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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs: PGA Championship

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Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
McIlroy struggling to recapture top form ahead of PGA Championship
Aug 2, 2020 9:04 AM
 
No golfer has been unaffected by the onset of the novel COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic; however, it is difficult to argue that any player has been more negatively impacted by the disruption than Rory McIlroy. The 31-year-old arrived at TPC Sawgrass to contest the Players Championship in March as the form player in world golf. He had recorded top-5 finishes in each of his first five starts in 2020 and boasted a record of 12 top-10s, including two tournament victories, in 16 starts since missing his most recent cut at The Open Championship last July. Restored to the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings, he looked ideally placed to contend for a career Grand Slam at the Masters in April. Then, of course, the coronavirus intervened and the PGA Tour ground to a halt. The Players Championship was abandoned after just 18-holes and more than two-months would pass before McIlroy returned to the course at the Charles Schwab Challenge at the beginning June. Inevitably, the astonishing momentum he had built-up over the backend of 2019 and the opening months of 2020 had dissipated. The Northern Irishman shot a final-round 74 en route to a frustrating T32 finish on the occasion of his first start back at Colonial. He bookended strong middle-rounds of 65 and 66 with a 72 and a 70 at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town the following week, finishing tied for 41st, and, despite carding four rounds in the 60s at the Travelers Championship at TPC Southwind, he was unable to crack the top-10, finishing tied for 11th. At the Memorial Tournament a fortnight ago, he failed to sign for a single round under 70 and slumped to a T32 finish on foot of a 6-over final-round 78. #RoryMcIlroy Hitting his drive on #12 at the #wgc #tpcsouthwind #memphis in 2019 into the drink but still carding a 62 on the day #pga pic.twitter.com/BiR2szNgwr— Jorby6 (@jorby88_) July 31, 2020 Suffice to say, then, McIlroy was not performing at the peak of his powers upon arriving at TPC Southwind to contest the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational last week. This circumstance was illustrated vividly by the fact that Jon Rahm had displaced him at the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings. Devoid of a top-10 finish in six starts since returning from lockdown, the 31-year-old conceded that he would need four solid rounds at TPC Southwind to restore confidence and momentum ahead of the opening major of the season at TPC Harding Park the following week. This did not come to pass; indeed, McIlroy effectively played himself out of the tournament upon signing for a 3-over opening-round of 73. While he rallied impressively with a 66 on the Friday, a second 73 on Saturday killed that any hope he had of salvaging a top-10. When golf shutdown in the middle of March, McIlroy traded as the outstanding favourite to win the first major of the season at Augusta. Four months on, one struggles to make a case for the four-time major winner contending seriously for the Wannamaker Trophy in San Francisco. COVID-19 has not been a friend of any golfer, but McIlroy seems to have suffered from the suspension of play more than most. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Harrington and Molinari pull out of US PGA Championship
Aug 1, 2020 8:25 AM
 
As the reopening of social and economic life continues apace following the pandemic-enforced lockdowns of March-June, it is dawning slowly that there will not be any light switch moment when the virus vanishes suddenly allowing us all to return to the status-quo ante. The transition away from public health restrictions to a more recognisably liberal social order will be staggard, contingent and uneven, and some people will embrace the normalization of civic life more readily than others. Golf, of course, will be no exception to this broader societal dynamic, a circumstance illustrated vividly last week when Padraig Harrington confirmed that he will not contest this week’s US PGA Championship at the TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. It was long assumed that professional golfers, deprived of competitive action for four months between March and June, would jump at the chance to return to the PGA Tour circuit at the earliest possible opportunity. Harrington’s comments demonstrate this will not be the case for every player; professional golfers, like every other section of society, will face difficult decisions in attempting to balance the competing