Even though he hasn't found the win column in his last two tournaments, Rory McIlroy continues to put together tremendous performances week after week that make it easy to see why he is the favorite.
This week, McIlroy takes a crack at conquering the BMW Championship in Englewood, Colorado. The event is only eight years old and is open only to the top 70 players on the PGA Tour, so that gives it an extra air of importance.
McIlroy is looking to join Tiger Woods as the only two-time winner of this event, having previously won it in 2012. His score of 20 under par that year was the second-best ever, topped only by Tiger at the inaugural event in 2007.
Day 4 Recap
McIlroy rebounded nicely from his third-round tragedy, shooting a four-under 66 on Sunday to notch yet another top-10 finish on the season. His form looked far better on Day 4, and he was clearly unfazed by his Round 3 showing. That certainly bodes well for the European team in this year's Ryder Cup.
Here's how McIlroy's final-round scorecard looked:
Take a glance at how McIlroy stacked up against the field:
The full leaderboard can be viewed at PGATour.com.
The world No. 1 began his round in a blaze of glory on Sunday. After three pars to begin the day, he rattled off birdies at hole Nos. 4 and 5, and he followed them up with a brilliant eagle at the par-four seventh. After a booming drive, McIlroy pitched a picture-perfect 56-yarder up and in the hole. Here's a look:
That eagle propelled McIlroy to a six-under 30 on the front nine. Just like that, he found himself at eight-under par for the tournament and in position to make a run up the leaderboard. McIlroy was putting up low numbers, and he even made one young fan very happy along the way, via Eye on Golf:
Unfortunately, the back nine proved to be his Achilles' heel for the second consecutive day.
After making the turn, McIlroy parred holes 10 and 11—then disaster struck. One more, the 12th hole was the undoing of the world No. 1. On Saturday, he recorded a triple bogey on the par three, and he followed that up with a double on Sunday.
In eerily similar fashion, he four-putted once again on the hole—this time from 19 feet:
We can speculate that McIlroy won't look back on hole No. 12 at Cherry Hills Country Club with fond memories. This tweet from PGA.com really sums it up:
He would rebound from there and birdie the 16th and 17th holes to get back to even par for the back nine, but by that point, the damage had been done, and McIlroy was out of contention.
Still, another top-10 finish only gives the world's top player more momentum heading into the Ryder Cup. He's on one of the most impressive hot streaks the golfing world has seen in quite some time. McIlroy proved he was certainly deserving of his No. 1 ranking, and he doesn't look like he'll be relinquishing it any time soon.
Day 3 Recap
The third round of any PGA Tour event is widely heralded as moving day. McIlroy found himself in a perfect position to strike, beginning the say just two strokes off the lead. Well, the world No. 1 moved on Saturday—albeit, backward.
Here's a look at McIlroy's Round 3 scorecard from the BMW Championship:
While McIlroy engaged in a roller-coaster front nine, he was still able to make the turn at one under on the day. Although, a treacherous back nine—including a triple bogey on the 12th hole—brought McIlroy into the black for the day with a two-over 72.
Take a glance at where he currently stands against the field:
As he did on Friday, McIlroy began slowly. He parred the first two holes, following them with his first blemish of the day, taking a five on the par-four third. Things took a brief turn for the better, as McIlroy rebounded with three birdies in his next four holes.
Those birdies swiftly put McIlroy in a share of the lead, via the Golf Channel:
Take a look at his brilliant tee shot on the par-three sixth which resulted in a kick-in birdie:
McIlroy's streak would fail to continue thereafter. He followed up that nice run with a bogey at the eighth and a one-under 33 on the front nine.
At this point in the day, McIlroy was still in great shape. Here's a look at the standings through nine holes, via Golf Central:
After two birdies to begin the back nine, he completely fell apart. He chipped up onto the green to roughly five feet, but four-putted from there, recording a disastrous triple-bogey six. Take a look at his struggles with the flat stick:
The PGA Tour noted what that awful score meant for McIlroy's tournament standing:
Rory McIlroy drops out of the top 10 after a 4-putt from 4 feet.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 6, 2014
In typical McIlroy fashion, he remained unfazed and birdied the following hole. Although, another bogey on the par-three 15th sent him to the clubhouse with a 72.
This almost certainly drops the world No. 1 out of contention heading into Sunday; however, we can't put it past him to rebound with a pristine performance in Round 4 to earn another top-10 finish for the season. If McIlroy can gain some momentum on the tournament's final day, he'll be in great shape heading into the Ryder Cup later in September.
Day 2 Recap
Friday was a good news for McIlroy. He certainly had a much better finish in the second round than he did on Thursday, which included back-to-back bogeys on his 16th and 17th hole. He had three-straight birdies from 15-17 to make a late move up the board.
