PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy unsheathed his 3-wood, stepped behind the ball and contemplated how he was going to dissect his final hole of the day. Like always, he stepped up to bat with a club twirl, danced in place until comfortable, gave three quick peeks at his target some 300 yards away, and uncorked the deceptively powerful swing that is the envy of teaching professionals everywhere. The ball had barely begun its ascent by the time he bent down to snatch the tee. Over and over he pounded his tee ball Friday at PGA National’s Champion Course. He blasted it over bunkers. He cut off corners of doglegs. He blew it past his fellow playing competitors, including world No. 2 Adam Scott. Finding the fairway makes the game easier for everyone, from major champions to weekend duffers. But for McIlroy, it’s different. He doesn’t need to lead the Tour in driving accuracy or center-cut every fairway. More important is how he feels over a tee shot, a confidence that then trickles down into every aspect of his game. Afterward, he confirmed what everyone at the Honda Classic already knew: “I’m confident,” he said. “I’m playing well.” Honda Classic: Articles, videos and photos After a rocky start to his second round, McIlroy made six birdies in his last 12 holes for a 4-under 66 and the halfway lead at the Honda. At 11-under 129, he is already just one shot off his winning total from 2012, when he held off Tiger Woods and reached world No. 1 for the first time. That was the first victory in a five-win campaign that cemented his status as the heir apparent to Woods and led to a mega-millions deal with Nike. That guy is looking more and more familiar. “A coach can tell you the perfect way to swing a golf club,” McIlroy said, “but once that little light bulb in your head comes on where you start to get it as well, you can start to own your own swing.” That light bulb began to flicker on during the Asian swing last fall, when he gushed about finally finding the right driver-and-ball combination with Nike. Since then, he has finished in the top 11 in seven of his last eight stroke-play events, including a drought-busting victory at the Australian Open in December. Confidence can be fleeting, even for the world’s best. Last year McIlroy could summon a few spectacular shots, even a dazzling round or two, but the peaks and valleys in his results damaged his belief. Now, he says, “I’m happy with where my swing is, and even if I do hit a loose shot, I can get over it much quicker and much easier because I have the confidence in what I’m doing.” It’s why he didn’t get flustered early in his second round, when he made two bogeys in his first three holes. Watching McIlroy there was a here-we-go again quality to his start – after all, he has begun three of his last five stroke-play events with 65 or better, then failed to finish inside the top 5. But on Friday he regained control with birdies on 16 and 18, then roared ahead with birdies on 3, 4, 5 and 7, the latter two after holing 25-footers. No panic. A day earlier, he was talking swing changes with Billy Horschel, with whom he hadn’t played since a practice round at last year’s U.S. Open. As they walked down the 15th hole, McIlroy demonstrated the various changes in his action – how last year, he had to reroute his downswing because he started it too far outside, and how, to compensate, he then tucked it too far inside and got across the line. He owns that swing now, to the point that he can express where it is now and eight months ago. “He’s swinging better,” Horschel said. “I’m not a swing guru or anything like that, but I know when someone is swinging well what it looks like. He just didn’t look like he was swinging well last year.” And he seems to have figured it out now, yes? “(Expletive), you guys saw enough of it the last two days,” Horschel said, laughing. “The guy is swinging very free. He hit a lot of good shots, made a lot of good putts, looked comfortable and confident out there over the ball. … He’s always been a pretty good putter and he’s just confident now with his swing. Now, all he’s focusing on is playing golf.” Indeed, McIlroy said this is the most dialed in he has felt since the 2012 FedEx Cup playoffs, when he won two events on his way to earning Player of the Year honors. “That’s when it was automatic,” he said. Both then and now, his performance is predicated on how well he hits the tee ball. Consider this: McIlroy had 15 top-5 finishes worldwide in 2012. Only twice in those events did he finish outside the top five in driving distance. He leads here at the halfway point. No surprise, he is currently ranked third in driving. It helps, too, that at last week’s Match Play he had a productive session with putting coach Dave Stockton, whom he hadn’t seen since Woods’ event in December. Occasionally his right hand drifts too far underneath the putter grip. With a slight change, his putter now chases down the line and stays lower to the ground. Through two rounds here, he has needed only 49 putts and leads the strokes gained-putting category. “It’s obviously going in the right direction,” he said. So is the rest of his game. Master Rory believes again.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Justin Leonard wasted no time in getting his round started Thursday at The Players Championship. Leonard holed his approach shot for an eagle on the first hole, a shot that propelled the veteran to a 4-under 68 in the opening round. He took dead aim with an 8-iron from 147 yards and found his target, holing the shot on the fly and damaging the cup in the process. “Fun way to start the day,” Leonard said. “It made some noise, so we knew it hit the pin at some point, but didn’t know until we got up there that it had just blown the front of the hole out.” The Players Championship: Articles, videos and photos Leonard won at TPC Sawgrass in 1998 and has made the cut each of the last five years on the Stadium Course. The 41-year-old explained that he enjoys the annual trip to the Stadium Course, where his disadvantage off the tee can often be mitigated. “I feel like this golf course doesn’t suit any particular style of play,” he said. “There’s some holes where length is an advantage, and there are some holes where it’s not as much of an advantage. “I feel like I’m kind of on more level ground with a lot of guys here than I am at some other places.”