demands of professional, economic and personal health interests. Padraig Harrington’s home wedge practice area pic.twitter.com/SRb7rhQhSm— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) March 16, 2020 The Ryder Cup captain, who lifted the Wanamaker Trophy in 2008, wrote on his personal website: "After much deliberation, I have decided not to travel to next week's PGA Championship. "As Covid-19 currently looks to be under control in Ireland, I am taking the prudent approach by following the guidelines and reducing the risk as much as possible by staying at home. "I'm sure I'll be watching every shot on TV with great interest and hopefully I'll have many more years to play in the PGA Championship." Former Open champion Francesco Molinari is also understood to have withdrawn from the year's first major at TPC Harding Park. Molinari announced earlier this month that he and his family were moving from London to California, although he did say at the time his aim was to be back for the US PGA. Lee Westwood and Eddie Pepperell have also made the decision not to travel to San Francisco, despite the late easing of quarantine restrictions for players and essential personnel. Harrington and Molinari have been replaced in the US PGA field by Talor Gooch and Troy Merritt. Gooch finished in the top 25 at both the Workday Charity Open and the 3M Open last weekend, while Merritt finished tied 22nd at the Workday Charity Open and tied eighth at the Rocket Mortgage Classic earlier this month. The absence of two giants of European golf from TPC Harding Park demonstrates that the effects of COVID-19 will linger in professional sport long after the conclusion of the 2019/20 campaign. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Stenson winds back years with victory at Hero World Challenge
Dec 8, 2019 6:11 AM
 
Henrik Stenson has never been one to allow setbacks drag him down. A veteran of more than two decades on the PGA and European Tours, the 43-year-old has been obliged to overcome his fair share of obstacles. There was the time in 2001, when he succumbed to wholesale swing yips, a technical glitch that corroded every aspect of his physical and mental game. Things got so bad that he felt compelled to withdraw from the second-round of the Smurfit European Open that year because he was afraid he was going to hit someone. After plummeting outside of the world’s top-100, suffice to say that things got even worse before they eventually got better. “I was in a pretty dark place,” Stenson reflected of his 2001 nadir in a recent interview with Australian Golf Digest. “But I’ve shown more than once that I’m not a quitter.” Eight years later, he lost more than $8 million after being a victim in the Ponzi scheme perpetrated by financier Allen Stanford. Inevitably, perhaps, this experience exerted a profound deleterious impact on Stenson’s game, causing him to miss 17 cuts in 48 starts between 2010 and ’11, slipping outside of the world’s top-200. Almost an albatross.@HenrikStenson taps it in for eagle to take the lead at -18 late in the round. pic.twitter.com/AKb9i79L2k— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 7, 2019 Such experiences of adversity have been sufficient to end the top-level careers of many golfers; not Henrik Stenson. In 2013, the Gothenburg native won the $10m FedEx Cup prize-pot, just three weeks after Stanford was sentenced to a lengthy spell in jail. In 2016, Stenson further added a long-overdue maiden major championship title to his resume, following a sensational final-round shootout victory over Phil Mickelson at The Open at Royal Troon. Of course, Stenson’s career hasn’t quite panned-out the way he and his fans might have hoped in the months following his Open Championship success. Indeed, he arrived in the Bahamas to contest the Hero World Challenge this week winless in over two years and ranked outside the world’s top-40. However, such adversity was never likely to get the better of the Swede in the long-term; thus, when he arrived on the par-5 15th at Albany Golf Course on Sunday within a single stroke of Jon Rahm’s clubhouse lead, the tournament remained very much alive. What followed was an exhibition in clutch performance. Gripping his favoured 5-wood, Stenson drilled an approach shot from 259 yards to within inches of the hole for a tap-in eagle, going from a 1-shot deficit to a 1-shot lead with three to play. Three pars gave him a 6-under 66 and a victorythat few commentators saw coming. “The shot of the day,” Stenson reflected gleefully after collecting his trophy. “Sometimes, just keep on working hard and grinding it out,” he added. “Confidence can still be a little higher, but I’m really happy with the way I hung in there.” Clearly, the limited-field Hero World Challenge event does not rank among the top-tier of professional golf tournaments and, technically speaking, Stenson is still winless on the PGA Tour since 2017. However, confidence is a priceless and elusive entity in elite-level sport and the clutch-nature of Stenson’s victory over some of the best players in the world on Sunday provides him with solid foundations on which to build in 2020. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Matsuyama can draw positives from strong finish at CJ Cup
