McIlroy too good for Mickelson, Fowler, Stenson

By Ryan LavnerAugust 11, 2014, 3:28 am

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – One by one they trudged across the dimly lit back patio at Valhalla, their faces flush from the humidity, the exhaustion and, yes, the frustration.

The challenge in chasing down Rory McIlroy is that it requires near-flawless golf, and not even some of the biggest names in the game could keep pace Sunday at the 96th PGA Championship.

Phil Mickelson, a five-time major winner, cracked.

So did Rickie Fowler, who finished in the top 5 in all four majors this season.

Ditto for Henrik Stenson, the No. 3-ranked player in the world.

Rory? Oh, he cracked all right – a 281-yard 3-wood into the 10th, leading to a game-changing eagle. On 16, one of the last trouble holes, he uncorked a 331-yard drive (the longest of the day by 17 yards) to turn out the lights.   

For years, the careers of even the most extravagantly talented were stunted by Tiger Woods’ dominance. Now, there is a new master in McIlroy, a player who has proven adept at both blowing out and outlasting the field.

Forget the muted annoyance of the four-ball finish. For these nearly-men, they bemoaned another well-played major that still wasn’t enough.

Start with Mickelson, who only eight days earlier was so despondent about his game that he said a good round would have to come “out of nowhere.” What a remarkable turn of events, then, because in the past week he shot a Sunday 62 at Firestone; posted consecutive 67s to put himself in the penultimate group at the PGA; and then held a share of the lead at Valhalla with three holes to play.

As thrilling as it was to see Lefty charge into the lead, it was equally deflating the way he kicked it away. Twenty yards short of the 16th green, he hit his pitch shot too hard and then left the 10-foot par putt short.  

“Costly,” he said.

To win, Mickelson figured he needed a back-nine 32 – in total, a final-round 63 – and indeed, that score would have won by two. He just wasn’t sharp enough to capture major No. 6.

In fact, Mickelson said repeatedly that he needed to “regroup” after this year – to focus on his driving and short irons, areas that once were strengths but now have held him back. Like what happened on No. 4, when he had 74 yards to the flag for his approach. In the past, he would have thought about holing that shot. On Sunday, the best he could do was 16 feet.

“Pathetic,” he said. “Things like that have been happening this year, and I can’t let that happen anymore.”

With only a four- or five-year window remaining, he realizes he can’t be average in those areas and remain competitive, especially in this new world order.

“These next three or four months will be critical for me to make sure that I address the issues and be ready to go for 2015,” he said.

Meanwhile, the future has never looked brighter for Fowler, whose game finally matches the garish outfits.

Four majors produced four chances. The 25-year-old admittedly wasn’t ready to win when he entered the final round of the Masters only two shots back, and a Sunday 73 left him well behind. He was in the final group at both summer Opens, but to win he needed both an all-world performance and a historic collapse.

This major?

“I really felt like I could win this one,” Fowler said, which is why there was more pain than pride when he came off the course, his 14-under 270 two shots shy.

Now considered a big-game hunter, his back-nine performance Sunday will provide plenty of motivation this offseason.

First, there was the uncommitted swing on 14 that led to a bogey. Then the approach into 17 that he didn’t hit cleanly, despite a perfect club (9-iron) and number (161 yards). And finally the three-putt from long range on 18 in near darkness.

Yes, Fowler became only the third player in the modern era to post a top 5 in all four majors in a season, but Tiger and Jack are in a different league – at least they won one during those magical seasons.

“This is probably the one that hurts the most for me,” Fowler said. “This one I felt like I could go out today and win it.”

Stenson’s expectations were tempered not only because of his position (four back) but also because of the player he was chasing – a high-powered birdie machine who typically moves only one direction: Forward.

McIlroy’s flat start and Stenson’s front-nine surge (30) gave the Swede a chance for a long-awaited major title, but his rally-killing three-putt on 14 dropped him out of the lead, and a mud ball in the 18th fairway ended any hopes for a closing eagle.

Against a player like McIlroy, every miscue is magnified. 

“I gave my all on every shot and every hole,” Stenson said. “That’s all you can do.”

