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Friday, June 17, 2011

Mr. McIlroy Goes to Washington

His limo arrived without much fanfare. No couriers were sent to announce his arrival, and the press corp hardly noticed his entry among the other emissaries.

And then he stepped up to the podium and entered into the Congressional debate. Just how much did the last round at Augusta National scar him?

The representative from Northern Ireland began his presentation with an emphatic "not at all!"

Rory picGiven how Rory McIlroy played on Thursday, that's not too dramatic an introduction for this post. All he did was post a bogey-free 65 (that's 6 birdies) -- 3 strokes better than second place -- where he hit 17 of 18 greens and basically made U.S. Open golf look pretty ordinary. In fact, when asked about it he said it was a pretty easy round.

Nobody else felt that way. The Top 6 in the world looked like this:
1) Luke Donald -- +3
2) Lee Westwood -- +4
3) Martin Kaymer -- +3
4) Steve Stricker -- +4
5) Phil Mickelson -- +3 (on his birthday, no less!)
6) Matt Kuchar -- +1
Next is #7 Graeme McDowell with a -1 (hey, isn't he supposed to have lost his swing?) and then #8, our "scarred star" McIlroy.

Ok, I'll grant you that it's just the first round and McIlroy has had a habit of getting out of the blocks fast before fading down the stretch. I'll also grant you that the track was dampened a bit by some rain and was therefore easier to run. (Didn't help the favorites, did it?) But if he keeps taking the lead, eventually he's going to get a second wind and sprint to the finish. I'm not giving it to McIlroy until he actually wins, but this is four straight majors where he's displayed some impressive play -- the first round lead in three of them, and missing a playoff by one stroke at the PGA.

There's certainly something there worth watching.

Of the 21 players who broke par, GC noted that most of the recent major winners -- Mickelson and Kaymer notwithstanding -- made up a large percentage:
  • Charl Schwartzel (2011 Masters) and Y.E. Yang (2009 PGA) are tied for 2nd (-3).
  • Louis Oosthuizen (2010 Open) is in the group one stroke back at T4. Sergio is also in this group -- remember, he came in 2nd in both the 2008 Open and PGAs, won by Padraig Harrington.
  • Stewart Cink (2009 Open) and Graeme McDowell (2010 U.S. Open) are in the T10 (-1) group. If you allow a "classic," Davis Love III (1997 PGA) is here as well.
  • And if you go back to the group at even par, you'll find both Angel Cabrera (2007 U.S. Open, 2009 Masters), Zach Johnson (2007 Masters), and Padraig Harrington (2008 Open and PGA).
And I've already noted McIlroy's play in the last four majors.

As usual, we have some "regular" players in the mix, like Ryan Palmer, Robert Garrigus, Alvaro Quiros, Henrik Stenson, and Bubba Watson. (I love the fact that we're actually gonna have a "low Bubba" in this major -- 2001 U.S. Am champion Bubba Dickerson is currently a single stroke ahead of Bubba Watson.) And there are the "stories," like last week's Italian Open winner Robert Rock, who had visa problems and teed it up Thursday without a full night's sleep or a practice round... and posted a 1-under 70.

But the big story right now -- assuming Sergio doesn't give us a fairytale ending -- is that the U.S. Open trophy may be on its way back to Ireland for another year. Unless some American becomes a Congressional leader by Sunday night, this period of "golf détente" may stretch out indefinitely...

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