Oct 20, 2019 2:43 PM
 
It is a testament, ultimately, to the precipitous nature of Hideki Matsuyama’s slide away from the elite-level of the PGA Tour that his hopes of contending for the CJ Cup in South Korea last week were seldom even discussed in the build-up to the event. After all, the 27-year-old is winless on the PGA Tour since claiming his fifth such title at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August 2017, and while he impressed in finishing third at the BMW Championship during the FedEx Cup play-off series in August, that marked the occasion of his first top-three finish in seven months. Indeed, Matsuyama had managed only six top-10s in 24 starts worldwide since the beginning of 2019 and had consequently slumped from a career-high ranking of No.2 in the world down as far as No.31. Furthermore, the Ehime-native, long regarded as a major champion in waiting, barely even figured during the quick-fire run of back-to-back majors over the summer, finishing 19th at The Masters, 16th at the US PGA Championship, CUT at the US Open, and tied-35th at The Open. Put simply, Matsuyama arrived at Nine Bridges Golf Course on Jeju Island on Monday in desperate need of a strong performance to generate a semblance of momentum and positivity going into the 2019/20 PGA Tour season. What: MGM Resorts The Challenge Who: @TigerWoods + @McIlroyRory + @JDayGolf + Hideki Matsuyama Where: Chiba, Japan When: Monday, Oct. 21 (12 a.m. ET) Get your popcorn ready. https://t.co/kHeP3u5q55 — PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 20, 2019 His opening 54-holes did not inspire a great deal of confidence; bookending a 2-under second-round of 70 with 69s on Thursday and Saturday, Matsuyama teed-off for the final-round seven-strokes shy of the joint 54-hole leaders, Justin Thomas and Danny Lee. With the pressure off on Sunday, however, the five PGA Tour winner’s game caught fire. Matsuyama carded seven birdies without a bogey en route to a final-round 65 at Nine Bridges, climbing 15-places up the leaderboard to secure a 3rd-place finish, just five-strokes shy of Thomas’ winning total. In addition to hitting 13 of 14 fairways off the tee, he landed 16 greens-in-regulation and gained 1.733 strokes compared to the average of the field on the putting green. In typically modest fashion, however, the Japanese star was keen to play down the significance of his Sunday performance. "I had a lot of lucky shots," he said. "Despite posting a good score, I never sensed I was actually playing well." "I'll be aiming for a different kind of golf next time (at the Zozo Championship in Chiba)," Matsuyama said. "Although the only thing I feel at the moment is anxiety, I want to do my best." Matsuyama is sensible to seek to dampen expectations, but after two-seasons outside the winners' circle, it was thrilling to witness him recapture a semblance of his best ball-striking. With two top-three finishes to his name through his last five starts (and two further top-16s), he looks dangerously poised to break his winless drought on home soil in Chiba. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Spieth sees light at end of tunnel following T3 at Bethpage
May 22, 2019 12:54 PM
 
Cast your minds back to the weeks leading-up to the Masters Tournament last month. One could scarcely open a news site or turn on a television without being bombarded by commentators discussing Rory McIlroy’s chances of completing a career Grand Slam at Augusta. As it turned out, of course, the Northern Irishman was unable to unable to claim a maiden green jacket in Georgia,finishing in a tie for 21st; however, the intensity of the media speculation surrounding his chances reflected, ultimately, the outstanding consistency that he has exhibited through the first four months of 2019. Put simply, there was good reason to anticipate the 30-year-old getting the job done at Augusta. Contrast this with the tenor of media coveragesurrounding Jordan Spieth’s quest to complete a career Grand Slam of his own at last week’s US PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. Not even @JordanSpieth could believe it.Pleasing the crowd en route to victory.