In this new age, against this new king, even that won’t always be enough. 

Getty Images

Fleetwood, with his fancy umbrella, fires 65 on Day 2

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 12:34 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tommy Fleetwood looked like an Open rookie when he set out on Friday under gray skies and a cold, steady rain.

Because the Englishman doesn’t have an equipment sponsor he made a quick turn through the merchandise tent for an umbrella – but at least he didn’t have to pay for it.

“We stole it,” he laughed when asked about his Open-brand umbrella. “We got one given for free, actually. We didn't steal it. We don't always carry an umbrella. So it just so happens this week that we've got a nice Open Championship [umbrella]. It looked quite nice, the yellow and the course.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

It was Fleetwood’s only rookie move on Day 2 at Carnoustie, posting a flawless 65 to move into an early tie for second place at 5 under par.

Fleetwood holds the competitive course record at Carnoustie, a 9-under 63 he shot last fall during the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship, but given Friday’s conditions and the difficulty of this course during The Open, his 65 on Friday might have been better.

“It's not a course record, but it's pretty good,” said Fleetwood, who was stroke behind leader Zach Johnson. “If you went out, you wouldn't really fancy being 6 under out there. So I think that's a good indication of how good it was.”

It was a dramatic turnaround for Fleetwood on Friday. He said he struggled with his ball-striking, specifically his tee shots, on Day 1, but he was able to turn things around with an hour-long session on the range following his opening round.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 10:15 am

Following an even-par 71 in the first round of the 147th Open Championship, Tiger Woods looks to make a move on Day 2 at Carnoustie.

Getty Images

McIlroy responds to Harmon's 'robot' criticism

By Mercer BaggsJuly 20, 2018, 6:53 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy said during his pre-championship news conference that he wanted to play more "carefree" – citing Jon Rahm’s approach now and the way McIlroy played in his younger days.

McIlroy got off to a good start Thursday at Carnoustie, shooting 2-under 69, good for a share of eighth place.

But while McIlroy admits to wanting to be a little less structured on the course, he took offense to comments made by swing coach Butch Harmon during a Sky Sports telecast.

Said Harmon:

“Rory had this spell when he wasn’t putting good and hitting the ball good, and he got so wrapped up in how he was going to do it he forgot how to do it.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“He is one of the best players the game has ever seen. If he would just go back to being a kid and playing the way he won these championships and play your game, don’t have any fear or robotic thoughts. Just play golf. Just go do it.

“This is a young kid who’s still one of the best players in the world. He needs to understand that. Forget about your brand and your endorsement contracts. Forget about all that. Just go back to having fun playing golf. I still think he is one of the best in the world and can be No.1 again if he just lets himself do it.”

McIlroy, who has never worked with Harmon, responded to the comments when asked about them following his opening round.

“Look, I like Butch. Definitely, I would say I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum than someone that's mechanical and someone that's – you know, it's easy to make comments when you don't know what's happening,” McIlroy said. “I haven't spoken to Butch in a long time. He doesn't know what I'm working on in my swing. He doesn't know what's in my head. So it's easy to make comments and easy to speculate. But unless you actually know what's happening, I just really don't take any notice of it.”

McIlroy second round at The Open began at 2:52 a.m. ET.

Getty Images

How The Open cut line is determined

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 5:57 am

Scores on Day 1 of the 147th Open Championship ranged from 5-under 66 to 11-over 82.

The field of 156 players will be cut nearly in half for weekend play at Carnoustie. Here’s how the cut line works in the season’s third major championship:

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

• After 36 holes, the low 70 players and ties will advance to compete in the final two rounds. Anyone finishing worse than that will get the boot. Only those making the cut earn official money from the $10.5 million purse.

• There is no 10-shot rule. That rule means anyone within 10 shots of the lead after two rounds, regardless of where they stand in the championship, make the cut. It’s just a flat top 70 finishers and ties.

• There is only a single cut at The Open. PGA Tour events employ an MDF (Made cut Did not Finish) rule, which narrows the field after the third round if more than 78 players make the cut. That is not used at this major.

The projected cut line after the first round this week was 1 over par, which included 71 players tied for 50th or better.