Stanford's McNealy recharging for run at wins record

By Ryan LavnerNovember 10, 2015, 2:30 pm

After winning nine times in 14 months, earning NCAA Player of the Year honors, playing a pair of PGA Tour events, going deep in the U.S. Amateur, representing the United States at the Walker Cup and competing in the fall while handling a full course load for his management science and engineering major, Maverick McNealy is ready to do something he hasn’t done since high school.

He is putting the clubs away.

Not because he’s burned out. Not because he doesn’t want to play golf.

“I just need the rest right now,” he said.

McNealy is stepping back only for eight or nine days, nothing crazy, but it’s a well-deserved reprieve for the Stanford junior who has emerged as America’s most intriguing prospect in years.

Fatigued or not, his game has shown no signs of slowing down. He finished the fall season Nov. 4 with a victory at the Gifford Collegiate, his third in four starts.

“That leaves a pretty good taste in my mouth that I can enjoy for the next few days,” he said.

The 20-year-old burst onto the scene last fall, just a few months removed from being Stanford’s No. 5 man on a team that reached the NCAA semifinals. He wound up winning an NCAA-best six times, posting the second-lowest scoring average in history (69.05) and sweeping all of the postseason awards.

Then came a busy summer, when he made the cut in both PGA Tour events he played, advanced to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur (losing to eventual champion Bryson DeChambeau) and spent a week overseas at the Walker Cup. Upon returning to the States, he flew directly to Chicago and had one day to prepare for the Cardinal’s season opener, at Olympia Fields. All he did was open with rounds of 67-65 and win by three.



“I’ve walked a fine line of not being rested and not being sharp,” he said. “It feels like I’ve been playing catch-up.”

Yet it hasn’t affected his game, at least not from a results standpoint.

McNealy’s worst finish this fall? Fifth. He shared top honors at the U.S. Collegiate, the strongest field of the fall. And last week, at the Gifford, he erased a five-shot deficit in the final round with a closing 67. On the last two holes, he rolled in 70 feet worth of putts to steal his third victory of the fall, the most of any player in NCAA Division I. Again.

After the round, while eating lunch with his teammates, he finally crashed.

“I felt like I was going to face-plant in my food,” he said.

How McNealy has been able to summon the goods while teetering on the edge of burnout can be traced back to smart preparation and an extensive journal that documents every practice session, round, tournament and year.

One entry in particular stands out, from his first fall tournament last year.

In the lead for the first time in his career, McNealy realized he had 2 ½ hours to kill before his final-round tee time. He can eat only so many breakfasts, and hit so many balls, so he developed a stretching routine that he has used ever since. For a half hour, in the hotel room or in the locker room, McNealy throws on his headphones and listens to music that slows down his internal tempo.

During that quiet time, he puts the next few hours in perspective: What do I need to do today? What does this round mean to me? Who am I playing for? The answer to the last question, always, is his teammates.

“It feels like everything slows down in my mind,” he said. “Physically, it feels like I’m getting ready for somebody to punch me in the stomach. There’s a tense feeling. And then there’s an intense focus on the target.”

On the course, he strives to reach a performance state, a zone where he doesn’t even remember making swings; all he picks up is the ball in mid-flight or mid-roll. It can’t be re-created in casual rounds with his parents or three brothers, Dakota, Colt and Scout. It’s found only when the pressure is at its most intense.

“I play some of my best golf when I’m nervous or under the gun,” he said.

That helps explain why his final-round scoring average over his last 17 starts is 68.05 – or nearly a full shot lower than his actual scoring average.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” he said.

Last week, McNealy locked into that performance state on the ninth hole, after making birdie on the hardest hole at La Costa’s Legends course. He added birdies on Nos. 10 and 13 and was cruising along at 4 under for the day.

Then he three-putted from 15 feet on 15 and heeled a 260-yard 3-wood into the lake on the par-5 17th. His wedge from 90 yards wasn’t great either, spinning back down the slope, about 40 feet away.

“Everything says that I’m out of the tournament,” he said, “but for some reason I didn’t feel like that. When things are going poorly, I’m not angry or frustrated or disappointed.”

The putt came off perfectly, and he walked off the green with an unlikely par. What happened next seemed inevitable: a perfect drive, a 190-yard 5-iron into the wind, a 30-foot birdie from the fringe, a win.