#TOURVault pic.twitter.com/4IzbKBz0eA— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) 22 May 2019 The 25-year-old travelled to New York in the midst of his worst run of form since making his major championship breakthrough at the Masters back in 2015. He had failed to register a single top-20 finish through 13 starts in 2019 and hadn’t cracked a top-10 since tying for ninth at The Open at St Andrews last summer. Indeed, Spieth has not won a PGA Tour event since claiming his third major title in dramatic fashion at the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale and had consequently tumbled as low as No.39 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Suffice to say, there were not many fans or commentators tipping the Texan to end his barren run against an elite field on one of the hardest courses in US golf. This is the context in which Spieth’stied-third finish at Bethpage Blacklast week needs to be assessed. For although he never came close to supplanting the seemingly indominable champion, Brooks Koepka at the summit of the leaderboard, he strung together four quality rounds for the first time since the turn of the year and, crucially, rediscovered a semblance of his former consistency on the putting-green. Indeed, Spieth gained 10.6 strokes on the field with his putterin New York, more than three shots better than anyone else (Luke List was second, at 7.2) and tallied an astonishingly low 394 feet, 4 inches of putts for the tournament, making it the best statistical putting week of his PGA Tour career (per Justin Ray). Not bad for a golfer mired in a slump. “This is the best I’ve felt in quite a while. I’m very happy,” said Spiethahead of this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club near Fort Worth in Texas, an event he won three years ago. “I have full belief in my process, my mentality, my selfishness and my work ethic. “I put in more hours over the last five months than I’ve ever put in my game in a five-month stretch, just trying to get to where I can be. “I don’t know if I have to change my attitude. I’ve just been waiting patiently for this work to continue to get better but it’s very positive going forward, yes. “I felt like I made progress and I feel like I can go to a course that I’ve had success at, and is a way better fit for me I think than Bethpage.” The Texan may well be on the cusp of a long-awaited revival. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy to work on short game ahead of US PGA
May 7, 2019 2:17 PM
 
In the end it was not to be for Rory McIlroy. The Northern Irishman arrived at Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte, North Carolina for the Wells Fargo Championship last week riding the crest of a wave. While he disappointed in tying for 21st on the occasion of his previous PGA Tour start at the Masters at Augusta, he prefaced that result with seven consecutive top-10 finishes, including a runners-up finish to Dustin Johnsonat the WGC-Mexico Championship in February and an emphatic single-stroke victoryaway from Jim Furyk at The Players Championship in March. Add to this the fact that McIlroy owns two victories (2010, ’15), two course-record rounds (62, 61) and six further top-10 finishes at Quail Hollow, and one can begin to understand whyhe was trading a short as 6/1 to claim his second PGA Tour victory of the season. 30 Rory moments for 30 Rory years. Happy birthday, @McIlroyRory. #LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/TZz5yCY5JH— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) 4 May 2019 The emphatic nature of his opening-round performance in Charlotte on Thursday appeared to vindicate this sense of heightened expectation as he stormed into a share of the 5-under overnight lead. And while his scoring contracted on Friday as he signed for a 1-under 70, a 3-under third-round 68 ensured that he teed-off for the final-round within two strokesof Americans, Max Homa, Joel Dahmen and Jason Dufner at the summit of the leaderboard. He consequently seemed well-placed to leap frog an average trio of front-runners in order to claim a third-career title at Hollow. This did not work out to plan.After parring each of his first six holes, the 30-year-old’s round started to go wrong at the par five seventh, where he three-putted for a momentum-crushing par. Neither did he take advantage of a good drive at the short par four 8th, followed by another three-putt at the 9th for his opening bogey of the day. 1-over for the round upon reaching the turn, McIlroy retained hopes of a back nine surge to the summit of the leaderboard; however, any ambitions of a victory evaporated at the par five 10th, where he was just short in two. Almost unbelievably he needed three chips and two putts to complete the last 20 yards, signing for a double-bogey seventhat ended decisively any prospect of a win. He ultimately signed for a 2-over final-round of 73 and a T8 finish, and while the achievement of recording an eighth top-10 finish in nine starts in 2019would seem to represent a solid week’s work, the disjointed nature of his final-round, including two three putts at critical points and a series of bad chips, brutally exposed elements of his game that need to be addressed urgently if he is to have any chance of ending a four-year major championship trophy drought at the US PGA Championship at Bethpage Black later this month. The plan? “Go back home [to Florida] this week, work on that a little bit, and get sharper in those areas...I didn’t feel like I chipped the ball particularly well,” he conceded. Let’s hope he has some good drills to hand. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Thomas rediscovers winning touch at crucial moment in season