The timing was superb. So good, in fact, that it wasn’t a fair fight. Television in the late 1950s was in the midst of a phenomenal growth spurt. Only an estimated 9 percent of U.S. households had TV sets at the beginning of the decade. By 1958, the figure was almost 85 percent. Televised golf was expanding as well. From the modest beginnings of a single-station broadcast of parts of the 1947 U.S. Open and the first nationally televised tournament, the 1953 Tam O’Shanter World Championship, by 1958 televised golf included the Masters (only holes 15-18), U.S. Open (only the final day) and PGA Championship (for the first time). What was missing, however, was a superstar, someone who could appeal to the masses, someone everyone could adore. The careers of the two winningest players of the postwar era, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, were winding down. And though both men were supremely talented, they weren’t especially charismatic. Nor did anyone else in men’s professional golf have the right combination of accomplishment and – let’s be honest – sex appeal. Until, at that precise time, along came a dashing 20-something who was infinitely cooler than the coolest person you know. Arnold Palmer hitched up his pants before every swat, flicked away the cigarette that had been dangling from his lips and swung for the fences with a violent, corkscrew-type swing. He backed up his style with substance, too, collecting all seven of his major victories in a six-year span from 1958-64. Golf Central Arnie: A collection of Palmer stories BY Golf Channel Digital — September 10, 2014 at 6:00 AM From the ‘Arnie’ documentary, a series of stories looking at the legendary life of Arnold Palmer, both on and off the golf course. Simply, Arnold Palmer and television made an unbeatable pair. Everything about Palmer was irresistible to television cameras. Television cameras made Palmer larger than life. He quickly became everybody’s hero. “Television was great for golf and Arnold, and Arnold was great for television. It worked both ways,” Jack Nicklaus said. “Arnold was flamboyant and exciting, fun to watch. People gravitated to him because he played these great recovery shots and that’s what people related to.” “They were made for each other,” legendary sportscaster Jack Whitaker said. “Arnold would have been good anyway without television, but I think the combination – his personality and television – was a marvelous cocktail.” The ingredients of that cocktail first were concocted in 1958 when Palmer dramatically won his first major championship at the Masters. He made eagle on the par-5 13th hole on the way to a one-shot victory. Palmer’s charm and presence were on display for a national audience that Sunday at Augusta National as the Masters was televised for only the third time. On that splendid Georgia day amongst the blooming azaleas Arnie’s Army was born. “I was watching just like the rest of America, watching the Masters as a kid and obviously he was winning,” Ben Crenshaw recalls. “His fashion, the way he won and the way that he would play, it seemed like everything got caught up in his wake when he played.” Two years later the legend grew exponentially. Having already birdied the final two holes to win the 1960 Masters by a shot, Palmer came from seven shots behind in the final round to shoot 65 and win his first U.S. Open. Angered by a reporter friend’s comment before the final round that he had no chance to win, a steaming Palmer drove the green on the par-4 opening hole for an easy two-putt birdie, then chipped in for birdie on the second. In all he birdied the first four holes and six of the first seven. That same year Palmer – on the basis of a handshake deal – agreed to be represented by friend Mark McCormack’s International Management Group, which would quickly become sport’s first super agency. McCormack sought to capitalize on his client’s good looks, modest background, affability and golfing prowess. The plan from the start was to turn Palmer’s total package into a global brand. In two years Palmer’s endorsement earnings skyrocketed from $6,000 per year to $500,000. Interest in golf, particularly on TV, towered too. “If it wasn’t for Arnold, the way he played the game and how he caught the