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Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

“You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

“He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

“I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

“I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

“I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.

 

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Watch: Wagner saves season with walk-off eagle dunk

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 18, 2018, 2:45 am

Johnson Wagner kept his FedExCup Playoff hopes alive on Friday at the Wyndham Championship ... and he did it in dramatic fashion.

Needing a birdie on his final hole of the day to make the cut on the number, Johnson used a 9-iron from 153 yards out to dunk his approach for eagle to get inside the cut line.

Johnson's eagle at the last gave him a 66 for the day and earned him two more rounds to try and get inside the FedExCup top 125 for next week's start of the postseason, The Northern Trust.

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S.H. Park, Salas co-lead rain-soaked Indy Women

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 1:42 am

INDIANAPOLIS - Sung Hyun Park relied on the same, steady style that has helped make her one of the LPGA's top players. When her putts kept rolling in Friday, she was virtually unbeatable.

Park shot a 9-under 63 for a share of the lead with Lizette Salas during the suspended second round of the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

''The best round of the year,'' the South Korean player said through an interpreter. ''My putting overall was what really helped.''

Salas, the first-round leader after a 62, had a 69 to match Park at 13 under at Brickyard Crossing. Danielle Kang and Nasa Hataoka were two shots back.

''It was going to be hard to top that 62 yesterday but I stayed patient,'' Salas said. ''This was a completely different golf course, so I had to change my mentality a little bit and I had to forget about the 62 in a way and just go back to what I was doing.''

Park has two majors and four overall LPGA victories the last two years, winning the U.S. Women's Open and CP Women's Open last year and the Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic and KPMG Women's PGA Championship this season.

Nothing rattled Park on a sticky, overcast day.

''I worked on my short game the most, especially measuring the distances,'' Park said. ''It paid off.''

After more rain drenched the already saturated layout around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Park completed the round by putting out in a downpour that forced the afternoon groups to contend with a delay of nearly four hours.


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


In between the showers, the world's fourth-ranked player performed like a two-time major champion.

She birdied three of the first five holes to reach 7 under, started the back nine with three straight birdies then took the lead with her ninth and final birdie of the day on the par-4 17th.

Salas took a different tack one day after tying Mike McCullough's course-record 62.

Rather than take advantage of the course's soft greens, the 29-year-old American needed patience Friday. She opened with 12 consecutive pars then made three straight birdies on Nos. 4-6. After her first bogey of the tournament, on the par-4 eighth, Salas closed out the round with another birdie to tie Park.

Salas hasn't won since the 2014 Kingsmill Championship, but she's developed a real affinity for the Indy course where she's had five consecutive sub-par rounds dating to last year's fifth-place finish.

Kang, who kept Salas composed during a 77-minute rain delay Thursday, had a 68 to get to 11 under.

''I've been giving myself a lot of birdie chances,'' Kang said. ''That was my goal this week. I just have been feeling like I was in a little bit of a funk, so I told my caddie we were just going to pick a number, play my game, forget all the swing thoughts, forget everything and just kind of play it by feel.''

Kang hasn't recorded a bogey over the first 36 holes and is in contention for her first tour victory last year's KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

Hataoka shot 69.

Angel Yin, the 19-year-old Californian who was tied for second with Hataoka after the first round, was 10 under with eight holes left. Yin was tied for fifth with Thidapa Suwannapura of Thailand and Amy Yang of South Korea, who also had eight holes to go.

Defending champion Lexi Thompson started on the back nine and birdied the par-3 12th and the par-4 16th. She was 6 under with 10 holes remaining in the second round.

And the course could change dramatically as it dries out.

Saturday's forecast calls for partly cloudy conditions with highs in the low 80s and Sunday is supposed to be mostly sunny with highs in the mid-80s.

Park promises to be ready for whatever weather arrives.

''I'm going to do really well,'' she said. ''I feel really good about my game, especially my short game. And it's just about the weather now, so hopefully the weather is good.''