Aug 6, 2018 12:26 PM
 
Previewing the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week, this blog opined that the tournament would provide a litmus test for Justin Thomas’ season. After all, the 24-year-old arrived in Akron off the back of an indifferent T8-T25-T56-T8-MC run through five starts subsequent to a T11 at The Players Championship, and his reign at the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings lasted less than a month before Dustin Johnson reclaimed top-spot courtesy of a victory at the FedEx St Jude Classic. Put simply, Thomas’ season was not living-up to the expectations generated by his play-off victory over Luke List at the Honda Classic back in late February, and with a US PGA Championship defence just around the corner, it was imperative he rediscovered his best level quickly. Well, cometh the hour; cometh the man. A 5-under opening round of 65 immediately thrust Thomas into contention for the title; a 64-67 run across Friday and Saturday, meantime, ensured that he teed-off for the final-round with a three-stroke advantage away from European Ryder Cup stalwarts, Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy at 14-under. Here's how much Justin Thomas (and the rest of the field who made the cut) made at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: https://t.co/7EMzhWtJIb pic.twitter.com/UFFQaA0zQf— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) August 6, 2018 In the end, his march to the title was never in doubt, a circumstance greatly facilitated by the fact Poulter and McIlroy carded over-par closing-rounds of 74 and 73 respectively; a similar fate befell longer-distance contenders like Jon Rahm, Marc Leishman and Rickie Fowler, all of which serves to set the champion’s achievement in sharper relief. Thomas got off to a bright start on Sunday, birdying the par-5 second-hole to briefly move four clear of McIlroy. Three consecutive pars followed before he dropped his first shot of the round at the par-4 sixth, reaching the turn at Even-par. But as the rest of the field fell away on an uncompromising course layout, Thomas kept his head. He birdied the 13th to restore a 4-shot lead and parred his way into the clubhouse to close-out his second victory of the calendar year at 15-under-par through 72-holes, four clear of Kyle Stanley with Dustin Johnson and Thorbjorn Olesen a stroke further back. "I think what he learned is that he has to play his game and not force it,'' said Thomas' caddie, Jimmy Johnson, who has been working with Thomas for three years after a long stint with Steve Stricker. "Let the course come to him and play a little smarter. He was trying too hard, maybe. I don't think he was so much frustrated as he was trying too hard. He's just letting his potential go through now.'' Thomas has now won eight times in the last two years; he has returned to No.2 in the world rankings and will travel to Bellerive next week full of confidence in his ability to retain the Wannamaker trophy. Not a bad week’s work. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Day recapturing best form at WGC Bridgestone Invitational
Aug 5, 2018 5:18 AM
 
Jason Day was not much talked about in the lead-up to this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Golf Club in Akron, Ohio. The 30-year-old started the season in sensational form; he ended an 18-month trophy drought on the occasion of his first start of 2018 at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in January, he tied for second at Pebble Beach in February, and followed-up solid top-25 finishes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill (T22) and the Masters (T20) by claiming his second title of the season at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow in May. Those results catapulted Day from No.13 in the Official World Golf Rankings as of 31 December 2017 to No.7 as of 13 May; put simply, it seemed as though he was poised to firmly re-establish himself alongside Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy at the very summit of the professional game. But since tying for fifth at The Players Championship at Sawgrass, the Aussie’s form has dried-up; he