3 THINGS
McIlroy’s Win Kicks Off Prestigious Stretch March 17, 2019 | Liberty Corner, N.J. By David Shefter, USGA

With his Players win, Rory McIlroy joined Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino in an elite fraternity. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

After kicking off the 2018-19 PGA Tour season last October, this past weekend’s Players Championship began a stretch that will feature five of the game’s most important championships – one a month through July. It will continue with the Masters Tournament in four weeks, the PGA Championship in May, the 119th U.S. Open Championship at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links in June and The Open Championship in July.

The women are also just a couple of weeks away from their first major of 2019 – the ANA Inspiration – with the 74th U.S. Women’s Open Championship at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.) only 73 days away.

With that in mind, here are three things everyone should know as the intensity ramps up:

Irish Eyes Were Smiling

Maybe it was appropriate that St. Patrick’s Day was Sunday because one of Ireland’s favorite sons broke through for the biggest non-major victory of his career. Rory McIlroy, of Holywood in County Down, joined a select list of legends who have claimed the U.S. Open, The Open Championship, PGA Championship and The Players Championship: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Lee Trevino.

McIlroy, who turns 30 on May 4, will seek an extremely rare double in June at Pebble Beach: winning The Players and U.S. Open in the same year, a feat achieved only by Martin Kaymer in 2014. McIlroy, of course, won’t need the three-year U.S. Open exemption he received on Sunday for winning The Players, as his dominant victory at Congressional Country Club in 2011 earned him starts through 2021.

McIlroy, who shared sixth a week ago in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and was the runner-up to 2016 U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson in the WGC-Mexico Championship three weeks ago, needed a two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th hole and two closing pars to edge 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk by one stroke at TPC Sawgrass. Furyk, currently not exempt into the U.S. Open and a late add to The Players field, stuffed his approach on the 18th hole to 3 feet to reach 15-under 273 before McIlroy tied him with a 15-foot birdie on 15 and then forged ahead on the ensuing hole.

“This is probably the deepest field of the year, with so much on the line,” said McIlroy, who would achieve the career Grand Slam with a victory at the Masters. “I’m thankful it was my turn this week.”

Welcome Home

After a month of staging events in Australasia, the LPGA Tour returns to the U.S. this week for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix, Ariz. Last year, Dame Laura Davies nearly captured this event at age 54. The 1987 U.S. Women’s Open champion and World Golf Hall of Fame member settled for a share of second with Marina Alex and Ariya Jutanugarn, who went on to capture the U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek in a playoff. Two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Inbee Park won the 2018 Founders by five strokes.

Davies, nevertheless, used her runner-up finish in Phoenix as a springboard to her remarkable 10-stroke triumph in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club.

The Founders Cup honors the 13 pioneers of the LPGA Tour, women such as U.S. Women’s Open champions Patty Berg, Betty Jameson, Louise Suggs and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, as well as Marlene (Bauer) Hagge, who won the inaugural U.S. Girls’ Junior in 1949 before posting 26 LPGA Tour victories.

Four-Ball Fields Nearly Set

The final day of qualifying for the fifth editions of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball and U.S. Amateur Four-Ball championships takes place on Monday at SunRiver Golf Club in St. George, Utah (men and women), and Green Valley Country Club in Fairfield, Calif. (women only). By the end of the day, the 64 sides for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville, Fla. (April 27-May 1) and the 128 sides for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore. (May 25-29) should be finalized.

On March 11 at The Country Club of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, Kay and Abbey Daniel, of Covington, became the lone mother/daughter tandem to qualify for this year’s championship. This will be their second start in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball.

At the same site, recently retired NFL defensive lineman Kyle Williams, who was a six-time Pro Bowl selection in his 13 seasons with the Buffalo Bills, and partner Gregory Berthelot, earned medalist honors with an 8-under 64. Two days later on the Island Course at The Clubs of Kingwood (Texas), former NFL quarterback and current CBS lead analyst Tony Romo failed to qualify with partner Drew Stoltz by six strokes.

The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball field includes a number of brother tandems, including three members of the Wall family: Jeremy, Ethan and Jack, of Brielle, N.J. Jeremy and Ethan are partners, while Jack is teaming with Brendan Hansen. Another interesting team is Butler Melnyk, the son of 1969 U.S. Amateur champion Steve Melnyk, and Richard Scott, the 2001 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up, both of St. Simons Island, Ga.

One notable women’s team features two-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Julia Potter-Bobb and 2017 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Kelsey Chugg, while another is made up of four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi and three-time Women’s Mid-Am medalist Dawn Woodard.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.