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Snapshot of 2018 U.S. Amateur semifinalists

By Ryan LavnerAugust 18, 2018, 1:39 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – A U.S. Amateur Championship that began with 7,463 entries has been whittled down to just four players.

Saturday morning’s semifinals not only will determine the two finalists for the most prestigious title in amateur golf, but also the players who will receive a likely invitation to the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open – the greatest consolation prize in all of sports.

It's Devon Bling vs. Isaiah Salinda. 

And Cole Hammer vs. Viktor Hovland. 

Here’s a snapshot of those left competing at Pebble Beach:



DEVON BLING

In Bling’s player profile, he wrote that his mother, Sara, always wanted to see him compete in USGA championships.

Unfortunately, she never got the opportunity – she passed away in 2013, to a mysterious ailment, when Devon was only 13.

“It took us totally by surprise,” he said Friday night. “In an instant, she was there and totally healthy, and the next day she was gone.”

The sense of loss was massive – Sara was always there, shuttling Devon to tournaments, walking with his group, supporting him.

“Losing her was extremely difficult for my family,” he said. “I know she’s still in my heart and looking down on me, and I’m just hoping to make her proud.”

Bling, now a sophomore at UCLA, has blossomed into a solid player who had yet to take his star turn. That’s beginning to change here at Pebble Beach, where his brother and father are whooping for his many great shots.

They had plenty of reason to cheer Friday, after Bling flipped a late deficit and beat Davis Riley, 1 up, to advance to the semifinals.

Bling led at only one point all match – when it mattered most, after the 18th hole.

He took an aggressive line on the par-5 finishing hole, taking driver left of the tree in the middle of the fairway, while Riley, playing conservatively after twice putting driver into the water during practice rounds, flared his long iron into the greenside bunker. Bling rifled his approach into the greenside bunker and splashed out to 3 ½ feet for the decisive birdie.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he said.



VIKTOR HOVLAND

Most golf fans’ only introduction to Hovland came last month. Playing on a sponsor exemption at the European Open, the Oklahoma State junior double-pumped during his backswing, regrouped and then drilled his tee shots.

It was a swing drill that had crept into his full swing.

“That helped for a little while,” Hovland said. “I found the center of the clubface and found the shot that I could hit on almost every hole.”

Aggressive, straight tee balls have been the key to his success this week at Pebble Beach. He’s been able to set the tone and continue to apply pressure on his opponents by consistently finding the fairway.   

Paired with a scorching-hot putter, Hovland sure doesn’t have the look of a player who counts only one tournament title outside of his native Norway.

He's been manhandling his opponents at the U.S. Amateur.

After trouncing Austin Squires, 7 and 6, on Friday – matching the largest margin of victory in a U.S. Amateur quarterfinal – Hovland has now led after 45 of 57 holes.

He led throughout a Round of 16 thumping of Kristoffer Reitan.

He led throughout a quarterfinal dismantling of Squires, too.

In his last two matches, he’s a combined 9 under par and has won 16 of his last 23 holes.

“I think I’ve definitely had the game to win more, but I’ve made a few bad decisions here and there and it adds up to you start being too far behind,” said Hovland, who won a college event last season at the Floridian. “My putter also hasn’t been good enough. My ball-striking hasn’t been super flashy, but it’s been consistent. It’s hard to win tournaments if you’re not putting well.”

He's swinging freely and making plenty of putts so far.



COLE HAMMER

The hottest player in amateur golf ran his match-play record this year to 17-1 after a 3-and-2 victory over Alex Fitzpatrick.

Playing the younger brother of 2013 U.S. Amateur champion Matt Fitzpatrick, Hammer went 3 under for his first five holes Friday and never gave his opponent a chance. He kept the ball in play, putted for birdie on nearly every hole and scrambled on the rare occasion he was out of position. In a near-impossible spot short and left of the ninth green, he played a soft pitch that landed on the crest of the hill and funneled into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“It was one of those one-in-a-million shots that just happened to go in,” he said.