tied-44th at Memorial, he missed the cut at the US Open at Shinnecock and failed to top-10 at the Travelers Championship and The Open consecutively. Day consequently arrived in Akron this week on the verge of slipping back outside of the world’s top-10 and in desperate need of a return to form to have any chance of contending for a second US PGA Championship title at Bellerive next Thursday. Play the exact same balls as the TaylorMade Tour Pro's. The limited edition TP5x Star Power Athlete Edition Pack is now available. Featuring a sleeve of balls that match Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, John Rahm and Jason Day's exact ball, number and stamp! https://t.co/VLxLbNi066 pic.twitter.com/1f9EogWze0— Clubhouse Golf (@ClubhouseGolf) July 28, 2018 Gladly, this aspiration has come to fruition. The former world No.1 immediately thrust himself into contention courtesy of a bogey-free 5-under opening-round 65; he shot six birdies en route to a 66 on Friday and overcame tough conditions to register a 1-under 69 on Saturday, a score slightly soured as a consequence of sloppy bogey on No.18. Nevertheless, Day will tee-off on Sunday within four shots of 54-hole leader, Justin Thomas who carded a 67 on Friday; Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter sit level in a tie for second at 11-under. "(Sunday) is a different story," a defiant Day said. "The course is going to be tougher and totally different to the previous three rounds and it's going to feel like a major. "There's a lot more pressure on all of us to go out there and try to perform." Whatever happens, Day’s performance through the opening 54-holes at Firestone indicate that he will be a serious threat at Bellerive next week. [Photo Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy Pays Price For Poor Decision Making At TPC Boston
Sep 3, 2017 4:36 AM
 
When Rory McIlroy signed off on a frustrating T27 finish at the US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow three weeks ago by suggesting that he may not play again until 2018, this blog editorialised that the Down-native would do well to follow through on his declaration. For although a record of six top-10 finishes through his first 13 starts of the season was nothing to be sniffed at, it was clear that the world No.4 had never fully recovered from the rib injury he sustained en route to a runners-up finish at the South African Open in February. Add-in an equipment change and a wedding and it is little wonder that he invoked the adjective “transitional” when reflecting upon his 2017 season at Quail Hollow. “I have got this next week off to assess what I need to go forward. I don’t know what I’m going to do”, McIlroy said. “You might not see me playing again until next year. You might see me in a couple of weeks’ time. It really depends.” Rory McIlroy’s Dell defence could be over after 74 https://t.co/drUa7RKRWu— Irish Times Sport (@IrishTimesSport) 2 September 2017 It came as a surprise, therefore, when, 10 days later, the Irishman declared his intention to defend his FedEx Cup title, beginning at the Northern Trust Open at Glen Oaks. Such determination to continue competing was, of course, understandable. McIlroy is an extremely driven, elite-level athlete whose entire existence is organised around the task of winning golf tournaments, and it surely galls him to witness rivals such as Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth occupy the media spotlight he once dominated. Indeed, the player gave eloquent expression to this impulse at Quail Hollow, stating: “I feel like a sense of … not duty [to play], but I’ve missed a lot of time already. If I’m capable of playing, I feel like, ‘Why shouldn’t you?’ But then at the same time, if you are not capable of playing at your best, why should you play? It’s a Catch-22.” Nevertheless, it was difficult to shake the feeling that in attempting to defend the FedEx, the 28-year-old had allowed a basic competitive instinct to cloud his assessment of far more important, longer-term strategic goals. He performed solidly, if unspectacularly (and far below his best level), in finishing T34 at Glen Oaks last week, 15 shots behind the 13-under total that took Johnson and Spieth into a play-off. At the Dell Technologies Championship, however, McIlroy’s impetuousness took its full toll. He shot two bogeys and a double en route to a 1-over opening round 72, before carding a 3-over 74 on Saturday in order to miss his fourth cut of the season by a stroke. "When you are missing both ways with your driver, it's never good. And I also made a bogey with a wedge in my hand at the first, which is sloppy," McIlroy reflected. "I'm sort of waiting for the season to end and that's reflected in the way I'm playing." In this context, it is difficult not to feel as though McIlroy should have had the courage of the convictions he articulated at Quail Hollow. Fortunately, however, the four-time major winner has now dropped to 50th in the FedEx Cup standings, and given only the top 30 after the BMW Championship qualify for the concluding Tour Championship, it appears as though his season will be over soon enough. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy Taking A Risk in Mounting FedEx Cup Defence
