Notes: Dufner's travels; Rory feels 'comfortable'

By Associated PressOctober 29, 2013, 8:02 pm

JASON'S TRAVELS: Jason Dufner has been traveling the world before anyone knew who he was.

The PGA champion first went to Australia for a Nationwide Tour event. He played a Tour de las Americas event in South America. He was the ''other American'' who received a sponsor's exemption to the Australian Masters in 2009 when record crowds watched Tiger Woods win at Kingston Heath.

''I've always wanted to go play different places in the world,'' Dufner said Tuesday at the HSBC Champions. ''Some of the guys I looked up were world players – Gary Player, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, guys like that. I think it's important for the game of golf. And now that I'm a higher-ranked player, it would be selfish for me not to do it. The game needs us to play more.''

Dufner even is contemplating European Tour membership for next year, though it might be too much on his plate.

He already plays two events in the Middle East. He can count the four majors and four World Golf Championships. The problem might be finding two more events in continental Europe.

''I've been kicking around the idea,'' he said. ''It's just figuring out what events might fit and what might not.''


DIALED IN: Heading into the final stretch of the season, Rory McIlroy was still tinkering with his equipment after the switch to Nike. He feels as if he finally has it figured out, thanks to a new combination of a driver with a slightly larger head, and a ball is softer around the greens.

Of course, it helps that he is swinging better than he has all year.

Asked if it was the best ball-driver combination he has had all season, McIlroy thought for a moment and replied, ''It's the best ball-driver I've ever had.''

''It's the highest ball speed I ever got - 184 mph ball speed, which is high,'' he said. ''This is the first year I comfortably going into the 180s in all speed, and this has upped it again. I feel comfortable with it. And the most comforting thing is I'm swinging the club well.''


UNLUCKY ALTERNATES: Joost Luiten was first alternate at the British Open, and he wasn't very happy when Peter Hanson played only five holes before he withdrew with a bad back. Hanson knew he couldn't finish the tournament. He felt he had to tee off so it would count as a start toward the minimum 15 required to remain a PGA Tour member.

''Those things are always tough,'' Hanson said.

Luiten found that out for himself last week at the BMW Masters. He had a shoulder injury and felt he couldn't play. Justin Walters of South Africa was the first alternate who desperately needed a start.

The problem was a European Tour policy that requires players to compete in two of the three events in the Final Series to be eligible for the season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai. Luiten's best chance of getting to Dubai was to count the BMW Masters, take off two weeks to heal his shoulder, play in Turkey and then be eligible for Dubai. He is No. 14 on the money list.

Among the players he sought for advice? Hanson, of all people.

''In the locker room, he's asking me, 'Should I play or should I not?' We had a laugh about that,'' Hanson said.

Luiten hit a weak tee shot with his driver on the first hole and withdrew. He got credit for the start. Walters is likely out of the Race to Dubai.

In Hanson's case, his only other option was to take a minor medical exemption, which would have given him low priority for the 2013-14 season. He felt bad about his WD at the Open, but it worked out well. He managed to finish his next two events (Firestone, PGA Championship) to reach 15 starts, and he finished at No. 125 on the money list to keep his card for the next season.

''He was first alternate at the Open, and I don't blame him for being upset,'' Hanson said. ''But like I said, I wanted to keep my job. And my best chance to keep my job in America was to tee it up. In the end, you have to look after yourself.''


RYDER CUP: Padraig Harrington winced when asked if he would like to be a vice captain next year in Scotland at the Ryder Cup because it brings up the possibility the three-time major champion might not make the team.

''If I didn't make the team, I would be delighted to be a vice captain,'' Harrington said.

He said he has not spoken to European captain Paul McGinley, and McGinley hasn't said anything to him. It's a conversation he hopes doesn't take place.

''I'm in that situation that I hope he's not thinking like that,'' Harrington said.


ASIA-PACIFIC SPOILS: Augusta National and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club were behind the creation of the Asia-Pacific Amateur. The perks they offer are different.

The winner gets an invitation to the Masters, but only a spot in the final stage of qualifying for the British Open. With the changes to Open qualifying, that means Lee Chang-woo will be exempt into a tournament in Thailand where he will try to be among the top three finishers not already eligible.

''I want to see that maybe the winner of this Asian Amateur Championship can play directly over there as they can play at the Masters,'' said Kwang Soo Hur, president of the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation.

Perhaps that day is coming.

The Masters has the smallest field among majors – fewer than 100 players – and has room for an extra amateur. The Open is a 156-man field, with an alternate list. Plus, it was hard to predict the quality of the competition when this event began five years ago. The previous three winners all made the cut at Augusta National.

''It's become very, very evident from the champions that have been produced through this championship that they are of a world-class standard, and I think this is something that we and the R&A will continue to consider,'' R&A chairman Wilson Sibbett said last week. ''We haven't a plan as yet for direct entry, and so at the moment, it would still be through qualifying. But it may well be that in the future, that may change.

''But we do recognize that the standard is extremely high, and the evidence from last year at the Masters was a very clear indicator that in a world calibration, these golfers are competitive and make the cut.''

The British Open has exemptions for the British Amateur, U.S. Amateur and European Amateur champions. The Masters offers six amateur exemptions – the winner and runner-up of the U.S. Amateur, and the winners of the British Amateur, Asia-Pacific Amateur, U.S. Amateur Public Links and U.S. Mid-Amateur.


DIVOTS: The European Tour returns to South Korea next year, even though it lost Ballantine's as a title sponsor. The tournament will be played May 1-4 at Blackstone Golf Club in Icheon. The tour said it would announce a new title sponsor later. ... Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano is indebted to Soren Kjeldsen. The Spaniard forgot his wide-brim Cleveland visor last week, so he played without a hat. He won the BMW Masters, and for the trophy presentation, borrowed Kjeldsen's Cleveland visor so his primary sponsor could get its due in the victory photos.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Rory McIlroy (24) is the only player in his 20s in the top 10 of the world ranking.


FINAL WORD: ''When I was an amateur, it didn't mean much about me going up and down score wise. And now it's pretty much $1,000 on the line. I've just got to learn to not think about that and just enjoy myself.'' - Lydia Ko on joining the LPGA Tour next year.

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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”


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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.


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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”


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On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.


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Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1