(Photo Courtesy of Matthew Lewis, Getty Images)
With the third major of the season now in the rear-view mirror, The Butter Lamb’s Jimmy Abbott and Brian Dockstader reflect on the happenings of this past weekend, Rory McIlroy’s re-ascension to the top, and the state of golf moving forward.
The Open Championship was a bit tamer this year, absent of the usual rain-wind that defines it. Hoylake had its guard down and a number of top 30 golfers were able to go low. The Leaderboard was made up predominately of players who got the preferable Thursday morning/Friday afternoon tee times, and they took full advantage. Rory McIlroy took a page out of Martin Kaymer’s playbook and went wire to wire, though this had a little more flair than the German’s demolition of the U.S. Open. Rory was dialed in all week, posting back-to-back 66’s to start. He even missed a few short putts Thursday and Friday that would have made the lead insurmountable. He was hitting his long irons high enough to check up on the green and was throwing absolute darts with his short irons. He avoided the high numbers (zero double bogeys) and was able to overcome his Friday round blow-ups that have accompanied him lately. He was free swinging.
Rickie Fowler had his second straight final round pairing in a major and backed up his T2 at the US Open with a T2 at Hoylake. That makes 3 straight top 5’s at majors for the 25-year-old American. He most likely played his way into the Ryder Cup with this performance. He’s money on Links courses and was pretty clutch at the Ryder Cup in 2010, making birdie on his last 4 holes to halve his match. His swing change seems to be going excellent, giving him a consistent swing that he can trust during pressure. He was all hands and talent before, now his swing is on a more even plane and it has held up great in majors.
Sergio Garcia nearly exorcised all of his major championship demons, throwing up a 66 on Sunday. His hat tip to the crowd on a 18 was a thing of beauty, going a full 360 degrees. Pure class from Sergio. Dustin Johnson probably could have made things interesting this week had he been better on the par 5’s. With his length he should have been lighting them up, but it just wasn’t the case, he pared all 4 of them on Sunday. Adam Scott and Graeme McDowell went low Sunday to lock in top 10 finishes. Scott is just a constant for majors at this point, unbelievably steady. Graeme may have played his way into the Ryder Cup, though he probably would have been a captain’s pick anyway. Justin Rose was never able to get close enough to contend, struggling from the Thursday afternoon/Friday morning tee times. He got to -8 on Sunday but promptly went bogey/double bogey/bogey on holes 12-14.
A lot of talented players had good weekends but Rory is nearly impossible to catch when he has it going. It was his tournament from the start, and besides one hole on Saturday when Rickie tied him at -12, it was never really in doubt. Rory simply went eagle/birdie/eagle to close out holes 16-18 on Saturday to give himself some breathing room. He’s not as consistent as Tiger was during his dominant run, but when he’s locked in, he’s close to being just as dangerous.
He’s only 25. Hard to believe when one thinks about Rory’s career. Rory joins the company of the top two players to ever play, Jack and Tiger, who were both slightly younger than Rory when they won their first three majors (23 and 24, respectively). Rory’s performance at The Open this weekend was legendary, becoming only the 10th player to win the tournament while leading wire-to-wire. Rory’s lead shrunk to two during the final round (and finished that way) but it never really seemed close. His long irons were absolutely stunning. Shots that others probably had not even dreamt of playing, Rory executed, and he executed damn well. The two best shots came on Saturday at the 16th and 18th par fives, hitting the greens on his second shot with long irons and rolling the eagle putts in. What made it more impressive was a bogey on the 17th in the middle of the two. That seemed to be the story of the tournament though, Rory keeping his head under the pressure and really only playing against himself. He described after his win that he used the words “process” and “spot” repeatedly in his mind to keep his nerves.
It seems hard to believe that a year ago, Rory’s name was an afterthought to most when considering a contender for a major. He barely seemed to make a cut at some points and could not seem to get anything rolling. People seem to believe that the pros are almost like robots, but here is a young man, who recently broke up with his fiancé, signed a huge endorsement deal with Nike, and has an absurd amount of pressure and expectation on his shoulders. He faltered over the past year and broke out with a bang.
A few other names did seem to stand out this weekend, for good and bad reasons. Tiger, of course, seemed to start off decently on Thursday, then required a birdie on the 36th hole just to make the cut. He played a limited amount of professional rounds before The Open, and was quoted as saying that anything other than first would be a disappointment. I do not believe Tiger will ever be Tiger again and I hope his career ends like how his weekend went, quietly.
Sergio and Fowler both finished in second by two strokes and both looked to be in a groove over the weekend. Both are still searching for their first majors and I can’t see it staying that way for too long for either. Both players hit the ball well off the tee and kept the pressure on, but it just was not enough. Rory faltered for only a few holes on Sunday (actually the only holes for the entire tournament) and kept the pedal to the floor. Fowler shot four rounds in the sixties and became only the fourth player to do so and not win The Open. Sergio might have played his best major since the 1999 PGA when he burst on the scene, he also made one hell of a push Sunday, but came up short. The final major of the season, The PGA Championship, is going to be interesting for these two names, and both also should compete in what is expected to be a phenomenal Ryder Cup.
Rory spoke after the win of the daunting question hanging over professional golf: Will he be the one to step up and be the dominant player the tour has been used to seeing over the years? He stated he would like to be, and that golf is the only thing that is constantly on his mind. If he continues to hit shots and play major championships like this weekend (and like his previous other two major wins, winning each by eight strokes a piece) he will win a lot of tournaments. But, with that question of dominance, there seems to be too much parity in golf at the moment. Any week it seems like someone can post the scores necessary to win. There is so much talent on tour at the moment. Names like Speith, Walker, Fowler, Watson, Scott, Watney, Mahan, Donald, Bradley, McDowell, Rose, Phil, Westwood, Spencer, Kaymer, Johnson, and more. I believe Rory is far from done with winning majors and who knows, perhaps he can take the next step. However, for now, this past weekend’s win was extremely impressive and will not be forgotten in the golf world for years to come.