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McIlroy gets chance to avenge 2011 Masters collapse

By Ryan LavnerApril 8, 2018, 1:00 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Traipsing through the azaleas, lost in a sea of pink, Rory McIlroy was on the verge of another indelible Masters moment on the 13th hole.

As many times as his embarrassing visit to the cabins gets replayed each spring, it was his hooked tee shot on the dogleg-left par 5 that officially doomed his chances in 2011. With his ball heading toward Rae’s Creek, he slumped over his driver, dropped his head into the crook of his elbow and looked like he wanted to cry. “Once I hit that tee shot left on 13,” he said that day, “I was done.”

In dozens of interviews over the years, including one on Saturday night, he has claimed that the disastrous, final-round 80 at Augusta National was a significant turning point in his career.

“It was the day that I realized I wasn’t ready to win major championships,” he said, “and that I needed to reflect on that and realize what I needed to do differently.”

Turns out he was ready to win majors just two months later, blowing away the field at the U.S. Open. Since then, he has grown his major total to four – the most of golf’s heralded 20-somethings – and now it’s Patrick Reed’s turn to see if he’s ready.

On Saturday, McIlroy wasted little time throwing down the gauntlet once his bogey-free 65 was enough to secure a final-round pairing with Reed, with whom he memorably sparred during the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.

Sure, McIlroy is the one chasing the career Grand Slam here. And he’s the one who hasn’t won a major in four years. And he’s the one with the higher world ranking and more big-game experience. “But I feel like all the pressure is on him,” McIlroy said.

And in many respects, he’s right. Reed has the lead, by three shots at 14-under 202. He hasn’t yet won a major. He has three of the top-8 players in the world behind him. And as an Augusta State alum, he supposedly has the hometown support, too.

“He’s got to deal with that and sleep on that tonight,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I can go out there and play like I’ve got nothing to lose.”

That’s not completely true, of course. With a comeback win Sunday, McIlroy can become the sixth player to win all four major championships, joining the greats of the game, all of whom are on a one-name basis: Sarazen, Hogan, Jack, Gary and Tiger.


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But there’s a reason why McIlroy is 0-for-9 on a course that is tailor-made for his awe-inspiring skill set – it’s a challenge, mentally and physically, to capture that final leg. Arnold Palmer never did it. Tom Watson never did it. Lee Trevino never did it. McIlroy has come as close as anyone, grabbing a four-shot lead in 2011, but then he self-immolated on the final day.

“But now I’m ready,” he said. “I learned a lot from it. I’m happy to be in the final group.”

To get there, McIlroy needed his best round of the week on a wild and soggy Saturday at Augusta. He was already 3 under for the day when he arrived on the par-5 eighth. His second shot caromed off a mound and into a tricky spot right of the green, leaving him little margin for error. He bumped his pitch shot into the hill, watched it race onto the green and disappear after clanking off the flagstick for an unlikely eagle to share the lead.

“I rode my luck a little bit,” he said.

McIlroy stalled around the turn, allowing Reed to get away again, and then got caught in the heaviest rainfall of the day as he lined up his second shot into the par-5 13th. He conceded afterward that he probably rushed his shot to keep from getting soaked, but he yanked his long-iron approach into the azaleas. Fortunate to even find his ball in the flora – “Not the first time,” he smiled – he chopped out to the front of the green. From there he got up-and-down for a momentum-saving par.

After his tee shot on 18 caught the pines and left him 186 yards, uphill, to a back pin, McIlroy carved his approach to 20 feet, then rolled in the putt for one final birdie and fist pump. He practically floated toward the clubhouse, where he issued the first salvo.

“I’m really excited to go out there tomorrow and show everyone what I’ve got, show Patrick Reed what I’ve got,” he said. “All the pressure’s on him tomorrow. I’m hoping to come in and spoil the party.”

Because he has his own celebration planned, seven years in the making.

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U.S. captures Junior Ryder Cup

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 26, 2018, 12:29 am

The U.S. defeated Europe, 12 ½ to 11 ½, in the Junior Ryder Cup at Golf Disneyland at Disneyland Paris.

Rachel Heck, 16, of Memphis, Tenn., clinched the winning half-point on the 18th hole with a 12-foot birdie putt that halved her match with Annabell Fuller, 16, of England.

