Thursday 23 May 2019

Brian Keogh: 'Task of taming 'brute' sees Faldo dismiss Tiger and Rory from PGA reckoning'

 

Tiger Woods suffering with a virus as he misses the cut at the US PGA Championship (Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods suffering with a virus as he misses the cut at the US PGA Championship (Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Brian Keogh

Nick Faldo took a well-worn piece of paper out of his pocket and read his top tips for the US PGA. "Moli, Rose, Dustin and Brooks are the four I believe will be up there," he said.

No Rory McIlroy. No Tiger Woods. Just mental question marks beside their names and money to the bookies on Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka - four relentless ball-strikers who make few mistakes.

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"He is not going to win. No, no, no. Bethpage will beat Tiger this week," Faldo said. "The beast will beat the Tiger."

His decision to leave the 43-year-old Masters champion out of the equation has everything to do with the chilly conditions and the toll that three-and-a-half inches of rough - a gnarly mixture of bluegrass, poa annua and rye grass - can take on a fused back.

"You've just got to hit the fairways," Faldo said. "It's a brute. Tiger has tomorrow morning to deal with if it rains like they're saying. There is no let-up on any hole or any shot on this course. If you hit it in thick stuff, you have to be really defensive and chip it out safely.

"If you're in the second cut you have to pray to get it back into play. You have to do it all week long here, big par-threes, unless the weather really breaks. It's going to be a brute. Close to level-par will get close."

If Woods is to challenge Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 Majors, Faldo recommends concentrating on his fitness for April and the Masters.

"When he won in 100 degrees in Atlanta (last year) he went to the Ryder Cup where it was colder, and his swing was shorter," Faldo said. "I'm interested to see how he copes with changing conditions. That back must be bionic. But they will all have it tough."

It will be tough for McIlroy, not only because he hasn't won a Major for close to five years or because he is battling a pull with the driver and struggles with his wedges, but also because he's not a player who likes to grind.

"He suffers when he's out of the tournament," Faldo said. "He only likes to play when right in it or charging through - just hovering doesn't do it for him. He gets a bit deflated.

"Everybody is different. Some people say try 100 per cent until you can't try anymore. Others might say, it's not mine this week, so why use up the energy."

That's a pretty damning assessment of McIlroy's status in the era when Koepka has won three of the last seven Majors and looks ready to win more.

"We were talking that way when Rory got to four in about five minutes," he said of the chances of double-digit Major wins for Koepka. "I said he may be really disappointed with 19, or ecstatic to get to five.

"That was five years ago, and he will be ecstatic to get five. Koepka is not carrying any negatives. Physically, mentally and technically, he is pretty darn good.

"With Rory, there's the swing, Jordan (Spieth) the same - a bit of swing and emotion - and there are a lot of names coming through who have not won yet because of experience. Only a few come here with no baggage."

Nobody doubts that when on top form, McIlroy has the tools to conquer all 18 holes at Bethpage. But answering 72 tough questions in a row is another story.

"We are just not sure with Rory if he can turn it on and stay at the level," Faldo said. "If it is going to be a par-fest, has he got the patience for that? It will be interesting."

Faldo's long-term advice for McIlroy is to make golf the be-all and end-all in his life for the next 20 years and sort out his issues with his wedge control before the scar tissue builds further.

"I think the wedges have cost him," he said. "That would cost you mentally more. That would deflate me more. If I have hit it down the middle of the fairway and can't get a wedge inside 15 feet and you have still got to putt.

"You have just got to find a way and work on it till you are blue in the face. That is what Dustin Johnson did. It took him a good year or so but what a difference. You have got to have that ability to land the ball on the number, absolutely on your number."

This is a full-blooded test that's not for the faint-hearted and even a grinder like joint course-record holder Pádraig Harrington knows there will be no let up.

Bracing himself for a tough test, he said: "I think it's an overall test, this one, in terms of you lose a shot or two out there, and you don't feel like you're going to get it back. I think that's the intimidation factor of Bethpage Black.

"If you get behind, and you're one or two-over par, and you start thinking ahead, you can look at the card, and you go, where am I going to make some birdies here to make up for this? It just gives up nothing."

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