imagination of the public, it would’ve taken the game many more years to have grown and gain the recognition that it gained under Arnold’s achievements,” Billy Casper said. The complete list of those achievements is too vast to recount, and you likely already know the most significant accolades anyway. Just know that as Palmer’s resume continued to spike, so, too, did interest in the game. “He was a blue-collar type golfer,” Jack Nicklaus said. “He won, but he was a good leader and a good champion and a good role model for the game. Had it been another guy coming along and wasn’t a good role model or didn’t handle himself well, I think that would have hurt the game.” The King’s immense popularity for the first four decades of his career (1950s-80s) is a large reason why Golf Channel was launched nearly 20 years ago. Entrepreneur Joe Gibbs first hatched the idea of a 24-hour golf network in the early 1990s and shared it with Palmer. Gibbs needed name recognition and instant credibility. He persuaded Palmer to buy into his idea and the duo secured $80 million in financing over the next couple of years. On Jan. 17, 1995, Palmer made the ceremonial flip of the switch to launch the network that now is available in more than 82 million homes. “Gentlemen, if I hadn’t tried to hit it through the trees a few times in my life, none of us would be here,” Gibbs recalls Palmer saying at the meeting where Palmer was finally convinced that Golf Channel was something that could be sustainable. “After that, he was committed.” Said Palmer: “I never thought I would sit and watch a golf program every day, day in and day out as I do now. “A lot of people thought, ‘Well, that might not work’, but it has worked so well. To see what has happened here is certainly one of the great thrills of my life.” Palmer has had many great thrills in his 85 years but has provided many more to those who have seen him both on the tube and in person. In both forms, Palmer has always moved the needle. “I feel we were very fortunate to have the right guy come along at the right time,” Dow Finsterwald said. And extremely fortunate that Palmer became best friends with television all those years ago.
INCHEON, South Korea – Kyu Jung Baek of South Korea won a three-way playoff Sunday to claim the LPGA’s KEB-HanaBank Championship. Baek, making the first LPGA start of her career, shot a final-round 67 to finish tied at 10-under 278 with Brittany Lincicome of the United States and compatriot In Gee Chun, then birdied the first playoff hole on the Ocean Course at the Sky72 Golf Club to take the title. In the playoff, Lincicome and Baek hit third shots to four feet on the par-5 18th. Lincicome missed her birdie putt while Baek calmly made hers for the win. Chun’s hopes for the title were dashed when her approach shot went into the greenside water. ”Even before the playoff, I was in a similar situation for a similar shot with a similar break. When I played the KLPGA Championship,” Baek said. ”I focused and was aggressive.” The 19-year old Baek has three victories this year on the Korean tour. She became the fourth teenager to win on the LPGA Tour this season joining Lexi Thompson, Lydia Ko and Hyo Joo Kim. Baek started the day with a share of the lead but fell back after playing the first 10 holes even-par. She rattled off five-consecutive birdies on Nos. 11-15 to get her back in the share of the lead. ”So going into the final nine, my goal was to come into the top 5 and so I really concentrated on every hole and I started making birdies,” said Baek. ”It all started to kind of work for me from then on.” No. 2-ranked Inbee Park of South Korea shot a 67 to finish one stroke behind the leaders. U.S. Women’s Open champion Michelle Wie finished two strokes back after a 67 that included three birdies and an eagle on the par-5 No. 5. Wie was playing in her first tournament since withdrawing during the first round of the Evian Championship in September after reinjuring a stress fracture in her right hand. Suzanne Pettersen of Norway, who was bidding for a third title here after winning the tournament in 2007 and 2012, shot a 71 to finish tied for 12th at 5-under 283. Defending champion Amy Yang of South Korea struggled with a 76 that left her tied for 46th place.
