Memphis offers strong test with Pinehurst looming

By Associated PressJune 4, 2014, 9:42 pm

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – There's a certain level of pressure on Harris English to defend his first PGA Tour title. It's a good thing he has a lot of friends in town considering the competition at the St. Jude Classic.

As the final tuneup for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, this tournament has what might be its strongest field since leaving Colonial Country Club after 1988 for the TPC Southwind course.

Three-time winner Patrick Reed is just one of 13 here to win a title in recent months. Matt Kuchar withdrew Tuesday after a late commitment, but Phil Mickelson is among seven ranked in the world's top 30 honing their games for Pinehurst. David Toms and Justin Leonard, both two-time champs at this event, are among the nine former St. Jude winners here, too.

''It's amazing how many really good players are playing this week,'' English said Wednesday. ''I don't know if they really like the golf course here, it's a good warm-up for the U.S. Open or maybe it's a combination of things. But it's awesome to see because I want to play in a tournament where the best people are playing, and that's obviously what we have this week.''

English followed up his St. Jude victory by winning the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, and he has six top-10 finishes in 18 events. But he has missed the cut in three of his past five events, so he also wants to tune up for his first U.S. Open. English, who helped Baylor School in Chattanooga win four Tennessee high school golf titles before college at Georgia, arrived here early to visit with friends, relax and prepare.

He tees off Thursday morning with Mickelson and Scott Stallings, who finished tied for second here last year.

''I'm very excited to be back here and looking forward to the week,'' English said.

This tournament, sponsored by FedEx, does offer up 500 FedEx Cup points to the winner. The rough is a little sparse after a rough winter, but par is a good score on this 7,239-yard course to hone the competitive edge. A soggy spring has the fairways a little soft, but the Champion Bermuda greens are in perfect shape and similar enough to Pinehurst to provide a good test.

Add in Memphis' usual heat and humidity and Lee Westwood believes this is good preparation for Pinehurst. Westwood hasn't played at Pinehurst since the last U.S. Open there, but he won on this course in 2010.

''I feel like the areas around the greens, which are critical next week at Pinehurst are very similar here,'' Westwood said. ''You have the low-cut Bermuda grass with the grain cut into you. Delicate tough little chip shots we have to work on. It's a wonderful place to get ready for next week. I'm glad I'm here.''

Mickelson tied for 49th at Memorial last week following a visit from FBI agents and lingering questions about an insider-trading investigation. He did spend two days at Pinehurst recently working on his touch around the greens, which he hopes will translate in Memphis where a delicate hand is crucial on chip shots.

Winless since the British Open, Mickelson said he needs to finish his rounds.

''I don't feel like the parts are off, but the score's been off,'' Mickelson said. ''And so I've got to stay sharp, salvage shots, fight through each round and see if I can finish strong. Last week I finished a lot of the rounds really poorly, and I need to get momentum for next week. And the best way to do that is to shoot low numbers.''

Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champ, said everyone always tries to work their scheduling around the majors in an attempt to peak at the right time. He is coming off a break, though he came to Tennessee after playing 24 holes at Pinehurst earlier this week.

''I'd love to win here at Memphis this week,'' McDowell said. ''A lot of good pluses here at this golf course, and it's tough as well. It's a U.S. Open-type mindset as well. Par's a good score here.''

Divots: Scottie Scheffler, the 17-year-old amateur, is making his second tour start on a sponsor's exemption. Scheffler finished tied for second in his debut last month at the Byron Nelson Championship. ... NASCAR driver Danica Patrick turned out to cheer on boyfriend and fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Wednesday's pro-am.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.