Most troubling for his future opponents is that McNealy has played (and won) this fall with a swing that isn’t where he wants it to be, with a driver that occasionally doesn’t cooperate, with a sagging energy level.

“He’s acquired a toolbox of skills that allow him to keep his number around the lead, and then once he is in the mix he has this ability to zero in and execute some clutch shots,” Stanford coach Conrad Ray said. “It’s interesting, because he hasn’t hit it as well as he can. But he has an ability to win now and not have his best stuff.”

At least part of McNealy’s fatigue can be attributed to the burden of being a top player – his nine wins since the start of last season are three more than any other player. Because of his national ranking, he’s looked at as the man to beat every time he tees it up. And more than ever, he is shouldering the load for his team, knowing that his score could make or break the Cardinal’s chances.

But there is also the academic component. Like any student-athlete not majoring in jock, McNealy has enjoyed all of this success while slogging through his heaviest workload yet at Stanford. His recent studies include a deep dive on (gulp) optimization quadratic programming, and during the Gifford he spent three hours a night working on a project with a teammate.

“It’s him grinding and the higher expectation levels on all fronts,” Ray said. “I don’t know that it will ever go away. Not now. His goals will continue to evolve, and depending on what level he reaches, there’s always an internal push to do the best you can.”

McNealy’s pursuit of 11 career titles at Stanford – a record set by Tiger Woods in the mid-1990s and matched by Patrick Rodgers in spring ’14 – will draw the most attention nationally. 

During McNealy’s sophomore year, after he won the first two events of the season, Rodgers texted him to slow down, to not break his record too soon. Now, after McNealy’s latest W put him within two of the mark, Rodgers needled his friend: What, not able to win outright anymore?

McNealy has 12 weeks until his next event, and there is work to be done. He wants to work on his driver, his biggest weakness. He wants to incorporate a few equipment changes. He wants to sharpen his preparation. And he wants to, well, enjoy his first break in years. “Active relaxation,” he said.  

McNealy said a few months ago that he isn’t even sure whether he will pursue a professional career after college. It was, and still is, a stunning declaration in this era of tweenage millionaires, but he hasn’t changed his stance, even after soaring to the top of the world amateur rankings. In fact, while some of his peers test Q-School or chase titles during college golf’s three-month offseason, McNealy will instead retreat into the background. He seems content simply to focus on his game, his teammates and his family.

“One of the things he does well is he doesn’t get caught up in the idea of being complacent,” Ray said. “He’s always in the fix mindset. He’s always thinking about ways to get better and improve. That’s really the game for him.

“He could take or leave the recognition and the status and the ranking. He has a mature stance on that stuff. The real intriguing thing, for him, is just chiseling away, like it’s a problem set for him. He just keeps working at it and puts his head down and doesn’t get caught up in the hoopla."

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Monday Scramble: Flawless Francesco outlasts them all

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 2:00 pm

Francesco Molinari outlasts the rest, Tiger Woods inches closer to an earth-shattering victory, Jordan Spieth lets a successful title defense slip away, Eddie Pepperell toasts his success and more in this week’s Open edition of Monday Scramble:

Forza Italia.

Amid a wild and windy afternoon at Carnoustie, where seemingly no less than a dozen players had a viable shot at the claret jug, it was a steady performance from Francesco Molinari that translated into breakthrough.

Molinari is no stranger to the big stage, and five years ago he played the final round alongside Phil Mickelson as Lefty stormed from behind to win at Muirfield. But this time, this day, it was his turn to shine as he put forth a ball-striking and scrambling clinic that yielded 16 pars and two birdies while the other leaders struggled around him.

It's the cap of an impressive heater for Molinari, who is now the first Italian to ever win a major. He outlasted Rory McIlroy at the BMW PGA Championship in May, won the Quicken Loans National by eight shots last month and now has finished first or second in five of his last six worldwide starts.

The soft-spoken veteran played the final two rounds without making a bogey, and he is a worthy champion. Expect the jug to receive a few refills of wine - and perhaps a little coffee - over the next year.


1. For about a 90-minute stretch Sunday, it seemed like Tiger Woods would finally find a way to silence the critics once and for all.