TAIPEI, Taiwan – Inbee Park shot a 10-under 62 on Friday at Miramar to take a three-stroke lead in the LPGA Taiwan Championship, her first event since regaining the No. 1 spot in the world Monday. ”Everything was working really good out there today,” Park said. ”I probably didn’t hit as close as yesterday, but I holed a lot of putts today. And this season, I’ve been struggling with my putter. This week has been totally different to what I’ve been putting.” The South Korean star played the first eight holes in 6 under, holing out from 82 yards for eagle on the par-4 eighth and making five birdies and a bogey. She birdied four of the first six holes on the back nine and closed with three pars. At 18-under 126, she matched the lowest 36-hole score in relation to par in LPGA history. The 10-under round matched the best to par on the tour this season. ”I’m doing really well on the greens this week and obviously two days without the wind here in Taiwan is really unusual,” Park said. ”I thought I should take advantage of that for two days and I feel like I did that.” She was thinking about shooting 59. ”Yeah, definitely thought it was possible going into 13, 14, because coming down the stretch, I thought it was a lot of birdie holes,” Park said. ”Especially the last, it’s a par 5. Yeah, I definitely had that in my mind. I had a score this year, 61, which was my best round and I really wanted to beat that one. But just came one short.” Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship full-field scores Park won the LPGA Championship in August for her second victory of the year and fifth major title. Last year, she swept the first three majors and won six times. China’s Shanshan Feng was second after a 65. South Korea’s Mirim Lee also shot a 62 to join third-ranked Lydia Ko, Azahara Munoz and Line Vedel at 10 under. Lee won the Reignwood LPGA Classic on Oct. 5 in China for her second victory of the year. ”My irons were very good, so I had a lot of chances,” Lee said. Ko had six straight birdies on Nos. 3-8 in a 65. The 17-year-old New Zealander won the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters in December at Miramar. ”It’s a course where you can shoot some low scores,” Ko said. ”I haven’t actually seen the course where there’s hardly any wind. So it’s kind of different. I kind of feel like, ‘Man, am I playing the same course?”’ Munoz, from Spain, had a 66. Vedel, from Denmark, shot 68. Second-ranked Stacy Lewis was 9 under after a 68. Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, the winner the last two years at Sunrise, was 7 under after a 71. Michelle Wie followed her opening 68 with a 70 to reach 6 under. Danielle Kang made her second hole-in-one in eight days, acing the 158-yard 17th hole with a 7-iron. She won an Audi A6 T2.0. ”I was actually thinking about a hole-in-one, because I’ve been touching that car,” Kang said. ”I really wanted the car. … It hit the fringe, like the collar, and it just kicked straight in and just rolled, tracked all the way into the hole.” Last week in the first round of the Blue Bay LPGA in China, the 22-year-old American had a hole-in-one with an 8-iron on the 155-yard 17th hole to win a Buick LaCrosse. ”Everyone was saying, ”Are you kidding me? Again? Another car?” Kang said. Kang has three aces in LPGA play this season to tie the record set by Tracy Kerdyk in 1991 and matched by Charlotta Sorenstam in 2002. Kang’s other hole-in-one came in the Lotte Championship in April in Hawaii. She also had one this year in a non-competitive round and has eight aces in her life. Kang finished with a 4-under 68 to reach 4 under. Taiwan’s Yani Tseng, the winner of the inaugural event in 2011, was 1 under after a 71. She won the last of her 15 LPGA titles in March 2012.
