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11:52AM

This British Open is McIlroy’s chance for redemption  

  CARNOUSTIE, Scotland— He spoke about bringing a thesaurus to the next press conference. Rory McIlroy was in a debate about how to describe the virtually indescribable but very difficult last four holes at Carnoustie. He’d be better off bringing a two-shot lead.

   There’s McIlroy, high on the leaderboard halfway through this British Open, in position to overtake the few men in front of him. Or to fail once more.

   In a light rain that made the Open feel like the Open, if with all the low scores not seem like one, McIlroy on Friday shot a second straight  2-under par 69.  He had only one bogey. “I’m pretty pleased with that,” he said.

    Something pleasing at a major golf tournament, finally, perhaps temporarily. He fell apart the final round of the Masters, going head-to-head in the final twosome against the eventual winner, Patrick Reed. He missed the cut in the U. S. Open.

  Now it is time for redemption, time to shake off the criticism, to show he once more is the man who thrilled as a kid, winning the British Open, the U.S. Open and twice winning the PGA Championship by the age of 25.

  The more you do, of course, the more the world wants you to do.

    “The more success you have,” said McIlroy the day before the Open began, “the more pressure you put on yourself because of expectations.”

     His expectations. Our expectations.

    “Rory’s obviously played well this year,” said Padraig Harrington, a statement that is accurate if one win and a second on two different tours means playing well.

  “Clearly,” said Harrington, “his career is solely based on how he does in the majors.”

   As is Tiger Woods career. As is Phil Mickelson’s career. As was Jack Nicklaus career.

  For Joe Montana and Tom Brady the standard is winning Super Bowls. For the Warrior stars, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and teammates, it’s winning NBA titles. Something has to be used as the yardstick for greatness.

    “I was on a nice run there, from 2011 to 2014,” said McIlroy. “I haven’t won one since. But I’m trying.”

    In the British Isle where the attitude invariably is “us against them,” McIlroy has been elevated to celebrity status, his life as well as his golf covered microscopically like some Hollywood figure—and not just because Rory’s from Holywood, which in Northern Ireland is pronounced “Hollywood.”

    The Sun, the British tabloid, carried a story in May headlined, “McIlroy: ‘Wife pulled me out of wine-drinking, TV-binging Masters malaise.”

  According to the story, McIlroy said “he had to be dragged out of the house by wife Erica after spending a full week brooding on his final-round flop at the Masters . . . once I got back into my routine, I was fine.”

   McIlroy, who needs a Masters victory to become only the sixth golfer in history to win all of the four Grand Slam tournaments, was within a short eagle putt of tying Reed on the second hole.

  The ball didn’t fall. McIlroy did, however, and he ended p tying for fifth, six shots back. “I just didn’t quite have it,” he would say that say.”

  Maybe not as bad as 2011, when McIlroy, then 22, blew a four-shot lead he carried into the Masters final round but still a me memory that haunts, a memory of which he’s too often reminded.

  As we’re aware, in sports, you’re only as good—or bad—as your last game. Or match. Or maybe in this Open, last round.  Rory said he Is not playing to cement a legacy. Oh, but he is, every time he tees it up in a major. There’s no escape from his reputation.

“I feel very comfortable out there,” McIlroy explained when asked about his golf. “I had been worrying about the result, not the process.

  “Even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging. I’m going to go down giving it my best.”

  That’s all we can ask.

9:10PM

Tiger, Phil, Rory, Jordan battered at the Open; welcome to the past

By Art Spander

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Welcome to the past. Welcome to the days when the U.S. Open was full of double bogies and angry faces, when the greens were as slick as a con man running a street corner crap game and players almost could lose a ball while inexorably they were losing strokes.

Sure, some people didn’t fall victim. Four golfers were even under par in Thursday’s first round at historic Shinnecock Hills, which is so far out on Long Island it seems nearer to London than Manhattan.

But they were only at 1-under, so the four, with scores of 69, Scott Piercy, Ian Poulter, Russell Henley and Dustin Johnson, shared the lead.

But that was just four golfers out of 156. On opening day, when usually at least a dozen — occasionally a dozen and a half — break par. And other than Johnson, Open winner in 2016 at Oakmont, none of the four would be labeled a marquee attraction — like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy.

Those guys could be found stomping around in the rough that makes America’s golfing championship the test it can be. They also could be found way, way down the scoreboard, although not as far down as Scott Gregory, a 23-year-old Englishman who having won the British Amateur two years ago upped and turned pro. Oops.

Gregory, with 10 bogies, three double-bogies, two triple-bogies and only three pars, shot a 22-over 92, the highest score in a U.S. Open in 16 years and sighed, “I didn’t get it off the tee.”

He meant onto the fairway. On a day when the wind blew in off the neighboring Atlantic, some of the more accomplished and better known golfers had the same problem.

In the morning, three of the game’s more famous competitors, Mickelson, McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, were grouped — and were battered, Mickelson shooting a 7-over 77 and coming in lowest among the threesome.

Spieth had his worst Open round ever, a 78, and McIlroy, with seven bogies, three double bogies and three birdies, shot 80.

Tiger, with an afternoon tee time, began with a triple-bogey 7, botched a comeback with consecutive double-bogies at 13 and 14 and shot an 8-over 78.

At least Woods talked after his misfortunes. So give him points for that even if his game was less than impressive.

“It was tough out there, but you shouldn’t make two doubles in a row,” said Woods. “It was frustrating because I hit the ball well. A four-putt. For most of the day, I didn’t putt well.”

Mickelson, who needs an Open for a career grand slam, and McIlroy, who lacks the Masters for his slam, signed their cards and silently slipped away — if silently is an accurate description when fans are hollering for autographs.

