NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – Tennis’ top-ranked man, Rafael Nadal, enjoys playing golf in his free time, and he kept tabs on Rory McIlroy’s record-breaking performance at the U.S. Open.
The two met last year in New York, and Nadal has been pulling for McIlroy ever since.
Nadal said McIlroy owns “probably one of the nicest swings in the world, if not the nicest. … He deserves the title.”
“For sure, what he’s doing is really something unbelievable,” Nadal said Sunday at Wimbledon, where he will begin play Monday as the defending champion. “Seriously, I love watching Rory. … I admire him a lot.”
Referring to McIlroy’s collapse at the Masters, Nadal said: “He had a very tough fourth round (at) Augusta this year, and he deserves to win a major because, in my opinion, right now he’s playing at a different level than the rest.”
SCHWARTZEL GIVES WAY: As it usually does, the U.S. Open put a quick end to thoughts of a Grand Slam. What was unusual was the surreal scene that played out Sunday involving the last major winner and the newest one.
Masters champ Charl Schwartzel arrived at the 18th green just as Rory McIlroy was getting to the No. 10 tee box across the lake. The holes are close enough so that the galleries often roar as one.
The reception for McIlroy was deafening; Schwartzel waited for it to die down before putting. When McIlroy put his tee shot within a foot of pin on the par 3, the place went nuts.
“That was pretty spectacular there,” Schwartzel said. “I saw him on the tee and I obviously stopped and watched and that was a pretty decent roar that went up there. That was pretty cool to see.”
Schwartzel, by the way, made his putt, celebrating with a fist pump a 15-footer for par that kept his round bogey-free. His 66 put him at 4 under for the championship, a U.S. Open score that often would have been good enough for a Masters champion to make it two majors in a row.
Schwartzel, though, said he began the tournament thinking 10 under would be the winning score.
“I played pretty spectacular today, actually,” he said. “I wish I had four of these.”
Schwartzel and McIlroy will always be linked by what happened at Augusta, when McIlroy blew a four-shot, final-day lead to give the South African the opening to win.
“The way he reacted, the way he handled it afterward, it looked like it was going to be around the corner,” Schwartzel said. “He put it behind him very quickly.”
The last player to win the Masters and U.S. Open back-to-back was Tiger Woods in 2002.
PHIL’S ALL WET: Phil Mickelson’s U.S. Open ended where it began, in the same body of water.
On his last hole of the championship Sunday, Mickelson stood in a greenside bunker launched a rainbow that splashed on the fly, some 15 feet beyond the other side of the peninsula green. Even the adoring gallery that had cheered so loudly during his walk up the fairway couldn’t help but let out a collective giggle.
After two unsuccessful drops on the steep lakeside slope, he had to place the ball and chip back toward the pin, where he made a 6-footer for double bogey to finish an even par round of 71 and a 7-over total of 291.
“That bunker’s not an easy spot to be in today,” Mickelson said, “and I hit a poor shot on top of it.”
The lake also received Mickelson’s opening shot in his first round on Thursday, when he started on the nearby par 3 10th and left his tee shot well short. He double bogeyed that hole as well.
Mickelson’s 69 on Friday was his only round under par on a course receptive for U.S. Open scores lower than the norm.
“I thought that the soft conditions obviously made it a little bit easier than everybody had hoped, but the setup was wonderful,” he said. “I just didn’t play how I’d hoped.”
After his round, Mickelson walked past the putting green and spotted runaway leader Rory McIlroy, who had yet to tee off for the final round.
“Play well,” said Mickelson, who then gave McIlroy’s caddie a thumbs-up.
“You could tell that Rory’s had this type of talent in him for some time now,” Mickelson said, “and to see him putting it together is pretty neat to see.”
NO MONEY DOWN: The top amateur at the U.S. Open was Patrick Cantlay, who shot a 72 Sunday to finish tied for 21st at even par — while learning just how taxing a major championship can be.
“I’m really tired,” he said. “I felt it on the back nine. But you know, it’s such a great experience to be here, and it’s been an amazing week. I’m really excited, and adrenaline kind of kept me in it.”
Cantlay, 19, just completed his freshman year at UCLA, where he plans to stay until he earns his degree. He won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s top college golfer earlier this month.
“I can work on everything,” he said. “My attitude can improve. I get down on myself sometimes. And definitely my short game can improve. I think that’s the weakest part of my game, and I think this week showed it. I had some spots where I could have gotten up-and-down and I unfortunately didn’t.”
Two other amateurs made the cut. Russell Henley shot a 75 Sunday to finish at 4 over. Brad Benjamin carded back-to-back 80s over the weekend and ended up at 21 over.
TICKET TO AUGUSTA: The top eight finishers at the U.S. Open qualify for next year’s Masters, and that’s a big deal for someone like Kevin Chappell.
Chappell was just as hot as Rory McIlroy over the final three rounds of the championship, shooting rounds of 67, 69 and 66. It helped compensate for an opening 76 and lifted him into a tie for third Sunday.
“There’s a lot to soak in,” said Chappell, whose best career finish on the PGA Tour is a second place at this year’s Texas Open. “Hopefully lock up my card for next year, which is also a big relief, and just really try and enjoy it. I played some really good golf the last three rounds, and I really do need to enjoy it.”
Chappell also matched Robert Garrigus as the top American in the field.
“I don’t think the state of American golf is where everyone expects it to be,” Chappell said. “But I think it shows that someone like myself can play out here, and I think it’s definitely going to end up going in the right direction here sometime soon.”
ANGER MANAGEMENT: Henrik Stenson was really, really upset with his approach at No. 15 Sunday at the U.S. Open.
The ball had barely taken flight when Stenson slammed his club into the fairway, breaking the shaft and cutting his hand.
Caddie Fanny Sunesson had to get out the first aid kit and play doctor, and Stenson wore a bandage on his right index finger for the rest of the round.
WRONG HOLE, RIGHT RECOVERY: Gary Woodland is from Kansas, but he must have felt as if he’d landed in Oz after he hooked his tee shot at par-5 ninth hole Sunday at the U.S. Open.
Woodland had to venture all the way to the edge of the No. 4 fairway to play his second shot. He lifted it over a bank trees, only to have the ball land on the edge of the right rough along the ninth fairway.
At least he was back on the right hole. His third shot landed precariously on the front of the green and started rolling toward the deep ravine before coming mercifully to a stop.
The pin was at the back of the green, but he putted within 6 feet and made it from there. All that work for a par.
Woodland received words of encouragement from fans as he walked to the 10th, including that most ultramodern of greetings: “I’ll tweet you later.” He then proceeded to make one of the best shots of the day at the tricky par-3 No. 10. He stuck his tee shot within 2 feet and made birdie on his way to a round of 68.
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