Watch for Some Unusual Suspects This Week

By Brian HewittFebruary 19, 2003, 5:00 pm
The more attention we pay to Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, the more people like Fred Couples, Butch Harmon and Darren Clarke get to fly under the radar.
It's news when Tiger changes shirts. Bigger news than you might imagine. Els, for his part, has fallen into the zone. Yes that zone. The one we all dream about. And he has stayed there. Mickelson melted at Torrey Pines Sunday when Woods torched him in the final round of the Buick Invitational.
Couples, meanwhile, has quietly made three cuts in a row. He tees it up Thursday in the Nissan Open at Riviera Country Club, a place he finished 19th or better--including winning twice--during a nine-year period beginning in 1989. And the word from the left coast is he's starting to take this stuff seriously again.
'He's tired of finishing 40th every week,' said Harmon, who is working with Couples now and will continue to do so this year. 'He still thinks he can win. He's totally committed.'
Couples is 43 and hasn't won since The Memorial in 1998. But he loves Riviera and has had more success there than the incomparable Woods, who hasn't finished first in six tries on that golf course.
Speaking of Woods and Harmon: They may not be back together officially and full time. But they spent time on Harmon's range in Las Vegas prior to Woods' victory last week. And Harmon is still listed on Woods' website along with caddie Steve Williams when you click the 'Team Tiger' icon. So if Woods and Harmon have split, they're doing a pretty good job hiding it.
Clarke, meanwhile, has done a pretty good job hiding his massive talent ever since dusting Woods, 4 and 3, in the finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship three years ago. The big Ulsterman from Northern Ireland's volatile County Tyrone has dropped to No. 26 in the world rankings and off of most people's short lists of best players never to have won a major.
You'll never guess whose range Clarke showed up on recently - if you said Butch Harmon, give yourself high marks for reading comprehension. Like Couples, Clarke has gotten serious about a return to form. He recently signed a three-year deal with TaylorMade and sacked his longtime caddie, Billy Foster, for J.P. Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald used to carry the bag of another Irishman, Ryder Cup hero Paul McGinley.
'Darren's a hard guy to work for,' said his agent, Chubby Chandler, explaining that Foster had begun to fear telling Clarke things he didn't want to hear. One of the worst things that can develop is a reluctance on the part of a caddie to warn his player when he's about to use the wrong club or play the wrong shot.
Clarke's stubbornness is a close relative to his determination. And that's why Harmon likes working with him. 'The commitment is back with Darren, too,' Harmon said. 'He went all last year trying different things. He's in better shape now and more committed to being the best player he can be.'
So watch Tiger Woods this week at Riviera. See if he continues to wear those Nike muscle shirts that he now orders in 'large' rather than 'extra large,' the better to show off his guns. See if Woods finally breaks through at the tournament where he played his first PGA Tour event as a 16-year-old.
But don't be surprised if Couples and Clarke both wind up on the first page of the leaderboard by Sunday. Couples finished 13th last week in San Diego. Clarke was disqualified when he signed an incorrect scorecard. But he was playing well and carded an ace in his first round.
These two guys are too good to stay under radar too long.
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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.