A downbeat Rory McIlroy’s major drought was officially extended to four years as Tiger Woods set about ending his much longer barren spell in the 100th US PGA Championship.
Four years and two days after his last major victory at Valhalla, McIlroy carded a final round of 70 at Bellerive Country Club to finish two under par for the final major of the year.
The 29-year-old was already on the 17th hole when the final pairing of Brooks Koepka and Adam Scott headed down the first, but most eyes were on Woods as he produced the flying start he needed in pursuit of a first major since 2008.
Woods began the day four shots off the lead in a tie for sixth, exactly the same position he was in after 54 holes of the Open Championship at Carnoustie, where he would move into a one-shot lead with eight holes to play before fading to sixth.
The 42-year-old missed from seven feet for birdie on the first but holed from three feet on the second and almost holed his tee shot on the third to set up another gain and close within two shots of the lead.
In contrast, McIlroy spoke briefly to the media before heading to the airport and revealed he could opt to miss the first FedEx Cup play-off event in order to work on his game.
“It’s been a year where I’ve shown glimpses of what I can do but I just haven’t done it often enough,” McIlroy said. “It’s the major season over and we have to wait a few months to the next one but there’s still a lot of golf to play this year and quite a bit to play for.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement. My swing really hasn’t been where I want it to be. It was pretty good at the start of the year but it’s sort of regressed as the season has went on, you start to fall back into some of the habits you don’t want to.
“I’ve missed the ball right and left and that’s been the real weakness. You stand up on a tee shot and it would be nice to know you can eliminate one side of the golf course and this year I haven’t felt like that.
“I feel like I’ve put the work in. It’s not like I’ve been sitting on my ass and not doing anything. I’ve given myself chances and just haven’t quite played the golf I’ve needed to whenever it’s been called upon.
“I need to assess where I’m at. I think the best thing for me to do right now is take a couple of days off and reflect on what I need to do going forward. The best thing might be to take that first FedEx Cup week off and work on my game and hopefully come back in a better place.
“I’ll do some practice this week and see if I feel ready to go there and play five out of six weeks leading up to the Ryder Cup.”
Asked how he would remember the majors in 2018, McIlroy added: “I probably won’t. I don’t think there was anything all that memorable about it. I guess I had two chances but I didn’t really contend the back nine at Augusta.
“I didn’t get myself into contention in 2017, don’t really think I did in 2016 so I guess it’s been a positive from that standpoint.”
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There’s something about golf that attracts athletes from all sports. Maybe it’s because golf is impossible to master and athletes love the challenge, or maybe it’s just a relaxing way to spend an off-day.
Whatever the reason, sports stars love trying their hand at golf. Some are better at it than others, but as easy as athletes can make it look on an American football field or basketball court, golf is a different animal entirely.
Just ask NBA superstar Stephen Curry, who despite being the greatest shooter of all-time, is nowhere near some of the best to swing a golf club. The Golden State Warriors guard just finished last in the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic, where he shot a 16-over 86 on Friday.
Curry’s effort got us thinking of other big-name athletes who are known for hitting the greens on occasion. We’ve kept it to current players because, let’s be honest, anyone who is retired is a part-time golfer anyways.
When he’s not carving up defences, winning Super Bowl rings or just generally living the dream, Brady can be found on the links – often with fellow Under Armour athlete Jordan Spieth. Brady has played at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am before, but it’s safe to say the only drives he should stick to are the ones that lead to touchdowns.
He can throw pinpoint passes with precision, but dropping a ball on the fairway isn’t as easy for the Houston Rockets point guard. Paul, along with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, hosts the State Farm Showdown, a charity golf tournament featuring NFL and NBA icons, so the hardwood isn’t the only place he works his magic.
When it comes to sporting personalities, golfers and surfers might be on the complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Slater is versatile enough to bridge both, with the 11-time World Surf League champion having competed in the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship pro-am in Scotland. You think he’s worried about a water hazard or sand trap?
The Arizona Cardinals wide receiver ran away with the pro-am title at Pebble Beach earlier this year like he runs away from defensive backs. After racking up several stellar seasons that are sure to get him into Canton as a Hall of Famer, Fitzgerald will have plenty of time to golf when he retires soon. For now though, he’s still more dangerous catching balls than hitting them.
Unsurprisingly, the Toronto Blue Jays slugger has a knack for delivering a long ball on the golf course. Another athlete to have played at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the 2015 American League MVP also hit a 300-plus yard drive on Golf Channel’s ‘Morning Drive’. Apparently, Donaldson’s swing isn’t just useful at the plate.
Brooks Koepka and Charl Schwartzel equalled the lowest score in tournament history as the 100th US PGA Championship turned into a shootout in St Louis.
Koepka missed from 20 feet for birdie on his final hole of the day to match the only 62 in men’s major championship history, recorded by Branden Grace in last year’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
But a flawless 63 left the double US Open champion just two shots off the clubhouse lead held by fellow American Gary Woodland, whose 10-under-par halfway total of 130 established a tournament record, with Kevin Kisner on nine under.
Kisner also had the chance to shoot 62 after covering the back nine in 29 and picking up another birdie on the seventh, only to bogey the ninth, his final hole of the day.
Schwartzel had an outside chance to shoot 62 when he left himself a long birdie putt on the last, but the former Masters champion had to settle for a 63 to finish seven under.
“I played really well,” Koepka said. “I feel like yesterday I played really well too and sometimes you don’t really score very well. But today I drove it beautifully, my wedges distance control is very spot on and I was making those five, six-footers that you need to make.”
World number one Dustin Johnson is just three shots off the pace after carding five birdies in six holes on his way to a 66, with Open champion Francesco Molinari another two shots back after a 67.
England’s Matt Wallace had been tipped as a player to watch by compatriot Tommy Fleetwood and lived up to the billing with a 66 to finish three under and make his first halfway cut in a major.
“I wasn’t enjoying my golf, strangely. People might think you’ve won twice this year and should be loving it but it’s fickle this game. I felt like I was swinging it better and playing better but I was scoring worse,” said Wallace.
“It was difficult to get my head round why and I didn’t want to keep going in the same direction. It was important to catch it early and this is definitely what I needed.