McIlroy silences doubters, Tiger’s uneven week, Koepka’s diet has him “out of sorts” and Simpson sounds off on rules: What you missed

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Welcome to the Dew Sweeper, your one-stop shop to catch up on the weekend action from the golf world. From the professional tours, trending news, social media headlines and upcoming events, here’s every golf-related thing you need to know for the morning of March 18.

Rory silences doubters

They started as whispers, amplifying in audibility and censure. “Why can’t Rory McIlroy finish?” McIlroy was off to an auspicious start this season, leading the tour in strokes gained entering TPC Sawgrass, but a start that was overshadowed by a lack of wins. And because golfers of McIlroy’s stature are judged solely on victories, it became a booming (if misinformed) narrative.

A narrative now considered closed, the seal stamped with a one-shot victory at the Players Championship.

“I needed to show a lot of character out there,” McIlroy said. “I think all the experiences I’ve had over the last few weeks in terms of trying to win and not getting over the line definitely helped me today.

It wasn’t an aesthetically-pleasing display, at least out of the gate. McIlroy, who started the round ranked 115th in fourth-round scoring, failed to birdie the par-5 second, doubled the fourth after his approach found the water, and bogeyed the seventh. With a crowd at the top of the board, it appeared the Ulsterman would be peppered with similar inquiries about his inability to close.

But while the final groups came out on the business end of Sawgrass on Sunday afternoon, McIlroy poured himself a coffee and proved he earned it, making five birdies in an eight-hole stretch to take the lead. After safely navigating the 17th, McIlroy boomed a drive on the 18th with a one-shot lead, then hit this beauty from 155 yards:

For a man who can’t close, that’s a deafening door slam.

With the win, his first on tour in a year, McIlroy joins Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players with 15 wins and four majors before 30. “I came on tour and all I wanted to do was keep my card, and from there, you grow and you learn and you become a better player, and you realize that there’s a lot more that you can achieve,” McIlroy said. “I think all the experience that I’ve racked up over those first 10 or 11 years means that I’m way for prepared for these next 10, and if you’re more prepared, hopefully that means you can have more success.”

Attention now moves to the Masters, where McIlroy, the new tournament favorite, will try to finish off the career Grand Slam. Despite his Players triumph, once the Masters begins, his fortitude, his mindset, his creativity will again be questioned. That’s the unfortunate nature of today’s sports landscape.

But questions to be battled another day. On Sunday night, McIlroy was the man with the answers.

The PLAYERS Championship - Final Round
Mike Ehrmann

Furyk’s Sunday fury

Professional golfers are not particularly an animated bunch, showing as much excitement as a monk filing a tax return. Even against that backdrop, Jim Furyk is as stoic as it gets.

Imagine the collective surprise, then, that it was 48-year-old Furyk providing the Sunday fireworks at Sawgrass, coming this close to winning the Players with a five-under 67 to finish in second.

“I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be in the field,” said Furyk, who gained entry via a T-9 at the Honda Classic. “So found out kind of late Sunday that I was definitely in, last guy in the field. I really liked the state of my game, the way I was playing. I played a great event at Honda, and just was excited. I mean, I knew how well I was playing and wanted some opportunities to get out there on the golf course.”

Talk about shooting your shot. Starting the day five back of Jon Rahm, Furyk made the turn in 34 and added birdies on the 10th and 11th to jump into the lead. He traded a bogey at the 15th for a birdie at the 16th, and put his approach to 15 feet at the 17th, but missed the putt. Needing a red figure on the last to have any hope, Furyk made the following swing from 172 yards, sauntering in the vein of a walk-off home run:

Furyk made the putt, and walked off the green looking anything but sedate.

“I haven’t put myself in the heat with really a good opportunity to win a golf tournament in a while, and I missed it,” Furyk said. “I missed the nerves, I missed the excitement, the cheers, and I think the emotion you saw on 18 was just I was proud of the way I played.

“I kind of walked early on 17, too. It’s not something I usually do, but I think I was just really excited to be in the moment.”

The weekend vaulted Furyk up over 100 spots in the world ranking, bestowing a spot in the WGC-Match Play, and Furyk now has a shot at a Masters invite as well. Though he fell just short, Furyk said he was “at peace” with the final standings.

“This is the first time I’ve been healthy starting a season since ’15,” Furyk said. “’16 I had a surgery early in the year, ’17 I hurt myself at the U.S. Open. I haven’t just been right. My whole goal was to see how competitive I could be. If I could go out and be competitive out here on the tour and give myself opportunities to win, that’s what I consider competitive, I want to try to win golf tournaments.”

A mission accomplished, and accomplished with vigor. Stoicism’s overrated, anyhow.

The PLAYERS Championship - Final Round
Richard Heathcote

Tiger insists he’s on “the right track”

There was so much electricity and nostalgia engulfing Tiger-mania’s return to Augusta National last spring you’re forgiven for thinking the man arrived in Doc Brown’s DeLorean. This spring, relatively speaking, he’s rolling into town with a spare tire and busted taillight.

