Texas Open a big step for Laird, McIlroy

By Ryan LavnerApril 8, 2013, 12:10 am

SAN ANTONIO – This sure beat a regular Sunday range session.

The wind howled at his back.

The beer-fueled fans provided the commentary.

And needing a bold shot into the par-3 16th at TPC San Antonio – where a deep bunker looms in the center of the green – Rory McIlroy seized the moment, a scene that was both refreshing and reminiscent.

With those highly scrutinized clubs – this one, an 8-iron – he ripped his tee shot into the clear blue sky. The ball settled 13 feet from the cup. The teeing ground shook.

When the birdie putt dropped, he punched the sky and acknowledged the delirious spectators, who only nine days ago learned that the world No. 2 would visit town. Imagine their delight.

That Martin Laird eventually prevailed Sunday at the Valero Texas Open mattered little, really. Sure, it was an important victory for the Scot – he came here with no top 30s in eight starts. But he simply caught fire Sunday, shot a course-record, 9-under 63, and won by two. The hottest putter almost always emerges on top.

“He was always just a little step ahead of me,” McIlroy said afterward, his final-round 66 leaving him solo second at 12-under 276. “It was tough to catch him.”

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This victory, of course, earned Laird a return trip to Augusta, where McIlroy has had one eye all week.

After all, there were myriad reasons why McIlroy could have stayed home this week, why this last-minute decision was ill-conceived. Pick your favorite.

Harsh winds could wreck his under-construction swing.

Last year’s second-hardest Tour course could bludgeon his already-wavering confidence.

Getting into contention could fatigue him before the most exacting mental examination of the season.

Instead, McIlroy banked on the idea that competitive golf would supersede intensive practice. He was right – the Valero offered McIlroy a Masters preparation like no other.

“It doesn’t take long, just to turn it around and you’re off,” he said. “I guess I was more hopeful than expecting going into the last couple of tournaments. I think I know now where my game is at, and I’m happy with it. I’m really looking forward to next week.”

This wasn’t a week to work on technique. It’s why his swing coach, Michael Bannon, was home in South Florida with his family. It’s why his putting guru, Dave Stockton, checked in via text.

No, this was a week to get out on the course and play, to score, to put a card in his hand, hit the necessary shots, and see how he stacked up. Boarding the 6 p.m. flight without the winner’s cowboy boots in tow didn’t sour his outlook.

“The plan was to get myself tournament sharp, and I was able to do that,” he said. “It was a bonus that I got into contention and had a chance to win. I can’t really be too disappointed.” 

It had been five months since McIlroy played like the world No. 2. What a majestic sight. On the par-5 finishing hole, and with the final result already determined, McIlroy pumped a 349-yard drive to set up a closing birdie. That shot – long, high and with a baby draw – will be his biggest advantage next week, with his brimming confidence a close second.

Overall, he ranked second in driving distance this week. He tied for first in greens hit, and he tied for 16th in approach distance, and he was 33rd in strokes gained-putting. All-around improvement.

Even driving accuracy, his worst statistic, was misleading. After finding 54 percent (30 of 56) of these fairways, lined with rocks and cactuses, then the tee shots at Augusta will seem like he’s letting it rip on a football field. Granted, a perfectly manicured one.

Sure, McIlroy’s game still was dogged by a few uncharacteristic mistakes.

On Thursday, he made three consecutive bogeys, each with a wedge in hand, to derail a good round.

On Saturday, he didn’t make a putt longer than 10 feet.

And on Sunday – when he began the final round four shots behind but quickly reduced the deficit – he will lament the birdie misses on Nos. 6 and 7, or the hooked drive on 10, or the misfired wedge on 17, when he needed to stuff it close and apply pressure. 

But amid all this pedantry, let’s not forget: McIlroy lost only to a 63.

“I don’t think I have any complaints out there,” he said. “I just got beaten by the better guy on the day. … I didn’t quite get the win, but everything that I wanted to accomplish this week, I accomplished. I feel really good going into next week.”

At 23, he already has won majors both resting the week before (2011 U.S. Open) and playing his way into form ('12 PGA). If this portends Masters greatness, well, a more definitive answer will come in a week.

For now, we know that he finished second in a South Texas tournament that attracted 11 of the world’s top 50 players; an event with swirling winds and a quirky course; a final round in which the world No. 2 was clipped only by a slumping player who needed just 22 putts.

Do you believe again?

Because Rory McIlroy certainly does.

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

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There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

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“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”