “like a hawk” and secured the 1:10 p.m. tee time when one of the contenders made a late bogey.

“He was pumped out of his mind,” said McCoy’s father, Terry.

Spieth and McCoy hadn’t played together since September 2012, at The Farm in Georgia. Spieth tied for second that week, while McCoy was eighth.

Their career paths diverged from there.

After helping Texas capture the NCAA title the previous spring, Spieth turned pro a few months later. McCoy’s rise has been more gradual, from a consistent All-American performer to a Walker Cupper and four-time winner a year ago, when he set a school record for low scoring average.

“I wanted to play with him so bad,” McCoy said. “He’s the No. 1 player in the world, and not only do I know him and know that he’s an awesome guy to play with, but getting used to a crowd like that was such a great experience for me, to see what that was like. There are people moving everywhere. There’s nothing still about playing with a Jordan Spieth-type of crowd.”

Yet it didn’t faze him. He birdied his first two holes. He made bogeys on the sixth and ninth holes, after poor shots around the green, but his favorite moment of the week came on the par-4 12th. There is a lively Hooters hospitality tent to the right of the green, and the whole place erupted when his 30-foot birdie putt dropped.

Spieth walked up to McCoy on the next tee and draped an arm around his shoulder.

“Isn’t that the coolest sound in the whole world?” Spieth asked.

“Yeah,” McCoy replied, “that was as good as it gets.”

He two-putted for another birdie on 14 to move within two shots of the lead, then missed reasonable chances on the last four holes – all inside 30 feet – that could have made the final hour really interesting.

Perhaps the best part? He impressed Spieth, who began clapping as he approached McCoy on the 18th green.

“You would have thought he was out here for years,” Spieth said. “The way he was talking, you couldn’t sense any nerves or anything on his putting stroke, either. He’s certainly really ready to be out here. It was really fun to watch.”

And so now it’s back to reality, back to Athens, back to same one-bedroom apartment that he’s lived in for the past three years.

After making the media rounds and signing for about 50 autograph seekers, McCoy headed north with his girlfriend and a longtime family friend. It was a long trip ahead and he hoped to sleep for a few hours. He has an 9:42 a.m. tee time Monday, for the Bulldogs’ home tournament, the one-day, 36-hole Southern Intercollegiate, and they need their No. 1 player.

“I came back to school for a reason,” he said. “I’m playing good golf so I want to try to help our team defend our title.”

For a few more months at least, the pro game – and those big checks – can wait.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.