Spotlight on Rory's Friday struggles after opening 66

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2014, 3:38 pm

HOYLAKE, England – The first question posed to Rory McIlroy on Thursday had nothing to do with his first-round lead, or his bogey-free 66, or his 340-yard average off the tee.

Those queries could wait.

Instead, the first question McIlroy faced at Royal Liverpool was this:

“During your second-round struggles, how much unsolicited advice have you received about how you can turn it around?”


On Friday, McIlroy has to overcome what began as a coincidence and now has morphed into a mental hurdle as tall as one of the grandstands here.

In opening rounds worldwide this year, he is 57 under par. When factoring in the third and fourth rounds, he is a combined 103 under.

In second rounds? He’s 9 over. It doesn’t compute.

He’s the fastest starter in golf. And he’s also the biggest stumbler.

Even Jack Nicklaus has noticed the trend. The 18-time major winner had a two-hour meeting with McIlroy in his office a few days after the Memorial and asked him, rather bluntly: “How the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78?”

For a player who makes everything seem so easy, McIlroy is now trying awfully hard not to try so hard.

It’s a shame too, for he’s in sensational form heading into this championship. Even with the terrible second rounds, and the six nine-hole scores of 40 or worse in his last eight events, the winner at the BMW PGA has finished outside the top 25 only once this year.

Open Championship full-field scores

Open Championship: Articles, videos and photos

“Whenever I go out and play on Thursdays there are not many expectations,” he said. “You’re going out there and you’re trying to find a rhythm, and you’re just trying to play your way into the round. When you go back out on Friday after a good score, you know what you can do on the golf course. So you’re going out with some expectations, compared to on Thursday you’re going out with not many. I think I’ve just got to approach it like that.”

McIlroy also said he would try to avoid looking at leaderboards, because his position during the round is “irrelevant.” It’s only the second day.

“When I’m in a real good mindset I don’t care,” he said.

In a bit of irony, McIlroy can’t even seem to avoid his own up-and-down history in this event. The last time he had the first-round lead at the Open was 2010, when he shot 63 at St. Andrews. The next day, in a hellish wind, he turned in an 80, a not-so-friendly reminder of his volatile game.

“Finished third that year,” he said, smiling.

Thursday’s opener here even reminded McIlroy of 2010. No doubt the early conditions were similar, with virtually no wind in the morning leading to plenty of birdies. And the golf courses are relatively similar too, St. Andrews and Hoylake, in that it’s imperative to take care of the par 5s and the short par 4s, and to stay out of the bunkers.

Another similarity: Conditions are supposed to take a turn for the worse Friday, particularly in the afternoon, with a few showers expected and a steady, 25-mph wind.

At least McIlroy posted a score when he could.

He missed two putts inside 10 feet over the first three holes and still made the turn in 32. He added birdies on Nos. 10, 12 and 16, and likely would have carded another if not for a bad break in a greenside bunker on 18. Nonetheless, he missed only four greens on the day, and when he did hit driver (four times), he bashed it an average of 340.5 yards, tops in the field.

“If he was driving the ball well, he wasn’t going to have any trouble in these conditions,” said Jordan Spieth, who played in McIlroy’s group. “I don’t think he’s going to have any trouble (Friday), either. Those Friday-round jitters he’s been talking about, that’ll change tomorrow. He’s in complete control of his entire bag.”

Though the comparisons to 2010 are inevitable, given his recent trend, McIlroy would do well to draw upon a similar situation that yielded an entirely different outcome. In the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, he held the outright lead after the first round, poured it on with a Friday 66, and went on to win by eight.

“It’s not like I’ve shot good scores in first rounds and haven’t backed them up before,” he said. “I’m used to doing that. I just haven’t done it recently.” 

Getty Images

Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

Getty Images

Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)

Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

Getty Images

Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

Getty Images

McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.