"It was the most incredible experience of my life," said Heck, a Stanford commit who last week made the cut in her second LPGA major, the Evian Masters.

Michael Thorbjornsen, 16, of Wellesley, Mass., the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, drove the green on the 315-yard 18th hole, the ball stopping within 5 feet of the pin. His eagle putt completed 2-up win over 15-year-old Spaniard David Puig and ensured that the U.S. would retain the Junior Ryder Cup, as the defending champion needs only a tie (12 points) to maintain possession of the trophy.

Singles results

Match 1 - Lucy Li (USA) def. Amanda Linner (EUR), 4 and 3

Match 2 — Rasmus Hojgaard (EUR) def. William Moll (USA), 1 up

Match 3 —  Ingrid Lindblad (EUR) halved Rose Zhang (USA)

Match 4 – Nicolai Hojgaard (USA) def. Canon Claycomb (USA), 4 and 2

Match 5 — Yealimi Noh (USA) def. Emma Spitz (EUR), 3 and 2

Match 6 —  Ricky Castillo (USA) def. Eduard Rousaud Sabate (EUR), 3 and 1

Match 7 – Emilie Alba-Paltrinieri (EUR) def. Erica Shepherd (USA), 2 up

Match 8 — Michael Thorbjornsen (USA) def. David Puig (EUR), 2 up

Match 9 – Alessia Nobilio (EUR) def. Alexa Pano (USA), 2 and 1

Match 10 —  Robin Tiger Williams (EUR) def. Cole Ponich (USA), 2 and 1

Match 11 – Annabell Fuller (EUR) halved Rachel Heck (USA)

Match 12 — Conor Gough (EUR) def. Akshay Bhatia (USA), 1 up

 

TOUR Championship Final Round Becomes Most-Watched FedExCup Playoffs Telecast Ever and Most-Watched PGA TOUR Telecast of 2018

By Golf Channel Public RelationsSeptember 25, 2018, 6:48 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., (Sept. 25, 2018) – NBC Sports Group’s final round coverage of the TOUR Championship on Sunday (3:00-6:19 p.m. ET) garnered a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 7.8 million average viewers, as Tiger Woods claimed his 80th career victory, and his first in five years. The telecast’s TAD was up 212% vs. 2017 (2.5m). Television viewership posted 7.18 million average viewers, up 192% YOY (2.46m) and a 4.45 U.S. household rating, up 178% vs. 2017 (1.60). It also becomes the most-watched telecast in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs (2007-2018) and the most-watched PGA TOUR telecast in 2018 (excludes majors).

Coverage peaked from 5:45-6 p.m. ET with 10.84 million average viewers as Woods finished his TOUR Championship-winning round and Justin Rose sealed his season-long victory as the FedExCup champion. The peak viewership number trails only the Masters (16.84m) and PGA Championship (12.39m) in 2018. The extended coverage window (1:30-6:19 p.m. ET) drew 5.89 million average viewers and a 3.69 U.S. household rating to become the most-watched and highest-rated TOUR Championship telecast on record (1991-2018).

Sunday’s final round saw 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports Digital platforms (+561% year-over-year), and becomes NBC Sports’ most-streamed Sunday round (excluding majors) on record (2013-’18).

Sunday’s lead-in coverage on Golf Channel (11:54 a.m.-1:25 p.m. ET) also garnered a Total Audience Delivery of 829K average viewers and posted a .56 U.S. household rating, becoming the most-watched and highest rated lead-in telecast of the TOUR Championship ever (2007-2018). Golf Channel was the No. 2 Sports Network during this window and No. 7 out of all Nielsen-rated cable networks during that span.

 This week, NBC Sports Group will offer weeklong coverage of the biennial Ryder Cup from Le Golf National outside of Paris. Live From the Ryder Cup continues all week on Golf Channel, surrounding nearly 30 hours of NBC Sports’ Emmy-nominated live event coverage, spanning from Friday morning’s opening tee shot just after 2 a.m. ET through the clinching point on Sunday. The United States will look to retain the Ryder Cup after defeating Europe in 2016 (17-11), and aim to win for the first time on European soil in 25 years, since 1993.