Playing alongside Molinari, Woods displayed the same tactical brilliance on the opening nine, carding two birdies while others struggled out of the gates and, at one point, taking the lead alone. But an errant approach and a poor flop shot led to a double bogey on No. 11, and his bid for the jug was diverted soon thereafter.

But man, what a ride it was through that opening stretch. For months the questions have lingered about exactly how and when Tiger might put all the pieces together, and after an early exit at Shinnecock it was easy to write him off. But his inner tactician shined for much of the week on a toasty layout, and he was steady in all facets over the weekend.

Just as Woods' five-win season in 2013 has been used as a recent example of just how high his ceiling reaches, so too this performance will be viewed like manna from heaven for Tiger apologists. He didn't quite pull it off, but there's every reason to expect that he can do so the next time around.

2. While he came up three shots short of catching Molinari, even Woods appeared to savor the final leg of a T-6 finish that serves as his best result in a major in five years and becomes the new high water mark for an already impressive season.

"It was a blast," Woods told reporters. "I was saying earlier that I need to try and keep it in perspective because, beginning of the year, if they'd have said you're playing the Open Championship, I would have said I'd be very lucky to do that."



3. A bit more on Molinari, the newest Champion Golfer of the Year who has turned into a weekend assassin over the last three months. 

Between his stirring victory at Wentworth, his rout at TPC Potomac and his comeback at Carnoustie, Molinari has now played six weekend rounds while making only a single bogey. One!

That includes 36 bogey-free holes over the last two days in Scotland, as Molinari methodically took apart the demanding links layout while turning in the only bogey-free scorecard out of the entire field on Sunday.

"To go the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest," Molinari said. "But I felt really good this morning. When I came here, I felt ready for the challenge."

4 While many players would quiver at the thought of a final-round tee time alongside Woods with a major on the line, Molinari didn't blink. Perhaps because he's been in similar situations before.

In addition to his supporting role during Mickelson's win in 2013, Molinari has twice faced off with Woods in the Ryder Cup - including a 2012 singles' draw that remains Woods' most recent Ryder Cup match. So stepping to the tee Sunday, Molinari was fazed neither by his playing partner nor by the three co-leaders that sat three shots ahead of him.

"Clearly in my group, the attention wasn't really on me, let's put it that way," Molinari said. "If someone was expecting a charge, probably they weren't expecting it from me, but it's been the same the whole of my career."

5. How times change. Just a few weeks ago, Molinari opted to tee it up at the Quicken Loans National instead of the French Open at Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National. The reason? He was concerned about his FedExCup standing.

Molinari hadn't done much in the States this year, and he was 123rd in points with his 2019 status very much in limbo. Fast forward a few weeks - including two wins and a runner-up - and Molinari can safely book travel plans on both sides of the Atlantic for years to come.



6. It was a week of what might have been for Jordan Spieth.

Spieth started his stint in Scotland by handing back the claret jug in a ceremony he admitted was more bitter than sweet. But through 54 holes, he was the betting favorite as one of three co-leaders, equipped with a great chance to go back-to-back and end a victory drought that extended back to Royal Birkdale.

Amid a disappointing campaign, it was the first time he started the final round closer than four shots to the lead.

But Spieth apparently used up his magic last year in Southport, as he seemed out of sorts from the start and quickly faded. Spieth didn't make a birdie all day, and he found a gorse bush at an inopportune time en route to a double bogey on one of the easiest holes on the course.

It added up to a 76 and a tie for ninth, another disappointing finish in a year of mixed results. Now he'll have to wait another year for a potential reunion with the jug.

7. Of course, Spieth wasn't the only player who watched a share of the 54-hole lead slip away.

Kevin Kisner held at least a share of the lead after each of the first three days, but his bid for a maiden major went sideways in a bunker on the second hole Sunday. Xander Schauffele's bid lasted significantly longer, as he kept pace with Molinari until the 17th hole.

But in the end, it was a 3-over 74 and a share of second place for both men, who now find themselves firmly in the Ryder Cup mix heading into the homestretch of the selection process.



8. For the first time in his career, Rory McIlroy has a runner-up finish in a major championship. But good luck making sense of his week at Carnoustie years from now.