Spieth, who has won the Masters, U.S. and British Opens — clever grouping, huh, three guys one short of history — did speak post-round, if for someone who normally explains everything and anything, with uncharacteristic brevity.

“Very difficult,” said Spieth. “Got it off to a good start. It was hard after that. You just have to stay patient and understand that you are going to shoot four-over par once you are four-under through two holes.

“I tried to do too much on the second hole, and it kind of bit me. From there it was kind of a grind. There were certainly some dicey pins, but at the same time there were guys under par. So I could have played better.”

That’s a comment that used to be heard at Opens, where even-par or higher was the eventual winning score. In 1974, seven-over par was good enough on another New York course maybe 100 miles from Shinnecock. That led to a championship for Hale Irwin and a book about the struggle, Massacre at Winged Foot, by the late Dick Schaap.

Things were less severe after that. In fact, for a while the Open didn’t quite look like the Open.

But it did on Thursday, with tough conditions and high scores.

And you were reminded of a comment by Tony Lema, the Oakland kid who became a winner. “The Masters,” said Lema, comparing, “is fun. The U.S. Open is work.”

As it should be.

7:30PM

Rory comes roaring out at the AT&T

By Art Spander

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — This isn’t football. You don’t try to win one for the Gipper in golf. The game is one of control, of direction. Sometimes the more you practice, or play, the worse you perform.

Something else about big-time golf: It’s lonely. There are no teammates to lend support, physical — that skulled wedge can’t be saved by, say, a diving catch — or mental. There seem to be as many sports psychologists around the Tour as there are teaching pros.

So the premise posited by Jason Day, who’s had his own troubles, that Rory McIlroy lacks desire is a thought based on a premise as judged by a competitor.

“The biggest thing for Rory,” said Day, along with McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and suddenly Jon Rahm, one of golf’s best, “is the desire part. How much does he really want it? Because he has the tools to be Tigeresque.”

As in Tiger Woods, who was one-of-a-kind.

McIlroy, 28, because of a rib injury, and perhaps the distraction of his marriage — there’s life out there beyond the tee boxes — didn’t win a tournament in 2017. On the PGA Tour. On the European Tour. Tumbled in the World Golf Rankings. He was more mystery than history.

But it’s a new year, and McIlroy has a new outlook. On Thursday he shot a 68, four under par, at Spyglass Hill, in the opening round of the historic AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. That left him three shots behind Kevin Streelman, who shot his seven-under 65 at Spyglass and Beau Hossler, who shot his at Pebble Beach.

It was a glorious day on the Monterey Peninsula, wind light, skies blue, golf impressive.

“I was pleased,” said McIlroy. “A couple of really good weeks in the Middle East. But I’m healthy and able to practice. I’m able to do everything I want to do, so I feel good. I’m in a really good frame of mind, and that helps, too.”

Of course. It’s hard enough to challenge the world’s courses, and some of the world’s finest golfers, if you’re not thinking about the job at hand. As Sam Snead once said to Ted Williams when they were debating the relative difficulty of golf vs. baseball, “We have to play our foul balls.”

McIlroy, partnering with his father, Gerry, kept most of his shots on the fairways. “It was awesome,” said Rory. “It was great being out there with him.”

“A couple of messy holes coming in,” said Rory. “I recovered well. In the end I made a good bogey on 16, a great par on 17. It was nice to finish with a birdie on 18.”

Phil Mickelson, now 47, was the other pro in the foursome, shooting a three-under 69. The differential in ages between Rory and Phil is reason that golf is such an appealing game — 19 years — but on Thursday their rounds differed by only one stroke. As Raymond Floyd, a multiple majors winner, told us, “The golf ball doesn’t know how old you are.”

But it does know how effective your swing is. And your putting is. You can be young or old, intense or relaxed. The only thing that matters is how many strokes you take.

A year ago, McIlroy was taking more than he wanted. But in January, in tournaments at Abu Dhabi and Dubai, part of the early events of the European Tour, McIlroy had a second and a third. His confidence was up. His health was back.

“I haven’t played a lot over the past 18 months for various reasons,” he said. “I was sort of ready to call it quits for the year after the Dunhill (in October). I was sort of dejected and wanting to get away from it all.

“Now I’m rejuvenated and optimistic. Now there’s nothing in my way. There’s nothing stopping me from playing a full schedule.”

There doesn't seem to be any lack of desire, especially when McIlroy insists, “I want to be one of the best players to ever have played the game. I have a great opportunity over the next 10, 12 years to play great golf and leave my mark on the game.”

Or, really, to embellish the mark he’s already left.

9:20AM

The Athletic: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am endures as a singular celebration of golf

By Art Spander
The Athletic

PEBBLE BEACH — You start with arguably one of the game’s three most impressive datelines — St. Andrews and Augusta are the other two — add decades of history, laughs and people named Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, and are blessed with an event that’s as much a treasure as it is a tournament.

The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is a mid-winter celebration of sport and, yes, entertainment, when amateurs — some with big names, some with big games — pair up with champions on three courses that are as beautiful as they are testing: Pebble, Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

Read the full story here.

 

©2018 The Athletic Media Company. All rights reserved.

 

6:55AM

Los Angeles Times: Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy both thinking of April, but differently

By Art Spander
Los Angeles Times

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It may be August, but after the final round in the PGA Championship both Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy were more intent on April. For Johnson last April, for McIlroy next April.

Johnson had his best round of the week on Sunday at Quail Hollow, a four-under-par 67, that brought him to even-par 284 for the tournament. That’s encouraging with the FedEx Cup Playoffs about to start, but discouraging when Johnson, No.1 in the world rankings, thinks of what might have been.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2017, Los Angeles Times