The marquee group of young guns (God, I really hate that term) Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley and Kyle Stanley teed off at 7:30am on Thursday morning with the winds relatively calm at PGA National. McIlroy and Bradley took advantage of the ideal scoring conditions, posting four-under 66 and three-under 67, respectively. Meanwhile, Stanley didn’t have his best, to say the least, and chopped his way in for a five-over 75.
Rory, who fell victim to the Bear Trap in the second round last year, is currently tied for second. He’s had his eye set on reaching No. 1 in the world rankings and like last week, he has the chance to topple Luke Donald from the throne with a win.
Some notes on the day so far…
*Wind is definitely picking up this afternoon, as expected. It’ll be just right when Tiger Woods goes through the infamous Bear Trap, where I’m headed out to watch in a minute.
*No, that’s not a typo or error on the leaderboard — American Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III is the leader in the clubhouse after firing a six-under 64. Love aced the par-3 No. 5 with a 5-iron. Then, he rattled off three more birdies on the front on Nos. 7, 8 and 9.
“It was 197 (yards on No. 5), and it was a little bit the wind was just starting to blow, and it was like a little bit outside of my comfort range for a 5-iron,” said Love in his post-round presser. “But you knew 4 was too much. And Matt (Bettencourt) hit a 5 and got it there pretty easy. I
“I said, well, I’ll just hit it up the middle of the green if I hit it hard, maybe it will turn towards the hole a little bit, just play it out there right of the flag a little bit safe; and hit it, and it was in the air, it looked great, just telling it to go a little bit. And it hit, I don’t know, three or four feet short and just I don’t know if it bounced once or twice but went right in. I couldn’t really see it. It didn’t roll a long way.
“Like I said it landed three, four feet from the hole. But they are so soft it was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever played this course in a long time with the greens so soft. They were backing up.”
Thanks to the rain yesterday, the golf course played softer than usual this morning.
*Love said in his presser earlier this week that he’d play if he made the Ryder Cup on points, which would make him the first playing American captain in a very long time.
Asked again about it after his hot start, he added: “All you have to do is have one good week and right back in there. One good week for me and I’m right back up in there. I got a few points last year which was nice, but they are all this year. Two wins is going to put a guy into good position.
“We begged (Tom) Kite to pick himself and he wouldn’t do it. There’s been a lot of them that could have played. But you know, that’s a long way off.”
*There are other reasons that Love wants to play well, too.
“”You know, I switch modes, you know, from Tuesday (during the PGA of America/Ryder Cup presser), and now I’m thinking about playing,” he said. “So that’s obviously your goal. You know, when I talk to my friends you know, your goal shouldn’t be just to play good today. Your goal should be to be the FedExCup Champion and to make The Ryder Cup Team and to win all the majors, because drive, that makes you work hard every day, come out and play hard and be focused.
“You know, we are talking about getting ready for the Masters; I need to be ready for every week right now and do my best to move back up.
“I told my son the other day, I said, I want to play in the Match Play next year. I’m not in the Match Play and I’m not in Doral. That’s why I need to play well; it’s not necessarily just The Ryder Cup Team. If I’m close to making The Ryder Cup Team and don’t make it, that means I’m going to be in the Match Play next year. I have to win to get in the Masters. So there’s a lot of reasons to come out and play well other than just to earn points.”
*Rory feels like his work ethic has improved and it’s showed and appears to be paying off.
“I feel like I’m just a better golfer,” said McIlroy in his post-round presser. “Maybe a little more focused, a little more yeah, I mean, not that I never took it seriously, but I feel like I’ve got a few targets in my head and a few things, and I’m sort of striving to get to those. So I feel like my work ethic is probably increased a little bit this year, as well. So it’s probably been a few things, but it comes down to hard work, and just wanting it a little bit more.”
He’s also become more efficient with his practice sessions.
“I feel like I manage my time a lot better,” he said. “I know if I go on the range, I go on the range for 45 minutes and in those 45 minutes, I’m going to hit balls and that’s all I do. Sometimes you go for on the range and you’ll spend an hour and a half and you’ll be talking to someone here, and someone will be talking to you there, and you just don’t get the work done that you need to; instead of just going on the range with a purpose, doing everything with a purpose. And that’s something I’ve felt like I started to do the last few months.”
His girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki has been a very positive influence on him.
“The only thing I feel from that side is being close to someone who works so hard,” he said. “Obviously that’s got to have a great influence on you, because you see how hard they work, and you know, I’m there hitting golf balls. It’s not a hardship, really (compared to tennis training).”
*Hank Kuehne is making his first start on the PGA Tour since 2007. He’s been sidelined by injuries for the last five years. How was his first round back? Not too shabby — he shot an even-par 70, which included 6 birdies, a double-bogey and four bogeys. Hey, gotta work a little on consistency, but he can’t be upset with that. He’s a little rusty, after all.
*Oh, what else? Tiger Woods is having a ho-hum day. He’s even through 13 and I’m headed out the door to watch!