SAN ANTONIO – Jimmy Walker enjoyed a neighborly stroll at TPC San Antonio after a 35-minute drive from his suburban home. Walker shot a 5-under 67 on Friday in the Texas Open to take a one-stroke lead in his hometown event. He won the Sony Open in Hawaii in January after winning three times last season. ”It’s nice to have friends and family here,” Walker said. ”Good vibes and good mojo, and I believe in all that stuff. Positive energy is good.” Walker overtook first-round leader Charley Hoffman with three straight birdies late in his round. Hoffman, 8 under at the turn, uncharacteristically let a good round get away on the Oaks Course with three bogeys on his second nine. He finished with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Aaron Baddeley. Hoffman has two top-three finishes in his previous four appearances at the Texas Open. Baddeley had a 71. ”I’ll keep drawing on my experience here, and I think you can get this golf course,” said Hoffman, who led by two entering the day. Valero Texas Open: Articles, videos and photos Kevin Na, who infamously took 16 strokes on a par 4 in the event four years ago, had a 68 to join Texan Jordan Spieth at 4 under. The 21-year Spieth, coming off a playoff victory two weeks ago at Innisbrook, followed his opening 71 with a 69. The gusts near 40 mph that blew Thursday morning continued to subside, though play started Friday with temperatures in the 40s. ”But it wasn’t windy, so that was nice,” Walker said. The improved conditions packed the leaderboard with nine players within four strokes of Walker. That included Phil Mickelson, continuing to cram for the Masters less than two weeks off, at 2 under after a second-round 72. He was tied for sixth. ”It was a good first two days,” said Mickelson, who has a best finish this season of 17th at the Honda Classic. ”I putted well and hit some good iron shots, but I’ll have to work on the driving tomorrow. I played Augusta a few days before I came here and I was driving it great. I haven’t hit it the way I felt I have been hitting it.” FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel (70), Zach Johnson (71), Chris Kirk (71) and 2011 winner Brendan Steele (68) also were 2 under. Johnson felt a jarring sensation in his right ring finger when he hit a rock while swinging from the native area to the right of the 12th fairway. He continued and expects to play this weekend. Francisco Molinari, the former European Ryder Cup player, withdrew before the round because of a wrist injury he said happened while shooting 81 in the wind Thursday. Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson managed to survive for the weekend as the cut dropped a stroke in the afternoon to 6 over. Both made it on the number, and Furyk kept a streak of consecutive cuts made, now at 33. Steve Stricker, not playing this week, has the best active streak at 35. Martin Kaymer wasn’t close. After shooting his PGA Tour-worst 82 on Thursday, he had an 80 on Friday. The U.S. Open champion told officials in Houston he has changed his plans not to play next week and has committed to the Shell Houston Open to get ready for the Masters. Marc Warren and Harris English made the cut in their bids to earn Masters spots by getting into the top 50 in the world. Warren is No. 52, and his 4-over total had him three shots out of a top-20 finish that could push him to Augusta. English, 53rd, needs something in the top 10, and he was five shots from that at 3 over. Walker jumped to the lead with a hot putter. Combining his three birdies from his 15th, 16th and 17th holes, Walker made almost 40 feet worth of putts. ”I didn’t make anything, then finally got one to go,” Walker said. ”That was a nice way to finish.” Mickelson got it to 4 under after hitting to 3 feet on the 174-yard third hole – his 12th of the day – and chipping in on No. 4. But he had a double bogey two holes later with a tee shot that put him thick in the trees to the left on the par 4, followed by a shot out of the woods across the fairway. He was still 54 yards away, and he left that approach short of the green and couldn’t get up-and-down to save bogey.