They all seem to be dropping recently.

The incoming freshman at Texas won the Azalea Invitational at the start of the year, teamed with Garrett Barber to take the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, reached the semifinals of the U.S. Junior, went wire to wire at the Western Amateur and now has reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur.

“I’ve played a ton of match play this year and come back from deficits,” he said, “and that speaks to the confidence I have and knowing I can get it done.”



ISAIAH SALINDA

After narrowly escaping in his Round of 16 match, Salinda once again dodged a worthy opponent on Friday afternoon.  

Salinda built a 4-up lead through five holes but was only one hole clear as he headed to the back nine. On six separate occasions, Gordon hit the lip of the cup on a putt or chip, allowing Salinda to stay in front down the stretch.

On 16, the Stanford senior finally put Gordon away: From 150 yards, he hit a controlled 9-iron that landed in the perfect spot, spun left and came within an inch of dropping for eagle. The conceded birdie gave him a 2-up cushion that he used to eventually win, 2 and 1.

“He’s a really good player,” Salinda said, “and I expected him to fight back.”

Salinda, who recently won the Pacific Coast Amateur, is playing in his first USGA event. Six times he’s been the first or second alternate out of a U.S. Junior or U.S. Amateur qualifier in Northern California. The trick this time was to head to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he qualified after playing the Trans-Miss Amateur.

Salinda won’t need to worry about qualifying next year – he’s already exempt into next year’s event.

He could earn a spot in even bigger events – the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open – with another win Saturday.

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Garcia among bubble boys keeping playoff hopes alive

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 12:34 am

Sergio Garcia gave himself a chance to keep his perfect FedExCup Playoffs record going with his rally Friday at the Wyndham Championship.

D.A. Points moved into position to make a historic leap into the postseason.

And Johnson Wagner dunked his last shot of the day from long range to keep his hopes of making the playoffs alive.

But the day didn’t end nearly as well for Tyrone Van Aswegen’s FedExCup hopes.

Van Aswegen didn’t do himself any favors trying to hold on to the 125th spot on the FedExCup points list. He missed the cut by a shot.

Only the top 125 advance to The Northern Trust and next week’s start to the playoffs.

Van Aswegen wasn’t alone among “bubble boys” missing the cut. No. 122 Jhonattan Vegas, No. 123 Seamus Power, No. 124 Martin Piller, No. 126 Chad Campbell and No. 127 Robert Garrigus all failed to make the weekend.

Garcia is among 13 players who have advanced to the FedExCup Playoffs every year since they began in 2007, but his run was in jeopardy of ending starting the week. He’s 131st on the FedExCup points list

With a 65 Friday following his opening round 66, Garcia is in more than a great position to advance. He’s in position to win the Wyndham. He is tied for fourth, five shots off the lead. The day ended with Garcia projected to move up to 118th on the FedExCup points list.


Wyndham Championship: Full-field scores | Full coverage

Current FedExCup points list


“I'm just going to try to keep building on the things that I did well these first two days,” Garcia said. “Whatever happens, happens. Like I said at the beginning of the week, if I have a great weekend, then it will be great. If I don't have a great weekend, it will still be great because

I'll get to rest.”

Points started the week 214th on the FedExCup points list. With back-to-back 64s, he trails only Brandt Snedeker going into the weekend. He can crack the top 125, but only with a win. Nobody has ever started the Wyndham Championship that far back in points and qualified for the playoffs. Davis Love III was 186th when he won and advanced in 2015.

Wagner, 136th on the FedExCup points list, went to spectacular lengths Friday to keep his playoff hopes alive. He was outside the cut line until holing his 153-yard approach at the last.

Bill Haas, who is among those 13 players to have qualified for the playoffs every year, started the week 150th in points. He can keep his perfect playoff record going with a big weekend. He shot 68 Friday to make the cut. He’s tied for 52nd in the tournament.