Leonard slowing down, but still contending

By Will GrayNovember 12, 2015, 11:44 pm

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – He can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but sometime this spring Justin Leonard started to fall out of love with golf.

He was mired in a slump, one that would ultimately produce nine straight missed cuts. The hours of practice, the time spent on the range – the routine that helped him win 12 times, including a major – started to feel too much like work.

The more he tried to grind it out, the less satisfaction he received.

So at age 43, seven years removed from his last win, Leonard started to come to grips with his own golfing mortality.

It’s a curious crossroad for players as they age toward the Champions Tour, instilled with that same strong desire to compete but sometimes betrayed by fading ability. For Leonard, the biggest agent of change was a shift in priorities.

“I’ve just been out here 21 or 22 years, and my kids are growing up,” Leonard said after an opening 65 at the OHL Classic at Maykoba. “I get to do a lot of things but I miss a lot of things, too.”

A lifelong Texan, Leonard sat down last year with his wife and four kids and discussed relocating. The subsequent decision didn’t send the Leonards to a golfing bastion in warm weather, but instead to ski country in Aspen, Colo., where they have been since August.

OHL Classic at Mayakoba: Articles, photos and videos

The move signaled the fact that Leonard is both ready and willing to start paring down his competitive schedule.

“So many decisions I’ve made over the last 25 years have been about golf,” he said. “So when we started talking about moving, I just said, ‘Let’s just take golf out of it. Where are we going to be the happiest and most excited when we get on an airplane to go home?’”

After missing the FedEx Cup Playoffs, Leonard cashed in the second of his two, one-time career earnings exemptions. He is making his second start of the season this week in Mexico, where he finished T-6 in 2013 and now shares the early lead, but he plans to play only 12 events this season.

Leonard hopes to follow the late-career model set by Steve Stricker, and said he began talking to Stricker a year ago about how best to shape his schedule and how to make the most of his sporadic playing opportunities.

“I want to just play the tournaments that I’m excited to go play, and see what I can do,” he said. “It just feels right to me to slow down and spend more time at home, spend more time with my wife and my kids.”

Leonard’s plight is one that Jerry Kelly knows quite well. At age 48, Kelly has spent the last several years trying to balance time at home with his wife and son along with a full playing schedule on the PGA Tour.

“It’s tough. You miss an awful lot of stuff that you don’t want to miss. It makes you feel like a bad dad,” Kelly said. “It takes a support system, because it’s difficult. It doesn’t seem like much for the general public to look at it and go, ‘Oh yeah real tough, he’s playing golf for a living.’ But we are gone an awful lot, and we miss an awful lot. That pulls on the heartstrings.”

Nearly two years removed from his last top-10 finish, Leonard turned back the clock with his bogey-free opener at El Camaleon, finding his comfort zone on a course that rewards both accuracy off the tee and deft touch around the greens.

The youth movement that has taken the sport by storm in recent months is nothing new to Leonard. Following a decorated amateur career, Leonard won on the PGA Tour at age 24 and captured the 1997 Open Championship just after turning 25.

Now, though, the shoe is on the other foot: Leonard is the grizzled veteran, hoping to recapture his old form against an eager crop of rising stars.

“First I was five years older than those guys, then I was 10 or 15, and now it’s, yeah, these guys are half my age,” he said. “I think I just felt another gray hair pop in.”

Leonard is still mulling the prospect of a Champions Tour career down the line, but said he could just as easily retire well before turning 50. Amassing more than $33 million in on-course earnings across two decades can provide that sort of flexibility.

For now, though, he has a tournament to play on a course that fits his style. It’s an opportunity he plans to relish, since he’s not sure when – or if – he’ll have another shot to contend.

“Whether I’m meant to play another four or five or 10 years, or whether this is my last,” he said, “I’m perfectly OK with that.”

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McIlroy 'committed to everything ... ran out of holes'

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 7:08 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy summed it up: “I don’t really feel like it’s a defeat. I feel like it’s a good week.”

McIlroy, in search of his fifth major, tied for the lead at The Open late on Sunday at Carnoustie when he made eagle on the par-5 14th hole. An hour later, he had made five consecutive pars to close out a 1-under 70 and tie for second place with Justin Rose, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele.

That group ended two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. McIlroy thought it was realistic to squeeze one more shot out of his round, but he never though it was possible to squeeze out two.

“I committed to everything,” he said. “I hit the shots when I needed to. I made good swings on 17 and on 18. I just ran out of holes.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy hasn’t played poorly this year, but this hasn't been a year that would rank as a total success. He took the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and collected a second-place finish at the BMW PGA Championship. He had a legitimate chance to win the Masters before a terrible Sunday round, and then missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month at Shinnecock Hills.

Sunday at Carnoustie, McIlroy bogeyed two of his first five holes and quickly became an afterthought. When others faltered, McIlroy birdies Nos. 9 and 11, then eagled 14 to vault back into the picture.

“I’m happy with how I played,” he said. “I didn’t get off to a great start, but I hung in there, and I battled back.

“So I’ll look back at this week and be very encouraged about what I’ve done and the golf that I played. I feel like that will stand me in good stead for what’s coming up.”

McIlroy is scheduled to play the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks, followed by the PGA Championship and the FedExCup Playoffs.

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Edoardo, other pros congratulate Francesco on Twitter

By Grill Room TeamJuly 22, 2018, 6:54 pm

Francesco Molinari played a bogey-free weekend at Carnoustie to claim Italy's first claret jug.

His rock-solid performance in the final round earned him his share of social media plaudits.

Here's a collection of Twitter hat-tips, and we start off with Frankie's brother, Dodo.

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Woods: Fan who yelled had 'tipped back a few'

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 6:37 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods stood on the 18th tee and thought he needed birdie to have a chance to win The Open. He pulled driver out of his bag, a sign he wanted to boot the ball as far down the fairway as possible.

Woods took a mighty swat and - right in the middle of his downswing - someone yelled. Woods flinched.

Luckily his ball still found a decent spot just off the right of the fairway.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I’ve had things like that happen a lot in my career with people who just tried to time it,” Woods said Sunday at Carnoustie after shooting 71 to tie for sixth place. “They tipped back a few, and it’s late in the day.

“Unfortunately, that’s part of what we have to deal with in today’s game. People are trying to yell out things to try to be on TV or be in social media or whatever it may be. That was too close to the game of play.”

Woods hit his approach to 6 feet and missed the birdie putt. He tapped in for par to shoot even par and finish 5 under for the week, in a tie for sixth.

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Pros melt down on Twitter as they watch Tiger

By Grill Room TeamJuly 22, 2018, 6:30 pm

Tiger Woods mounted a final-round charge and, for a little while, took the outright lead at Carnoustie on Sunday.

His fellow pros were watching and tweeting like your average fans.

We compiled some of their missives below:

Woods would go on to finish in a tie for sixth at 5 under par for the week.