SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda – By the time play reached the signature hole at Port Royal Golf Course, the 235-yard, par-3 16th along the Atlantic, the spectacular aqua ocean to the left was matched for impact by the ominous gray sky above.
“You could see the rain coming in,” Charl Schwartzel said.
That’s right, rain.
In paradise, no less.
Shocking stuff and certainly not what anyone in attendance at the 29th Grand Slam of Golf wanted, but the fact is, for the majority of the day the weather was vintage stuff. Unfortunately, only two of the four entrants – Keegan Bradley and Rory McIlroy – could say the same about their golf.
That Bradley and McIlroy both shot 4-under 67 in this $1.35 million tournament for winners of the four major championships was the bottom-line story. But golf being an impossible adventure to explain, they got there in entirely different fashions.
Bradley, the PGA Championship winner, hit what he said were “probably my best two shots of the year,” 6-irons in each case to set up eagle putts of 3 feet at the par-5 second and 4 feet at the par-5 seventh. He sprinkled in three birdies and a 40-foot putt that he made for bogey at No. 1 to go out in 6-under 30.
He owned a five-stroke cushion over McIlroy, the U.S. Open champion, through 13 holes. But the spirited kid from Northern Ireland made three birdies over his final five holes, Bradley bogeyed 14 and 16, and thus did they trudge into the clubhouse knotted – oh, and soaked.
“Probably the hardest rain I played in all year,” Bradley said of the trek up the par-5 17th when it was coming down sideways.
Standard stuff in the Open Championship, not that it was of much use to the man who mastered that major in 2011. Darren Clarke bogeyed three of his first four holes, never found an ounce of rhythm, and shot 77.
Schwartzel, the Masters winner, scored slightly better, a 74, but was somewhat perplexed because “I thought I actually played well, up to the 12th.”
It’s an accurate assessment, because walking to the 12th tee, the South African was bogey-free and 2 under. But he bogeyed three straight holes, then joined Clarke in a dismal performance at the daunting 16th. It hangs over a steep cliff and challenges your nerves, but when Schwartzel saw McIlroy reach the green with a 6-iron, he figured his 5-iron was enough.
Unfortunately, Schwartzel was lost to the left the green, then compounded matters by three-putting. Clarke wasn’t any better, his tee shot wide left, then a poor pitch and like Schwartzel, he had a triple bogey.
That misery at 16 pretty much put this edition of the Grand Slam of Golf into focus: It’s a two-man race over Wednesday’s final 18 holes between Bradley and McIlroy. And the fact that the sun came bursting through minutes after play had ended made that even easier to see.
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Rory McIlroy headed back to China: As if the seven-day, eight-course tour of China that he just completed wasn’t enough, McIlroy is headed back there for two weeks.
No, he’s not trying to gain citizenship. But it’s very hard to turn down the financial opportunities that are cropping up in that enormous country – so quickly, in fact, that one tournament seemed to come on line without any warning.
It’s called the Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters, and because it’s not sanctioned by any tour, there are no world-ranking points available. No worries there because “there’s a lot of money,” McIlroy said.
Indeed, there is. The purse will be $5 million, with $2 million going to the winner. Eight players from China will be in the field of 30, but McIlroy headlines an impressive list of world-class entrants. Nos. 2 and 3 in the world order – Lee Westwood and McIlroy, respectively – will be joined by No. 13 Charl Schwartzel, No. 14 K.J. Choi and No. 18 Hunter Mahan.
Bradley, ranked 26th, also is signed up, along with Louis Oosthuizen, Retief Goosen, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Jim Furyk, Geoff Ogilvy, Y.E. Yang, Padraig Harrington, Colin Montgomerie, Robert Karlsson, Kevin Na, Noh Seung-Yul, Anthony Kim and John Daly.
In all, 14 field members are ranked within the top 50 in the world, and because it’s not sanctioned, none of the participants has to seek a release from his home tour.
The Shanghai Masters was popped into a timely slot – Oct. 27-30 – because it will be played the week before the World Golf Championship HSBC Champions, also in Shanghai. Naturally, giving players back-to-back weeks in China makes the trip that much more appealing.
But it will perhaps send some angst through PGA Tour headquarters because their joint effort with the Asian Tour, the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic Malaysia, is opposite the Shanghai Masters, which will have a stronger field.
One agent predicted that the European Tour will seize upon the opportunity to make the Shanghai Masters part of its schedule, maybe as soon as 2012. Certainly, it’s further proof that the tours had better give proper respect to what’s going on in that nation.
“In a few years, there will be more $5 million tournaments in China than on the European Tour,” said Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, who’ll have four members of his stable – Westwood, McIlroy, Schwartzel and Oosthuizen – playing in the Shanghai Masters.
Certainly, back-to-back weeks in China weren’t on Bradley’s schedule at the start of the year, but the surprising rookie is booked for two events in Shanghai.
“Pretty cool. I really can’t wait. I’m looking forward to it,” Bradley said.
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Keegan Bradley avoids Presidents Cup talk: Bradley said he appreciates public comments made by Greg Norman, but he’s not about to get caught up in any sort of Presidents Cup controversy. The PGA Championship winner was passed over in favor of Tiger Woods and Bill Haas to round out the American team, but he’ll opt for diplomacy, thank you very much.
“I think that Freddie (Couples) had a really tough decision,” Bradley said. “He did what he thought was best for the team.”
Norman, who’ll captain the International Team, said earlier in the week that he would have picked Bradley, not Woods.
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Rory McIlroy talks about Tom Lewis’ win: When he said a few months ago that today’s top amateurs were amateurs in name only, Tom Watson apparently didn’t rankle too many people. McIlroy, for one, seems to agree with the icon.
Asked his reaction to Tom Lewis’ European Tour victory last week in the Portugal Masters in just his third pro start, McIlroy took a page from Watson’s book. “Tom was basically a semipro for the last year of his amateur year,” the 22-year-old McIlroy said.
But before you can suggest that McIlroy is tossing a barb at Lewis, the kid from Northern Ireland said Lewis was not alone. He played a stellar schedule as an amateur “like a lot of the guys, like I did.”
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World traveler: The conversation rolled around to McIlroy’s recent schedule – the Dunhill Links in Scotland, then to South Korea for the Korean Open, then a week in China that called for eight courses in seven days, all leading into a 10,000-mile trip from Hong Kong to Los Angeles to Bermuda – and heads were spinning.
“So, the question for Chubby, I guess, is: ‘Is Red Bull going to be sponsoring you in the future?’ ” asked Julius Mason of the PGA of America, a question that had folks laughing.
But standing nearby, Chandler smiled and said, “Funny you should mention that.”