It’s raining PGA Tour cards in Ponte Vedra Beach (!), the Presidents Cup is upon us (!), and Anthony Kim speaks (!) in this week’s super exciting edition of Monday Scramble. He’s alive! He’s alive! He’s aliiiive! Anthony Kim spoke to the Associated Press in a story released early Tuesday morning. In it, Kim said he was suffering through multiple injuries over the years and was going to “step away from the game for a little while” to rehab his body. Step away? From what? So Kim is now going to really, truly, honestly not play professional golf? Yes. Triple stamp, no errasies. Kim is a fascinating figure because he dropped off the radar and left the public wondering why. But, more so, it has to do with his demeanor and perception. Any number of three-time Tour winners could go MIA and we wouldn’t stop setting our fantasy football lineups to notice. But Kim was young, brash and he partied. He sported long hair and big belt buckles (scandalous!). Add in reports of multiple tattoos with occasional rumors and you have a guy who, in the golf world, is ripe for celeb-type gossip and intrigue. Let’s hope he plays on Tour again, and doesn’t step away from stepping away from stepping away. The Tour is deep with young talent, 20-somethings who are gifted, marketable and personalbe. But there’s still an element of flavor missing. An extra does of spice to what Patrick Reed offers. Otherwise we live in a golf world where Rickie Fowler is considered “extreme.” Sigh. 1. Jordan Spieth was named Player of the Year on Friday. That’s what a 1-1-4-2 finish in majors, along with three other Tour wins and a FedEx Cup title will get you. That and $22 million. Commissioner Tim Finchem refuses to make voting results public. It’s hard to fathom this wasn’t unanimous, but, if it wasn’t, that shows why such Skull-and-Bones secrecy is detrimental. The more you hold people accountable, the closer you get to honest results. 2. The Tour’s Rookie of the Year was – one can only imagine without actual percentages to gauge – a much closer contest. Daniel Berger prevailed over Justin Thomas, Nick Taylor and Tony Finau. It seems pretty clear-cut: If you can make the Tour Championship, you can win ROY. But what really matters is where Berger goes from here. The last seven Rookie of the Year winners have combined for 10 Tour victories since their freshman honor, and eight of those have come from two players: Speith and Fowler. Berger is also the first player since Fowler in 2010 to win ROY without winning a Tour event. 3. Jim Furyk made it official on Friday when he announced that a lingering wrist injury would keep him out of the Presidents Cup. Furyk, who has a 20-10-3 record in seven Presidents Cup appearances, will serve as an assistant captain to Jay Haas. J.B. Holmes was selected to replace him. This is one of those things where you could debate the effect that this will have on the U.S. team … but then you remember it’s the Presidents Cup and it probably won’t affect the outcome. 4. Emiliano Grillo captured the Web.com Tour Championship and was one of 25 players to earn PGA Tour cards through the finals series. Added to the 25 players who were already in based on their seasonal earnings and that’s 50 new/returning members to the Big League. Chez Reavie leads the way, with Rob Oppenheim claiming the final spot by $101 over Eric Axley. Check out Will Gray’s column for more on Oppenheim and the final-day drama. 5. Oppenheim was one of five players to crack the finals’ top 25 in the final event, along with Derek Fathauer, Tyrone Van Aswegen, Robert Garrigus and Thomas Aiken. Garrigus got it done by making an 11-foot par putt on his final hole. The five who dropped out: Axley, Ryan Spears, Steve Allan, Justin Hicks and Jhonattan Vegas. Don’t worry, boys, there’s always Q-School. Oh, wait. No there’s not. 6. Suzann Pettersen gave a one-on-one interview to Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte this past week, in which she again apologized for her actions at the Solheim Cup. GolfChannel.com senior writer Randall Mell, however, wanted more answers. Pettersen certainly deserves her share of blame over what transpired on the 17th hole that Saturday in Germany, but not to be forgotten: Alison Lee picked up her ball when her putt was not conceded. She kick-started the controversy with her carelessness. Regardless of what she thought she heard or maybe what she assumed, Lee deserves a heap of blame placed on her shoulders. 7. SMU’s men’s golf team received a post-season ban and reduction of scholarships after the NCAA found multiple violations involving recruiting and unethical conduct under former head coach Josh Gregory. The penalty means senior Bryson DeChambeau will not be able to defend his individual national championship title. Obviously, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, but NCAA “justice” doesn’t care who suffers as long as someone pays the price. Gregory, who cannot coach in college until 2019, told GolfChannel.com that he feels “terrible for the kids” and that he has “no desire” to work with the NCAA again. That’s rich. 8. Last Wednesday marked the one-year-out-iversary of the 2016 Ryder Cup. Opposing captains Davis Love III and Darren Clarke were showcased and interviewed at Hazeltine National. Love spoke about possibly being a playing captain and leading a team that might not include Woods or Phil Mickelson. Clarke discussed the difficulties in being captain and how he hopes to extend Europe’s dominance. And, of course, both men already view themselves as underdogs. 9. Thunderbear HO! Thojborn Olesen captured his third career European Tour victory by winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Olesen was a chic name after a pair of top-10s in the Open Championship and Masters in 2012 and ’13, respectively. But he simmered down and also dealt with a hand injury that sidelined him for three months this season. He now has a signature win to his credit, having won an event contested over three high profile venues: the Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. Lion-O would be proud. 10. Americans acquitted themselves well in Scotland at the Dunhill Links. Brooks Koepka and Chris Stroud finished co-runners-up, while 2009 Open champion Stewart Cink tied for ninth. There’s really not much else to add. We’re filling space here, people. Did you hear the one about Tiger Woods being a Ryder Cup assistant in 2016? Yeah, Judge, that’s a doozy. No, it’s not a joke. Davis Love said he’d love to have him if he doesn’t make the team and Notah Begay said he’d be a great fit. Definite possibility. Wait, is that where we are in Tiger’s career? How did we get here so fast? I wasn’t ready for this. Uh-oh … • Ever see “The Ring”? The movie where you watch a video and seven days later an evil creature emerges from your TV screen to get you. If you haven’t seen the video below of Ernie Els from Thursday at the Alfred Dunhill Links, be forewarned. And if you have, beware. The yips might be coming to getcha. • Bubba Watson appeared with former college coach Chris Haack on SEC Network’s Saturday pregame in Athens, Ga., where Georgia was taking on Alabama. Watson took a shot at Tebow, which one should never do, even in jest. Tebow, who had some good moments against the Bulldogs, picked ‘Bama to win. ‘Bama throttled Georgia. • Lexi Thompson posted a pair of hole-in-one accomplishments, on back-to-back days, to social media. Different holes, different clubs, different shoes, same course. • Jin Cheng, 17 from China, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship after the final round was cancelled because of heavy rain and high winds. Hello, Augusta! • Fred Couples turned 56 on Saturday. He celebrated by avoiding human contact and not knowing it was his birthday.