Aug 20, 2017 6:09 AM
 
When Rory McIlroy departed Quail Hollow Golf Course having signed for an impressive 3-under final round 68 to secure a solid T22 finish at the final major championship of the season two weeks ago, it seemed an opportune moment for the 28-year-old to call time on a frustrating campaign and focus on recuperating ahead of the start of the 2018 season. The player himself conceded that he has never fully recovered from the rib he sustained en route to a runners-up finish at the South African Open in February. Add-in an equipment change and a wedding and it is little wonder the Irishman invoked the adjective “transitional” when reflecting upon his 2017 season after the PGA Championship. “I have got this next week off to assess what I need to go forward. I don’t know what I’m going to do”, McIlroy said. “You might not see me playing again until next year. You might see me in a couple of weeks’ time. It really depends. “I just haven’t allowed it the time to fully heal. I wanted to play the season. I feel like I’m capable of playing well and winning and putting rounds together. But, if I want to challenge on a more consistent basis, I need to get 100% healthy.” In this context confirmation that the world No.4 is set to mount a defence of his FedEx Cup title beginning at the Northern Trust Open at Glen Oaks next week has come as a surprise to many commentators. McIlroy seemed to have his priorities straight in suggesting that he would take the rest of the year off to focus on recovering to full physical fitness ahead of “the next big thing on my radar”, The Masters at Augusta in April. Highlight of the day so far: @McIlroyRory "You've got to be kidding me!" pic.twitter.com/YV4opopHmK — Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) August 11, 2017 As this blog argued a fortnight ago, McIlroy has nothing to prove beyond adding to his total of four major championship titles; he has already won everything that there is to win, and even a sensational FedEx Cup triumph last autumn didn’t spare him from relentless criticism for the heinous sin of failing to win a major in any of his last 11 attempts (a sequence through which he has carded a remarkable seven top-10s). It is, of course, far easier for armchair pundits, such as myself, to take a step-back from the hum-drum routine of competing for regular Tour events and adopt a broader perspective on grandiose concepts such as legacy and longevity. McIlroy is an extremely driven, elite-level athlete whose entire existence is organised around the task of winning golf tournaments, and it surely galls him to witness rivals such as Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth occupy the media spotlight he once dominated. Indeed, the player gave eloquent expression to this impulse at Quail Hollow, stating: “I feel like a sense of … not duty [to play], but I’ve missed a lot of time already. If I’m capable of playing, I feel like, ‘Why shouldn’t you?’ But then at the same time, if you are not capable of playing at your best, why should you play? It’s a Catch-22.” Ultimately, Rory knows his body better than anyone and has based his decision to partake at the FedEx on expert medical advice. Nevertheless, it is difficult to shake the feeling that the world No.4 has allowed a basic competitive instinct to cloud his assessment of far more important, longer-term strategic goals: namely the quest to become only the sixth golfer in the history of the sport to complete a career-slam at Augusta in April. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Mahan rises from the ashes at Wyndham
Aug 19, 2017 10:47 AM
 
Golf, as players of any level can attest, is a most capricious game. One errant tee-shot into thick rough, one odd bounce off a fairway divot into water, or one ball-rotation too many on a lightening-fast putting-green can shift the dynamic of an entire round. Tournaments are frequently decided on such fine margins, sometimes even the future course of careers (just ask Jean van de Velde). But even allowing for such unpredictability, the precipitous decline in Hunter Mahan’s fortunes since claiming his sixth PGA Tour title at The Barclays during the 2014 FedEx Cup play-off series surely ranks as one of the most remarkable storylines in the history of professional golf. From the moment the California-native beat Jay Williamson in a play-off in order to claim his maiden PGA Tour victory at