 

-NBC Sports Group-

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Tiger Woods names his Mount Rushmore of golf

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 25, 2018, 6:29 pm
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Mickelson savoring his (likely) last road game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 25, 2018, 3:49 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Phil Mickelson lingered behind as his foursome made its way to the ninth tee during Tuesday’s practice round.

He needed the extra practice, no doubt. He’s one of just six players on the U.S. Ryder Cup team with even a modicum of knowledge about Le Golf National, but the likely reason for Lefty’s leisurely tempo was more personal.

The 2019 Ryder Cup will likely be Mickelson’s last road game as a player.

He’ll be 52 when the U.S. team pegs it up at the 2022 matches in Rome. Although there’s been players who have participated in the biennial event into their golden years – most notably Raymond Floyd who was 51 when he played the ’93 matches – given Mickelson’s play in recent years and the influx of younger players the odds are against him.

“I am aware this is most likely the last one on European soil and my last opportunity to be part of a team that would be victorious here, and that would mean a lot to me personally,” Mickelson said on Tuesday.

It’s understandable that Mickelson would want to linger a little longer in the spotlight of golf’s most intense event.

For the first time in his Ryder Cup career Mickelson needed to be a captain's pick, and he didn’t exactly roar into Paris, finishing 30th out of 30 players at last week’s Tour Championship. He’s also four months removed from his last top-10 finish on the PGA Tour.


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Although he’s reluctant to admit it for Mickelson Le Golf National looks every bit a swansong for the most accomplished U.S. Ryder Cup player of his generation.

In 11 starts at the Ryder Cup, Mickelson has a 26-16-13 record. Perhaps more telling is his 7-3-1 mark since 2012 and he holds the U.S. record for most matches played (45) and is third on the all-time list for most points won (21.5), just two shy of the record held by Billy Casper.

Mickelson’s record will always be defined by what he’s done at the Masters and not done at the U.S. Open, but his status as an anchor for two generations of American teams may never be matched.

For this U.S. team - which is trying to win a road Ryder Cup for the first time since 1993 - Lefty is wearing many hats.

“You know Phil and you know he's always trying to find a way to poke fun, trying to mess with someone,” Furyk said. “He's telling a story. Sometimes you're not sure if they are true or not. Sometimes there's little bits of pieces in each of those, but he provides some humor, provides some levity.”

But there is another side to Mickelson’s appeal in the team room. Although he’s never held the title of vice captain he’s served as a de facto member of the management for some time.

“At the right times, he understands when a team needs a kick in the butt or they need an arm around their shoulder, and he's been good in that atmosphere,” Furyk said. “He's a good speaker and good motivator, and he's been able to take some young players under his wing at times and really get a lot out of them from a partner standpoint.”

In recent years Mickelson has become something of a mentor for young players, first at the ’08 matches with Anthony Kim and again in ’12 with Keegan Bradley.

His role as a team leader in the twilight of his career can’t be overstated and will undoubtedly continue this week if Tuesday’s practice groupings are any indication, with Lefty playing with rookie Bryson DeChambeau.

As DeChambeau was finishing his press conference on Tuesday he was asked about the dynamic in the U.S. team room.

“We're going to try and do our absolute best to get the cup back,” he said.

“Keep the cup,” Lefty shouted from the back of the room, noting that the U.S. won the last Ryder Cup.

It was so Mickelson not to miss a teaching moment or a chance to send a subtle jab delivered with a wry smile.

Mickelson will also be remembered for his role in what has turned out to be an American Ryder Cup resurgence.

“Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best,” Mickelson said in the Scottish gloom at the ’14 matches. “Nobody here was in any decision.”

If Mickelson doesn’t step to the microphone in ’14 at Gleneagles in the wake of another U.S. loss and, honestly, break some china there probably wouldn’t have been a task force. Davis Love III likely wouldn’t have gotten a second turn as captain in ’16 and the U.S. is probably still mired in a victory drought.

Lefty’s Ryder Cup career is far from over. The early line is that he’ll take his turn as captain in 2024 at Bethpage Black – the People’s Champion riding in to become the People’s Captain.

Before he moves on to a new role, however, he’ll savor this week and an opportunity to win his first road game. If he wants to hang back and relish the moment so be it.