TROON, Scotland – By comparison, this week’s Open promises to deliver a measure of competitive clarity to a season defined by distractions and dissension. After weeks of waiting, the Olympic torch has been doused, rather than lit, by those who chose not to make the trip to Rio. The surreal spectacle of last month’s U.S. Open has quietly faded into the background. And the wildly premature declarations of a Big 3 have at least been tempered by parity and a party crasher. If Jason Day is the byproduct of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy having a baby, as the Australian joked last year, Dustin Johnson has evolved into a freakish hybrid of all three in recent weeks. Johnson overcame the demons of past major misses at Oakmont last month, with or without a one-stroke penalty, and added a World Golf Championship to his resume in his follow-up start. That Johnson seems just as adept on the links of Scotland as he is on the fields of Oakmont only makes his status as a potential game-changer that much more imposing. Last year at St. Andrews, Spieth was paired with Johnson for two deflating days and watched as DJ took a one-stroke lead after opening with rounds of 65-69. “I played with Dustin the first two rounds and thought, ‘Man, there’s nobody beating him this week,’” Spieth said. “He was just absolutely tearing it up.” Imagine what the bomber can do now, without the weight of so many near-misses heavy across his broad shoulders. But as impressive as Johnson’s run has been, the other members of golf’s foursome de jour could just as easily be considered the favorite, including McIlory, the 2014 champ who was dubbed the Ringo Starr of the game’s Fab Four by some in the U.K. media this week. “Those guys are having a great run at the minute,” McIlroy said. “I’m pretty confident that if I go out and play my best golf, I’m going to win more times than not. I’ve got four major championships, and I’d love to add to that tally, just as those guys would love to add to their one or two majors that they have and just keep going.” The Open: Full-field tee times | Photo gallery Full coverage from the 145th Open Lost in the Dustin hype are Day’s three victories this season, including his triumph at The Players. Day’s seven-win, year-long run was sparked last year at St. Andrews when his birdie bid to join the impending playoff came up inches short. He’s been a different player ever since, and his close call last year would suggest the Australian has found an answer to his links questions. “It was just a strange feeling that I felt so calm about things, and no matter what happened, it was going to be OK. I think subconsciously I just finally got over the hurdle that, it’s your time to start winning and play well,” Day said when asked to describe last year’s loss at St. Andrews. Spieth, separately, rebounded from a spring swoon with his second victory of the season at Colonial. He finally seems to have worked his way through a two-way miss that cost him a second green jacket in April. And even McIlroy, who has now played five majors since last he overpowered a major field, has flashed signs of his familiar form, with a victory at the Irish Open in May and top-5 showings at The Memorial and French Open. For those who have waited patiently, the stars seem to have properly aligned for the new wave of young … well, stars. This Open appears to have providence after weeks of chatter about Olympic no-shows and condensed schedules. And while the Big 4 will dominate the dialogue, Royal Troon’s penchant for identifying otherwise obscure champions – Todd Hamilton, for example – makes it unwise to dismiss the other 152 players in the field. When Justin Leonard won The Open in 1997, he’d been on the PGA Tour for just three years. He wasn’t exactly a household name. The same could certainly be said for the aformentioned Hamilton. Although the club’s pedigree includes plenty of heavy-hitting champions, most notably Tom Watson in 1982 and Arnold Palmer in ’62, the strength of Royal Troon is in its competitive simplicity. “I don’t think it’s a bomber’s course, as such. I think our motto here, “tam arte quam marte,” which [in Latin] means ‘as much with skill as by strength,’” said Colin Montgomerie, who grew up playing Troon. “This course demands both, strength and skill.” Royal Troon is widely considered the Open’s fairest test, and perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay to the layout is that it’s adept as a venue, not as a talking point. Royal Troon will stand as a stage and not a distraction, unlike some other major championship venues. It also seems certain there will be no rules snafus or blunders like those that marred last month’s U.S. Open or the 2010 PGA Championship. “The referees that we have here are highly experienced referees. A lot of them work on the major tours and the major amateur events all year around,” said Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the R&A. “Our feeling is that the standard of the refereeing that will be out there this weekend is second to none.” In other words, there will be no rules entanglements, no golf course set up issues, no distractions – just a sense of order that only the chaos of a Scottish summer can cause.
SAN DIEGO – Mired in a miserable slump, Hunter Mahan preaches the “process.” He said it nine times during a seven-minute interview Friday at Torrey Pines. Some processes take longer than others, which is why Mahan, who once climbed as high as No. 4 in the world, has missed 12 of his last 13 cuts and plummeted all the way to No. 451. It’s a stunning decline for a player who ascended from top junior to elite college player to standout Tour performer with ease. “Since I was 12 years old, my career, the way I’ve played has always gone up,” he said. “I’ve had very little decline in my game. This is different. This is a new situation I feel myself in. I have to get back to a process every shot and how I’m going to do things.” That process included a few shakeups. Off the course, Mahan and wife Kandi have three children under the age of 4. On the course, Mahan parted ways with longtime caddie John Wood. And he changed swing coaches, transitioning last fall from Sean Foley to Chris O’Connell, who also teaches Matt Kuchar. Mahan credited O’Connell with giving him a “system and program” for how to approach each day, each tournament, each year. Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos The returns have been slow. Entering this week’s Farmers Insurance Open, Mahan had missed seven consecutive cuts. Only a tie for 70th at the Travelers snapped a prior run of five missed cuts in a row. He didn’t finish better than 43rd all year. A winner most recently at the 2014 Barclays, Mahan’s 2015 season ended a streak of at least $2.9 million in earnings. (He has banked nearly $30 million in his career.) This year, he isn’t eligible for any of the four majors. Mahan says he can light it up in practice at home, going weeks without shooting over par. But his iron play – what used to be a strength – has let him down in recent years. He has ranked outside the top 140 in strokes gained-approach to the green each of the past three years. “You can hit balls all you want,” he said, “but unless you’re in competition, it’s a completely different animal.” Mahan finally saw glimmers of hope last week, breaking par all three rounds in the CareerBuilder Challenge. This week at Torrey Pines, he has shot rounds of 71-70, sitting just five shots off the lead, his best position in more than a year. “I’m kind of learning what pressure feels like and playing a good round and wanting to finish it off right,” he said. “It was good to put all that practice into use.”