McIlroy was barely a factor over the weekend, having seemingly forfeited his shot at a second Open title during benign third-round conditions. But when his lengthy eagle putt fell on the 14th hole Sunday and sparked a celebration reminiscent of Hazeltine, hope was once again alive.

Ultimately, it was too little too late for the Ulsterman, who couldn't convert a lengthy birdie putt on the 72nd hole that could have putt pressure on the leaders behind him. He'll leave Scotland with a healthy check, but without the feeling that he ever got both feet planted in his quest for the claret jug.

"I just ran out of holes," McIlroy said.

9. If McIlroy's runner-up felt like somewhat of a disappointment, Justin Rose's T-2 finish was nothing short of found money.

Rose needed to birdie the difficult 18th on Friday simply to make the cut on the number, and he rebounded with a third-round 64. The Englishman added a Sunday 69 to lend credence to the notion that, despite only two top-10s in the tournament as a pro, Rose might still have an Open title in him after all.

"I just think having made the cut number, it's a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday," Rose said.

The weekend close continues a recent run of solid form for Rose, who won a few weeks back at Colonial and now has reached a career-best No. 2 in the world rankings.


So the Champion Golfer of the Year walks into a coffee shop...

Sadly, it seems we may not see these creative retirement plans come to fruition - at least not for a few years. But credit to Molinari for thinking outside the box, and credit to Wesley Bryan for a timely share.

This week's award winners ... 


Hair of the Dog: Eddie Pepperell. The 27-year-old Englishman admitted he was "a little hungover" during the final round, but he still put up the day's best score with a 4-under 67 that gave him a share of sixth and his first ever top-10 finish in a major. Drinks all around.

Paris Bound?: Webb Simpson. The Players champ tied for 12th to move past Bryson DeChambeau at No. 8 in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically. Schauffele moved to 11th, while Kisner moved to 13th.

Quiet Consistency: Tony Finau. Finau tied for ninth at Carnoustie and has now cracked the top 10 in each of the three majors this year. In fact, six of his 10 career major starts have gone for T-18 or better. Perhaps something for Captain Furyk to consider.

Quietly Slumping: Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard is barely a year removed from his watershed win, but he has now missed the cut in four straight majors and has missed six of nine cuts overall dating back to the Masters.

Role Reversal: Molinari, who won The Open while playing alongside Tiger 12 years after he caddied for his brother, Edoardo, in a group with Woods at the 2006 Masters. Woods was the defending champ, and Edoardo was the reigning U.S. Amateur winner:

King of Yelp: To the Carnoustie barber that gave Spieth a trim before the third round that set social media ablaze. While Spieth admitted it was a little "high and tight," it became the most famous £9 haircut in years.

Make Your Own Bed: To the frat house of American stars that has become something of an Open annual tradition. While Spieth, Kisner and Zach Johnson fell short of winning the jug for the house, hopefully they all got a few good shots in on all-time goalie Jason Dufner during intra-squad soccer scrimmages.

Kick Him Out: To the obnoxious fan that nearly derailed Tiger's final tee shot. One-upsmanship has become somewhat of a plague among American crowds, but Sunday showed that even the revered Scottish faithful have a few bad eggs in the bunch.

Place Your Bets: With only 17 days until the opening round of the PGA Championship, the Westgate Las Vegas installed Dustin Johnson as a 12/1 co-favorite alongside Spieth and McIlroy. Woods headlines the group next in line at 16/1.


Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. For the second year in a row, Thomas' Open chances fell apart during a rainy second round. It was 67-80 at Birkdale, and this time 69-77 to miss the cut by a shot at Carnoustie. Watching what Rose did after finishing only one shot better through 36 holes only adds salt to the wound.

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DJ, McIlroy, Spieth listed as PGA betting favorites

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 1:38 pm

Three majors are in the books, but there's still one more trophy up for grabs in two weeks' time.

While next year The Open will signal the end of the 2019 major season amid a revamped calendar, this is the final year that the PGA Championship will be held in August. The tournament returns next month to Bellerive Country Club outside St. Louis, which last hosted the PGA when Nick Price won in 1992 and hasn't hosted a PGA Tour event since Camilo Villegas won the 2008 BMW Championship.

Oddsmakers at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook published PGA betting odds shortly after the final putt dropped at Carnoustie and Francesco Molinari left with the claret jug. Topping the board are a trio of major champions: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, all listed at 12/1.

