McIlroy confident and comfortable at Honda Classic

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 28, 2014, 10:20 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy unsheathed his 3-wood, stepped behind the ball and contemplated how he was going to dissect his final hole of the day.

Like always, he stepped up to bat with a club twirl, danced in place until comfortable, gave three quick peeks at his target some 300 yards away, and uncorked the deceptively powerful swing that is the envy of teaching professionals everywhere. The ball had barely begun its ascent by the time he bent down to snatch the tee.

Over and over he pounded his tee ball Friday at PGA National’s Champion Course. He blasted it over bunkers. He cut off corners of doglegs. He blew it past his fellow playing competitors, including world No. 2 Adam Scott.

Finding the fairway makes the game easier for everyone, from major champions to weekend duffers. But for McIlroy, it’s different. He doesn’t need to lead the Tour in driving accuracy or center-cut every fairway. More important is how he feels over a tee shot, a confidence that then trickles down into every aspect of his game.

Afterward, he confirmed what everyone at the Honda Classic already knew:

“I’m confident,” he said. “I’m playing well.”

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After a rocky start to his second round, McIlroy made six birdies in his last 12 holes for a 4-under 66 and the halfway lead at the Honda. At 11-under 129, he is already just one shot off his winning total from 2012, when he held off Tiger Woods and reached world No. 1 for the first time.

That was the first victory in a five-win campaign that cemented his status as the heir apparent to Woods and led to a mega-millions deal with Nike. That guy is looking more and more familiar.

“A coach can tell you the perfect way to swing a golf club,” McIlroy said, “but once that little light bulb in your head comes on where you start to get it as well, you can start to own your own swing.”

That light bulb began to flicker on during the Asian swing last fall, when he gushed about finally finding the right driver-and-ball combination with Nike. Since then, he has finished in the top 11 in seven of his last eight stroke-play events, including a drought-busting victory at the Australian Open in December.

Confidence can be fleeting, even for the world’s best. Last year McIlroy could summon a few spectacular shots, even a dazzling round or two, but the peaks and valleys in his results damaged his belief. Now, he says, “I’m happy with where my swing is, and even if I do hit a loose shot, I can get over it much quicker and much easier because I have the confidence in what I’m doing.”

It’s why he didn’t get flustered early in his second round, when he made two bogeys in his first three holes. Watching McIlroy there was a here-we-go again quality to his start – after all, he has begun three of his last five stroke-play events with 65 or better, then failed to finish inside the top 5. But on Friday he regained control with birdies on 16 and 18, then roared ahead with birdies on 3, 4, 5 and 7, the latter two after holing 25-footers. No panic.

A day earlier, he was talking swing changes with Billy Horschel, with whom he hadn’t played since a practice round at last year’s U.S. Open. As they walked down the 15th hole, McIlroy demonstrated the various changes in his action – how last year, he had to reroute his downswing because he started it too far outside, and how, to compensate, he then tucked it too far inside and got across the line. He owns that swing now, to the point that he can express where it is now and eight months ago.

“He’s swinging better,” Horschel said. “I’m not a swing guru or anything like that, but I know when someone is swinging well what it looks like. He just didn’t look like he was swinging well last year.”

And he seems to have figured it out now, yes?

“(Expletive), you guys saw enough of it the last two days,” Horschel said, laughing. “The guy is swinging very free. He hit a lot of good shots, made a lot of good putts, looked comfortable and confident out there over the ball. … He’s always been a pretty good putter and he’s just confident now with his swing. Now, all he’s focusing on is playing golf.”

Indeed, McIlroy said this is the most dialed in he has felt since the 2012 FedEx Cup playoffs, when he won two events on his way to earning Player of the Year honors. “That’s when it was automatic,” he said.

Both then and now, his performance is predicated on how well he hits the tee ball.

Consider this: McIlroy had 15 top-5 finishes worldwide in 2012. Only twice in those events did he finish outside the top five in driving distance.

He leads here at the halfway point. No surprise, he is currently ranked third in driving.

It helps, too, that at last week’s Match Play he had a productive session with putting coach Dave Stockton, whom he hadn’t seen since Woods’ event in December. Occasionally his right hand drifts too far underneath the putter grip. With a slight change, his putter now chases down the line and stays lower to the ground. Through two rounds here, he has needed only 49 putts and leads the strokes gained-putting category.

“It’s obviously going in the right direction,” he said.

So is the rest of his game. Master Rory believes again. 

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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.