The cards have been so thoroughly reshuffled in this game. Twenty years ago, the average age of the winners on the West Coast swing – including a 21-year-old by the name of Tiger Woods – was 35. Ten years ago, it was 33. The oldest winner since the start of this calendar year is Dustin Johnson at 32, and the average age of the winners of the first seven events in 2017 is 25. One of them, Justin Thomas, at the tender age of 23 shot the lowest 72-hole score in the history of the PGA Tour. Youngsters aren’t forcing open the gate – they’ve settled in and have their feet up on the coffee table, remote in hand. With few exceptions, and those generally turning out to be amongst the best players of all time, men’s professional golf has historically been more about experience than youth. A player would come onto the Tour with all the talent in the world, and if he wasn’t gobbled up by the dragons of expectation, he would invariably wrong-foot himself and some squint-eyed veteran would shove all that talent and expectation down his throat. Jack Nicklaus said that “success [in professional golf] depends almost entirely on how effectively you learn to manage the game’s two ultimate adversaries: the course and yourself.” Most players don’t have the maturity to handle the pressures, either of expectation or intimidation, early on in professional golf and when it comes to the Tour courses, veterans knew them, newcomers didn’t. Young players were at a tremendous disadvantage. That’s how would-be stars became journeymen and journeymen became insurance salesmen. More recently, however, players are living up to the expectations that precede them to the Tour. In terms of intimidation, there is a certain obliviousness on the part of young professional golfers today that wasn’t present in their predecessors. And course knowledge appears to be about as important as who goes first in Tic-Tac-Toe. Why is this happening? With regard to course knowledge, the advent of 24/7 golf coverage and detailed topography maps have reduced the necessity of having played a course for years to almost nil. Besides that, scads of young players today can hit it past the trouble and leave themselves short irons, allowing them to get at pins they wouldn’t have been able to decades ago. This mitigates the necessity of strategy, and, it follows, experience. An advantage once enjoyed by just a few players every generation is now enjoyed by all but a few. Why they are all hitting the ball so far is another story. Of course, technology has played a large part in the increased distances Tour players are flying their shots. Lighter, longer clubs that are more forgiving have given a ferocity to the swings of this generation, replacing the discretion of previous ones. Livelier, more aerodynamic balls have done their part, too. But it’s not just the equipment. All sports are becoming defined by athletes who are physiologically, almost freakishly, perfect for the unique demands of their competition. In 2014, David Epstein, author of “The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance,” explained that as financial incentives for elite athletes have skyrocketed, a form of artificial selection has taken place. “Where height is prized, athletes are getting taller; where diminutive size is prized, athletes are getting smaller and where weirdness in body type is prized, athletes are getting weirder. For example, in swimming a long torso and short legs are ideal, the torso acting like the long hull of a canoe over the water. In running, the opposite is ideal: long legs and a short torso.” Epstein says all we have to do is look at the bodies of Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer and Olympian ever, and Hicham El Guerrouj, the greatest middle-distance runner of all time, who holds the world record for the mile. Phelps is 6-foot-4 and El Guerrouj is 5-foot-9, yet they wear the same length pants. Seven inches of difference in height but because of different body types, their legs are the same length. While Tour players are certainly on average taller than they were a few decades ago, it’s not just height that is prized in golf but also the ability, like a gymnast, to contort their bodies and spring and rotate. So when one looks at the landscape of the PGA Tour compared with decades ago, it is now littered with more agile bodies, because of this “artificial selection” and the fact that players are almost universally training more intelligently. But there is a still-bigger reason for the youthful success that is happening on the PGA Tour. When these early- to mid- 20-somethings were just starting to play the game, they had as their teacher, for the better part of two decades, the greatest example of tenacity and technique in the history of the game. All they had to do was turn the TV on and there was a man who was as good with the scalpel as he was with the cleaver, as herculean in his determination as he was Euclidian. At one point going 14 of 14 with a 54-hole lead in a major, he gave these kids the highest example of athleticism and athletic stoicism. In the same way he psychologically destroyed his competition then, Tiger has psychologically armed the competition today.