Here's how McIlroy shot in the second round of the BMW Championship:
Here's how McIlroy stacks up compared to the rest of the leaderboard after Friday's action:
McIlroy did note after his first round that one reason for his slow finish could have something to do with the way the course in Englewood, Colorado was playing, via ESPN.com:
The scoring isn't that good out there. Not that it's not good, it's just not that low. It's tricky. It's playing a little bit like a U.S. Open. I wouldn't say it's quite as difficult as that, but it's thick rough, especially around the greens, and firm greens. That's what they need to keep the scoring the way it is.
The second round ended in a blaze of glory for McIlroy, but it didn't start that way. He looked pedestrian on the front nine, shooting an even-par 34 heading into the turn with just one birdie and a bogey on No. 5. He would hit pars from No. 6 through 14 before seeing birds again.
Whatever happened, McIlroy certainly found the formula for tackling the Colorado altitude and put himself in prime position to take the lead on Saturday.
One difference for McIlroy, according to the PGA Tour's equipment editor Jonathan Wall, that he changed his clubs specifically for this event:
Rory McIlroy changed his bag setup this week due to the course: replaced 54* & 56* @nikegolf VR Forged with VR X3X 54* and VR Pro blade 3i.— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) September 5, 2014
Considering McIlroy has recorded back-to-back rounds of three-under par, it's safe to say the world's top-ranked player made the right choice. Despite his solid round, there's still work for McIlroy to do if he wants to secure a fourth win in the last six events.
The bad news for McIlroy, if you choose to see it, is that he's left some shots out there. Even with the strong finish today, the bogey on No. 5 did slow him down and six players had a better score on Friday than he did.
Looking at the glass half full, McIlroy found his groove late in the round and we saw there are low scores to be had. Sergio Garcia and Ryan Palmer each shot six-under par to move atop the leaderboard. The third round has been McIlroy's day during this streak of excellence, shooting a 68 or better in four of his last five events.
If that happens at the BMW Championship, McIlroy will head into Sunday as the favorite to win this tournament for the second time in his career.
Day 1 Recap
As he's done so often this summer, McIlroy got off to a rousing start in the first round with a three-under 67. Here's a look at his first-round scorecard:
Note: McIlroy started on the back nine
While his margins of victory may not be the same as Tiger's, what McIlroy is doing is approaching what the 14-time major champion did in his prime. Just look at the run McIlroy had starting on No. 17 and after he made the turn with four birdies in five holes that put him in the lead, via PGA Tour:
Fellow golfer Erik Compton made the comparison between McIlroy and Tiger after a practice session on Wednesday with one slight difference, via Kyle Porter of CBSSports.com:
What I saw today was very comparable to what I saw playing with Tiger in 2000, except Rory has more power. Rory is a lot longer than Tiger ever was. The biggest difference is Rory hits his driver better. I have never seen anybody with that kind of power and control, period.
With comparisons to Tiger in his prime always present, McIlroy has to do his best to keep his ego in check. Fortunately, he sounds like that's not a challenge. Here's what he said to reporters during a media session Wednesday about his meteoric rise, via Josh Moser of Colorado 9 News:
I feel like I've been in this position for awhile now, that I know how to handle it better. You have to practice, you have to do the things that you always did to get to that point, which was to be the best player in the world. I can't neglect that. So, that's first and foremost. Then, everything else is after that.
There are certain moments when you just feel like McIlroy has turned the switch on, leaving the rest of the field searching for answers. Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel (sarcastically) posits there may be a reason for Thursday's strong showing:
Rory McIlroy leading the BMW Championship early on. Must be really steamed about relinquishing that FedEx Cup points lead.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) September 4, 2014
Even though that's clearly a joke, it's not impossible that McIlroy's competitive edge went into a higher gear upon seeing Chris Kirk leap into the top spot of the FedEc Cup standings.
During his practice sessions, McIlroy made news by taking advantage of the thin air in Colorado by hitting a drive some 370 yards over the netting at the first-hole range (h/t Randall Mell of the Golf Channel). Golf World noted on Twitter that he couldn't quite duplicate that feat on Thursday:
Rory McIlroy hit a 3-wood 348 yards on the 1st hole today. Not too shabby, but he hit one 370(!) yesterday... http://t.co/SDAE2gYzzl— Golf World (@GolfWorldUS) September 4, 2014
McIlroy did take his foot off the gas after moving into the lead, or at least the course finally provided some challenges, as he had back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 7 and 8 (his 16th and 17th holes). Regardless of the slow finish, this was just another feather in the top-ranked player's cap.
Going back to when McIlroy's run of victories started in July at the British Open, he's been under par in 20 of his last 21 rounds and shot under 70 a staggering 15 times. By comparison, Phil Mickelson has shot under 70 22 times in 20 events this year before Thursday.
There's still a long way to go and it certainly appears that low scores are coming this weekend, but McIlroy has to like his chances after Thursday. He is at the top of the leaderboard, a welcome change after shooting 74 and 70 in the first round the previous two weeks.
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