Getty Images

A performance fit for a King

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:08 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 39 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.

So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just captured the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the media scrum, he was asked instead to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.

“Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”

But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. 

With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.

“Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.

But the connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.

Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.

Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.

Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”

McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.

“I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.

And entertained, of course.

Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy said.

“And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’"

McIlroy chuckled at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”


Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.

During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.

But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, where he was admittedly searching.

“The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.

McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with former PGA Tour winner and putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.

“He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.

Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.

And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.

“The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career.  

Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.

Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.

Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.

“I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”

Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.

“He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, closing with a bogey-free 64 and winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

“It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.

But after a turbulent 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.

There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.

A kiss for his wife, Erica.

A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.

The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.

“Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”

Getty Images

Lauren Thompson and a giant 'gator eating a turtle

By Grill Room TeamApril 19, 2018, 4:53 pm

Really, the headline says it all.

"Morning Drive" co-host Lauren Thompson was playing the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes on Thursday in Orlando, Fla., when her threesome turned into a foursome, with the appearance of a giant alligator. Techincally, it was a fivesome, as the 'gator had a turtle in its mouth.



Hey, it's a slow news week for Grill Room.

Getty Images

Sources confirm Charles Schwab to sponsor Colonial event

By Rex HoggardApril 19, 2018, 2:42 pm

Multiple sources have confirmed to GolfChannel.com that officials at Colonial are poised to announce a new sponsorship agreement with Charles Schwab Corporation.

Tournament officials scrambled this year after Dean & DeLuca ended its sponsorship of the event just two years into a six-year agreement, pulling together an assortment of local sponsors and renaming the event the Fort Worth Invitational.

Colonial’s status on the PGA Tour schedule became even more uncertain when the PGA Championship announced it would move from August to May, beginning in 2019 as part of a major overhaul of the circuit’s schedule.

According to the Dallas News, and confirmed by multiple sources at the club, officials plan to announce the new long-term agreement with Charles Schwab on Monday that will begin in 2019.

News of a long-term sponsorship deal would also suggest the event will remain in May in 2019 and beyond. The Tour has indicated it plans to announce the ’19 schedule at next month’s Players Championship.

Getty Images

PNC Extends Title Sponsorship of PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 19, 2018, 1:00 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., April 19, 2018 – IMG and NBC Sports today announced that The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. has extended its contract as title sponsor of the PNC Father/Son Challenge, the tournament that pairs the games’ legends alongside their sons, daughters and grandchildren.

PNC’s multi-year extension as title sponsor keeps the PGA Tour Challenge Event in Orlando reflecting the bank’s commitment to Central Florida. PNC has served as title sponsor of the tournament since 2012. The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes will continue to play host to the PNC Father/Son Challenge. The 2018 PNC Father/Son Challenge will take place Friday-Sunday, Dec. 14-16, with television coverage on Golf Channel and NBC.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge long ago became one of my family’s favorite golf tournaments,” said 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus. “I have had the pleasure of playing with my sons, and last year, partnering with my 15-year-old grandson GT was a thrill. I am delighted the event—a uniquely special one to us fathers and grandfathers, and perhaps to the many fans out there watching from home or outside the ropes—will continue for many years to come.”

“After our victory in 2016, I said that this win was as good as anything I have done in my career,” said former World No. 1 and major champion David Duval, who alongside his stepson Nick Karavites captured the 2016 title. “I felt blessed to have Nick inside the ropes with me and to have our family surrounding us all week. That’s what makes the PNC Father/Son Challenge so special, and I’m pleased to hear that PNC has extended its support of the event. This golf tournament means so much to all of us who are lucky enough to have the opportunity to play in this event.”

The tournament also holds three events in qualifier markets per year. This year they will be in Dallas, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge allows fans to see golf’s legends playing the game they love alongside those they love most,” said Alastair Johnston, vice chairman, IMG. “We are grateful for PNC’s ongoing support of this unique tournament and we look forward to returning to Orlando to celebrate golf and family for many years to come.”

Community support is a key aspect of the tournament and PNC’s sponsorship. PNC is committed to donating $150,000 annually to local non-profits over the life of its sponsorship. Across six previous years of title sponsorship, PNC has already donated $900,000 to Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children to support the “Healthy Families Orange” program. Over the years, PNC has also had the opportunity through this tournament to co-host events for local women in business, to put on clinics and provide free access to the tournament for active military, and even provide a service dog for a local veteran.

"PNC's long-standing sponsorship of the Father/Son Challenge reflects the philanthropic values we share with the PGA Tour and the golf community, as well as our focus on strong relationships,” said Bill Demchak, chairman, president and chief executive officer of The PNC Financial Services Group. “As PNC Bank continues to expand its footprint, the PNC Father/Son tournament helps us gain visibility with new audiences and to strengthen the relationships we enjoy today with more than 8 million retail, wealth, and corporate and institutional banking customers across the country.”

“NBC Sports is extremely proud of our heritage as co-founder for the Father/Son Challenge, one of golf’s most special events that closes out the calendar year on the golf schedule,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports. “Our relationship with PNC Bank elevates this event each year as a must-attend and must-see event for players and fans alike, and we look forward to our continued relationship with PNC Bank for years to come.”

Past winners of the PNC Father/Son Challenge include some of the biggest names in golf including Raymond Floyd (1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001), Jack Nicklaus (1999), Bernhard Langer (2005-06, 2014), Davis Love III (2012) and David Duval (2016).  Masters champion Angel Cabrera and his son, Angel Cabrera Jr. captured the 2017 title.

To qualify for the PNC Father/Son Challenge, participants must have won either a major championship or THE PLAYERS Championship in their career. The professional’s partner must not currently hold a Tour card, and while the majority of partners in the history of the event have been the sons of the golf legends, the family-themed tournament has seen daughters, grandsons and one father – Justin Leonard’s dad, Larry – participate over the years.

The PNC Father/Son Challenge is operated in partnership by IMG and NBC Sports.

Getty Images

Fire damages National Golf Links of America clubhouse

By Will GrayApril 19, 2018, 12:55 pm

A fire broke out Wednesday at National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y., causing "extensive damage" to a portion of the historic course's clubhouse.

According to a 27East.com report, an initial call was made to the Southampton police department about a fire on the roof of the clubhouse at 11:34 a.m. With the club's gates too narrow to fit a fire truck through, more than 100 firefighters from various departments helped douse the flames by transporting water up a hill to the east side of the clubhouse.

The fire was reportedly extinguished by 2:30 p.m., with no injuries requiring medical attention. According to a Golf Digest report, the club was undergoing construction on its outdoor eating area known as "the Birdcage" and that most of the club's historical documents reside on the opposite end of the clubhouse from where the fire broke out and was contained.

Opened in 1911, National Golf Links of America was designed by C.B. MacDonald and hosted the inaugural Walker Cup in 1922. The biennial matches returned in 2013 to NGLA, which is often rated among the top courses in the U.S. and sits adjacent to Shinnecock Hills, site of this summer's U.S. Open.