Friday, August 8, 2014

Louis Oosthuizen takes long drive title; Rory McIlroy steals show

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The buzz surrounded Rory McIlroy, but by the end of the day, it belonged to Louis Oosthuizen.

Well after fan-favorite McIlroy hit his tee shot, and as Jason Day’s mark of 338 yards looked like it would be enough to win the title, Oosthuizen hit one to 340 yards to claim the 2014 PGA Long Drive Competition.         

With the practice round winding down around 5:45 p.m., Oosthuizen took aim at Day’s distance and beat it by two yards. For his drive, Oosthuizen will receive a gold money clip inspired by the one Jack Nicklaus won in 1963 and still uses to this day. There will also be a $25,000 donation split between two charities in Oosthuizen’s name.

While McIlroy’s may not have walked away with the title, the day belonged to him. For hours, people were wondering when McIlroy would tee it off at Valhalla’s 590-yard, par-5 10th hole. That anticipation only grew as arrived at the first hole around 1 p.m. EST. By the time the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland reached the contest, the crowd had grown to line the fairway in anticipation of seeing the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer swing – not that they were entirely ready. McIlroy quickly got to the tee and pretended to tee off as the walkway across the fairway was still open, and people were still crossing it. When McIlroy did take his swing, the ball sailed wide of the fairways and therefore McIlroy was credited with a distance of 0. He didn’t need much encouragement from the fans to take another one, and this one sailed even though its distance wasn’t counted.

After the second shot, McIlroy headed to the clubhouse, having finished his day by participating in the competition. It was that type of loose atmosphere and eagerness to compete that was consent on No. 10. For most of the morning, golfers took aim at Adam Scott’s mark of 320 yards, which was hit on the first swing of the day. Some did so in a laid-back manner, like Keegan Bradley, who was the first to overtake Scott with a 326-yard drive.

Bradley’s record was short-lived as maybe a minute later, Rickie Fowler bested his playing partner by two yards. No player exemplified those two attitudes in the contest better than Padraig Harrington. Harrington decided to do a ‘Happy Gilmore’ style hit that missed the fairway. Afterwards, he took another shot that traveled 335 yards and would have put him past Gary Woodland for the lead. Upon hearing his second shot would have put him in the lead, he was a bit disappointed that he hadn’t done so on the first try. This was the first time a long drive contest was held before the PGA Championship since 1984. The setting of the return was fitting, as the first one was in 1952 at Big Spring Country Club in Louisville. No one was able to top Nicklaus’ winning mark of 341 he set in 1963 – the first of his back-to-back wins – that he got using a persimmon driver and a wound ball. The day was not without some disappointment for fans as Bubba Watson only used a 3-iron and did not register a distance.

That did not stop others from having fun with the event, even if they were not in a position to win it. Rich Beem celebrated as if he set the standard when his ball traveled 289 yards after being mishit.

Fan-favorite John Daly and his multi-colored pants also made an appearance. Daly hit one to 314 yards that at the time put him in third, but dropped him outside of the top 10 by the end of the day.

Local favorite Kenny Perry gave his sizeable early-morning supporters something to cheer about when his drive went 291 yards. But by the end of the night, the bragging rights and the title of longest driver belonged to Oosthuizen.

By Andrew Prezioso

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