The Year So Far Best Player Biggest Surprise
The West Coast swing usually sets the tone for the rest of the season, or at least builds excitement as golf heads toward The Players Championship and the Masters. This one had about as much buzz as the United States against Britain for the bronze medal in curling.
Four of eight tournaments were decided by three shots or more, and the Match Play Championship in effect ended with six holes remaining. Nine players won nine tournaments, which is not unusual and certainly not a bad thing, but there were no back-nine duels among the top players.
Then again, the top five players competed against each other only once.
Tiger Woods has played only nine rounds on the PGA Tour this year. Ernie Els did not show up until Riviera, and didn't stick around more than one day at La Costa. Seven of the nine winners were ranked outside the top 25 when the season began, the exceptions being Woods and David Toms.
Maybe the Florida swing couldn't get here fast enough.
Woods is the defending champion in the Ford Championship at Doral, where a year ago he rallied in a scintillating Sunday showdown against Phil Mickelson. Nine of the top 10 players in the world ranking are at the Blue Monster, and Ford didn't even have to pay them this year.
Woods already has won, in a playoff at the Buick Invitational. But even that conjures memories of a West Coast swing that fell flat. He won in somber fashion, after Jose Maria Olazabal missed a 4-foot par putt. Woods' last four wins worldwide have been in playoff, a trend that might age him.
Before moving forward, here are a few trends that emerged from two months on the West Coast:
The guy atop the money list is Rory Sabbatini, with a victory and two second-place finishes. He also has made the most significant climb in the world ranking, starting the year at No. 71 and moving up to No. 18.
But the best player was Chad Campbell.
Sabbatini had a chance to win only one tournament, which he did at Riviera. Campbell was tied for the lead going into the final round of the Sony Open before Toms beat him by five, he won the Bob Hope Classic, and he advanced to the quarterfinals of Match Play by beating Woods.
Jack Nicklaus was the last player to win a PGA Tour event during his tenure as Ryder Cup captain. Tom Lehman played as if he wants to be the next.
Lehman hasn't seriously threatened to win, but he had backdoor top 10s at Pebble Beach and Riviera, and advanced to the semifinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship. He is 10th in the Ryder Cup standings heading into the Florida Swing.
Any week in the Ryder Cup standings.
One reason Lehman as a playing-captain might be forgotten by the end of March is the new system that awards quadruple points this year, plus a 75-point bonus for winning. And those are just regular PGA Tour events.
J.B. Holmes, the 23-year-old rookie, won in Phoenix and was 10th in the standings. Arron Oberholser won his first PGA Tour event at Pebble Beach and moved up to sixth. Chris DiMarco was third at the start of the year, and could be out of the top 10 by the end of the week.
It might not be until after the British Open that Lehman has any idea how his team is shaping up, and whether he needs to worry about his putting or shirt sizes.
It seems ludicrous to raise questions about Phil Mickelson when he has finished in the top 10 at four of his first five tournaments. But Mickelson usually makes his mark on the West Coast swing, and this was only fourth time in his 14 full seasons on the PGA Tour that he didn't have a trophy upon arriving in Florida.
Vijay Singh now has gone 13 consecutive starts on the PGA Tour, his longest drought since 2002.
After winning Q-school straight out of college, J.B. Holmes pounded the TPC of Scottsdale into submission to win the FBR Open by seven shots. The kid is long, no doubt, but his age (23) and pedigree (played on the Walker Cup team last year) make his potential tantalizing.
Mike Weir must be having some serious self-doubts.
The Canadian who showed such grit in winning the Masters has wilted twice in the last three weeks. Tied for the lead at Pebble Beach, all he needed was a mediocre game to put heat on Oberholser, but Weir couldn't find the green with a wedge and stumbled to a 78. He had a 4-up lead with four holes to play on Geoff Ogilvy and appeared a lock to get into the quarterfinals until he missed three putts inside 12 feet to close the match, and lost in 21 holes.
Stuart Appleby made clutch putts on two of the last three holes to get into a playoff against Singh at Kapalua, then beat him with an exquisite bunker shot from behind the 18th green that nearly went in.
If not many remember that sequence, maybe they weren't watching.
And if they weren't watching, maybe it was because Woods, Mickelson and Retief Goosen didn't show up, and Els wasn't eligible for the winners-only event.
They all played together for the first time last week at La Costa, and they are together again at the Blue Monster, along with Singh. Perhaps that's what it takes for people to pay attention to the PGA Tour.
People used to say the tour didn't start until Doral.
This year, that might be the case.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
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
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
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.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
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.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
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.