the Travellers Championship in June, 2007, he seemed destined to establish himself as one of Tiger Woods’ principal rivals at the elite-level of the game. Within five years of turning pro, Mahan had broken the world’s top-40 and earned selection as one of Paul Azinger’s wild-cards for the 2008 Ryder Cup squad, going unbeaten through four matches. Hunter Mahan (-10) has gone from the dreaded no-status bubble to firmly in the @WyndhamChamp mix: https://t.co/JuDj9sLjHi pic.twitter.com/xfgkNZyuje— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) August 19, 2017 By the end of 2012, he had five PGA Tour accolades to his name; he had ranked inside of the world’s top-5, and had twice triumphed at WGC-level. It seemed only a matter of time until he made his major championship breakthrough. But after tying for ninth at the 2015 Masters, Mahan’s game went into a tailspin. The Oklahoma State graduate missed twice as many cuts (6) as he made top-10s (3) in 26 starts in 2015; he missed 16 cuts in 23 starts in 2016; and arrived in Greensboro for the Wyndham Championship this week with 12 missed cuts in 21 starts since the beginning of the year. This form has caused his world ranking to plummet down from a career-high of fourth back in February 2012, to 809th. Many commentators have consequently judged the 35-year-old’s career to be over. It is in this context that the remarkable nature of Mahan’s opening 36-holes at the Wyndham must be understood. Consecutive 5-under rounds of 65 across Thursday and Friday have moved Mahan to within three shots of the joint half-way leaders, Ryan Armour and Webb Simpson, and if he can maintain that level of scoring across the weekend, we may well be poised witness the greatest golfing comeback victory of all time. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Oosthuizen’s Unique Career Slam Embodies Consistency
Aug 16, 2017 11:04 AM
 
It is a reflection of the personality-driven nature of contemporary sports media that Louis Oosthuizen remains one of the lesser discussed members of the PGA Tour Since claiming his maiden major championship title by a full seven strokes away from Lee Westwood at the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews, the quietly-spoken Mossel Bay-native has amassed a further six European Tour titles; he has twice represented South Africa at President’s Cup-level and, in January 2013, he ascended to a career-high position of 4th in the Official World Golf Rankings. Indeed, Oosthuizen has amassed a hugely impressive 13 titles across all Tours in 15 years on the professional circuit and is already assured to go down as one of his country’s greatest ever golfing exports. But as impressive as his CV already read prior to last weekend’s US PGA Championship, it is possible that his T2 finish at Quail Hollow will come to be regarded as his crowning achievement. For in finishing two shots back from two shots back from champion, Justin Thomas, at 6-under for the tournament, Oosthuizen did more than secure his fourth top-10 in a strong 2017 season, he also became only the seventh player in the history of the sport to finish as a runner-up in all four major championships, joining Craig Wood, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, and Phil Mickelson in what is surely professional golf’s most bizarre and most elite club. The 34-year-old’s first near miss came at the 2012 Masters when he was defeated by Bubba Watson on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff despite shooting a hugely impressive 3-under final round of 69. In June 2015, he finished a single shot back from Jordan Spieth at the US Open at Chambers Bay, while the following month he posted a 3-under Sunday score of 69 in order to force himself into a three-man play-off at The Open Championship at St Andrew’s only to lose out against 2007 Masters champion, Zach Johnson, by a stroke. Just finished my career grand slam second's .. "I'll rise up" pic.twitter.com/083aRityWn— Louis Oosthuizen (@Louis57TM) August 14, 2017 On Sunday, he completed the set. One could be forgiven for assuming that Oosthuizen departed Quail Hollow last weekend with his shoulders slumped, head-down, ruminating on an agonising sequence of near-misses that would be enough to break any athlete’s heart. But instead, the South African opened-up and satirized his disappointment on social media, taking to Twitter to post a video of himself lip-syncing to a song called 'Rise Up' that quickly earned thousands of retweets and likes. Clearly Oosthuizen cannot be faulted for attitude, and if he maintains the standard of performance he produced in North Carolina last week in the medium term, he is guaranteed to continue contending for the sport’s biggest prizes. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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