In his last stroke-play start before the Masters, Tiger Woods had an uneven performance at Sawgrass, finishing T-30 and 10 strokes behind McIlroy. There were positives, such as ranking fifth in strokes gained/off-the-tee, and Woods mostly—a big ole’ underline under “mostly”—kept the big numbers at bay. Moreover, the only time he didn’t—sinking two into the water on the 17th Friday morning—galvanized fans into thinking Tiger wasn’t far away from a respectable showing.

“I was close to getting over the hurdle and getting things rolling,” Woods said Sunday. “And unfortunately I made a 7 over at 17 [on Friday]. I missed a few putts that I could have very easily got the momentum going that could have gotten me on a run. I was close.

“I know that the score doesn’t really indicate that, but this is one of the golf courses that it will—there’s some weird spots here, and it was fun to play but also I was telling [Steve] Sands-y this is probably the most stressful golf course you ever play when there’s wind out here. It just, the wind swirls and you have fairways that are tough to hit and then you have the greens that are tough to hit and put it in the right sections. And if you don’t, you’re going to be standing on your head hitting some shots. Only had a few of those this week, so all in all it was a solid week.”

Conversely, Tiger’s woes extended beyond the Island Green. He posted negative figures in strokes gained/approach in three of four rounds, finishing 70th (out of 73) in the category. The putter continued to be fickle, and Woods failed to take advantage of the par 5s (four under, 62nd among the field).

While Woods hasn’t been bad in his four starts this campaign, it’s a far cry from last winter, when he came close to winning at Innisbrook and contended at Bay Hill. Taking a pass on this week’s Valspar Championship, Woods’ last Masters tune-up will be the WGC-Match Play. It’s an event that presents a possible workload issue, although Woods doesn’t appear to view it as such.

“I’m hoping that I can play all the matches,” Woods said. “That would be great, I’m guaranteed to play three instead of when I played it was only one guaranteed, so that’s kind of nice knowing that I’ll be able to get at least three good rounds in, possibly more if I play well.”

That may seem like wishful thinking, yet Woods insists he likes where his game is headed as Augusta draws near. Woods’ Masters hype is not as magnified as last year’s return, and Rory’s Grand Slam quest may take center stage among the Georgia pines. Which could work in the 43-year-old’s favor; after all, tigers prowl best in the dark.

The PLAYERS Championship - Round Two
Richard Heathcote

Webb sounds off on rules

The tour needs to install a “Weeks since last rules controversy” sign on every first tee. With the sign reading zero at the Valspar Championship.

The latest snafu involves Webb Simpson, last year’s Players champ, who turned in a final-round 68 in spite of a one-stroke penalty suffered at the 14th hole. Simpson, standing on the fringe, inadvertently struck his ball after his long putter tangled with his shirt, a violation of Rule 9.4b (Ball Lifted or Moved by Player).

Following the round, Simpson let his feelings on the matter known.

“This is where I’m going to be loud and clear. We have to get intent into the rules. We have to. Because it’s killing our game when it comes to these kind of things,” Simpson said.

Oddly enough, had the ball been on the green, Simpson would have been able to replace it without penalty. Simpson—who’s been assertive that the tour should have its own rules—was emphatic that the guidelines need further tinkering.

“What [the USGA and R&A] try to say is either it’s hard to write the rule with intent or you open it up for gray area,” Simpson said. “Well, I think it’s actually the opposite because I’m playing with Lucas [Glover], we’re up there, why would I try to move the ball? There’s no advantage and there’s cameras everywhere, too. I don’t know if that got on there, but my putter hit my clothes, it moved it a quarter inch, I’m going to move it back. So I’m just I’m hoping that somehow or another intent can get broadened.”

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has been unequivocal in preaching patience and cooperation with the USGA, but those sentiments haven’t permeated the player ranks. It’s also clear the grumblings are more than a byproduct of the rollout’s assimilation period. The criticism and resistance will subside, eventually. Sadly, it’s a moment not on the present horizon.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented By MasterCard - Round Two
Sam Greenwood

GC Report: Koepka’s diet has him “out of sorts”

A photo shoot is possibly having a detrimental effect on Brooks Koepka’s game. Which is a sentence we’re sure would have killed Ben Hogan if he wasn’t already dead.

According to Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner, the three-time major champ has lost 24 pounds since November, a fluctuation that’s messed with Koepka’s distance.

“When you go from 212 pounds to 190, there’s not as much weight going forward through the ball,” Koepka told Lavner. “I don’t have as much feel. I just feel out of sorts.”

That sensation is seen in Koepka’s stats, ranking 59th in strokes gained/distance after coming in ninth last year. And though he nearly won the Honda Classic two weeks ago, it’s his only top-20 finish in five tour starts in 2019.

Why the diet, you ask? The 28-year-old was coy, telling Lavner “You’ll see. After Wednesday I’ll be fine.” Koepka also said the transformation was worth it, as it’s only “four months of my career.”

More than a few social media sleuths have posited that it’s likely a photo shoot at play, with Lavner suggesting it could be for ESPN the Magazine’s annual body issue. Somewhat unnecessary, considering Koepka’s vacation photos have left little to the imagination.

Whatever the catalyst, if a guy who looks like this…

The Honda Classic  - Round One
Ben Jared

…is claiming he doesn’t have enough pop, there’s no hope for the rest of us poor bastards.

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