McIlroy won the PGA in both 2012 and 2014, while Spieth needs only the Wanamaker Trophy to round out the career Grand Slam. Johnson has recorded four top-10s in the PGA, notably a T-5 finish at Whistling Straits in 2010 when a few grains of sand kept him out of a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

Fresh off a T-6 finish in Scotland, Tiger Woods headlines the group listed at 16/1, behind only the three co-favorites as he looks to win a 15th career major.

Here's a look at the betting odds for a number of contenders, with the opening round of the PGA just 17 days away:

12/1: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth

16/1: Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

18/1: Justin Rose

20/1: Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Jason Day

30/1: Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama

40/1: Henrik Stenson, Alex Noren, Paul Casey

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Webb Simpson

80/1: Adam Scott, Zach Johnson, Kevin Kisner

100/1: Ian Poulter, Thomas Pieters, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Daniel Berger, Kevin Chappell, Brian Harman, Brandt Snedeker, Charley Hoffman

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Molinari moves to No. 6 in world with Open win

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:31 pm

After breaking through for his first career major title, Francesco Molinari reached some rarified air in the latest installment of the Official World Golf Rankings.

The Italian's two-shot win at Carnoustie moved him up nine spots to No. 6 in the world, not surprisingly a new career high. But it's also a quick ascent for Molinari, who has now won three of his last six worldwide starts and was ranked No. 33 in the world after missing the cut at The Players Championship two months ago.

A share of second place helped Xander Schauffele jump from No. 24 to No. 18 in the updated standings, while the same result meant Kevin Kisner went from No. 33 to No. 25. Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy both went up one spot after T-2 finishes to No. 2 and No. 7, respectively - a new career high for Rose.

The drama in the rankings unfolded at No. 50, as Tiger Woods moved up 21 spots to exactly No. 50 following his T-6 finish. While some projections had him moving to 51st, Woods was able to sneak into the top 50 just in time to qualify for a return to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, as the top 50 in the rankings both this week and next qualify for Akron.

That includes Zach Johnson, last year's runner-up who was not yet qualified but moved from No. 52 to No. 49 this week. It also includes Kevin Chappell, who went from 61st to 47th with a T-6 finish in Scotland.

Despite missing the cut at Carnoustie, Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1 for another week followed by Rose, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Molinari is now at No. 6, with McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day rounding out the top 10.

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Simpson overtakes DeChambeau in Ryder Cup race

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:09 pm

A T-12 finish at The Open allowed Webb Simpson to move past Bryson DeChambeau into the eighth and final automatic qualifying spot in the U.S. Ryder Cup points race with just three weeks to go.

Simpson finished the week at 3 under, five shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. Adding another strong result to his win at TPC Sawgrass and T-10 finish at the U.S. Open, he's now edged in front of DeChambeau by less than 41 points. But with players earning one point per $1,000 each of the next two weeks and 1.5 points per $1,000 at the PGA Championship, the race is far from over.

Jordan Spieth's T-9 finish strengthened his position at No. 6, as the top six players are essentially assured of qualifying automatically. Rickie Fowler held onto his spot at No. 7, while Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner both moved onto the bubble following T-2 finishes at Carnoustie. After a T-6 finish, Tiger Woods jumped from 31st to 20th.

Here's a look at the updated American standings, with the top eight after the PGA qualifying automatically and captain Jim Furyk adding four picks in September:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Bubba Watson

6. Jordan Spieth

7. Rickie Fowler

8. Webb Simpson

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9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Xander Schauffele

12. Matt Kuchar

13. Kevin Kisner

14. Tony Finau

15. Brian Harman

On the European side, Molinari was already in position to qualify automatically but is now assured of a spot on Thomas Bjorn's roster this fall. Fellow major champs Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy also solidified their footing with runner-up performances.

Here's a look at how things look for the Europeans, with the top four from each list after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

European Points

1. Francesco Molinari

2. Justin Rose

3. Tyrrell Hatton

4. Tommy Fleetwood

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Thorbjorn Olesen

Russell Knox

Eddie Pepperell

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Alex Noren

3. Rory McIlroy

4. Paul Casey

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Matthew Fitzpatrick

Sergio Garcia

Ian Poulter