A Vintage Year in Europe

By November 6, 2003, 5:00 pm
European TourLike a fine wine, the 2003 European Tour season will go down as a vintage year.
 
Beginning the year with a wee bit hangover following a fantastic win in the 2002 Ryder Cup at The Belfry, the party continued on in 2003. There, some of the 'poster boys for a good time' enjoyed wonderful comeback seasons as well as breakout seasons.
 
And then there's Ernie Els, who seemingly is just getting better with age as he celebrated his first-ever ascent to the top of the tour's Order of Merit (money list). Though shut out of the majors in 2003, the easy-going, broad-shouldered South African had his game - and maybe more importantly - his mind at it's peak.
 
He posted four victories on the European Tour, including the unofficial World Match Play title, along with three runner-up finishes. The Big Easy also picked up a couple of impressive wins on the PGA Tour and finished his year with a staggering seven wins worldwide.
 
Though it's easy to see why Els is the top story in 2003, several other individual story lines that are worth noting are that of Darren Clarke, his good buddy Lee Westwood and a couple of twenty-somethings in Fredrik Jacobson and Paul Casey.
 
Clarke, who has won a title in six consecutive seasons dating back to 1998, has finally righted the ship that had drifted a little off course. He fell from third on the Order of Merit in 2001 all the way down to the 22nd position in the 2002 season.
 
But with the help of world-renowned golf instructor Butch Harmon, Clarke has rebounded and enjoyed one of the finest seasons of his career. An impressive win at the WGC-NEC Invitational in August over the likes of Tiger Woods, Davis Love and Vijay Singh moved Clarke to second in the final Order of Merit standings, the highest finish of his career.
 
Clarke's pal Westwood, however, is a slightly different story, though much more dramatic. Not only did the 26-year-old Englishman get off course, but his ship nearly sank before an amazing comeback late in the year that now has him back among the game's elite.
 
Recall in 2000, Westwood knocked the irrepressible Colin Montgomerie off his perch atop the European Tour's Order of Merit after the Scotsmans incredible seven-year run. Westwood racked up six victories on the year, including seven other top-5 finishes and was poised to take a seat next to today's golfing greats.
 
But an almost eerie slide soon took hold following the 2000 season that eventually plummeted Westwood's world ranking from fourth all the way down to 215th in August.
 
After missing the cut in six of his first nine events of the year, Westwood finally notched one of only three top-10s in three years at the Smurfit European Open, where he tied for ninth. Following a couple more respectable finishes in the ensuing weeks, Westwood then shocked the world with an astonishing back-nine 30 at the BMW International to win the title going away.
 
Im fairly emotional, said a tearful Westwood moments after completing his round. Its been more than two years since I won. This is a big moment.
 
There were times when I thought about putting the clubs away and not ever getting them out again and calling it a day, but that would have been the easy thing to do. I battled it out, and hopefully this is one of many rewards.'
 
Westwood, though, was not yet finished with his turnaround. Another title followed at the Dunhill Links Championship in September, which eventually landed him in seventh on the final Order of Merit list.
 
Jacobson, 29, capped off a remarkable year with a thrilling win at the season-ending Volvo Masters Andalucia. His four-hole sudden-death victory over Carlos Rodiles was his third win of 2003 and he became the first Swede to ever accomplish the feat. For Jacobson, 2003 was his coming-out party.
 
Casey, the European Tour's Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year in 2001, notched a pair of early victories and added 12 top-10s for the year. The biggest final-round comeback of season, by Argentinas Ricardo Gonzalez at the Telefonica Open de Madrid, kept Casey from joining Els and Jacobson as the only winners of three events in 2003.
 
With 2004 bringing another Ryder Cup, a quick look at the point standings for the European side finds a very young and very talented group of players. Jacobson and Casey are among them - as well as fan favorite Ian Poulter. In fact, seven of the top 10 on the list are still in their twenties.
 
And although it might not necessarily be a totally new face for the European Tour, it most definitely signals a changing face. Either way, it was a very good year.
 
A vintage year.
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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.


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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm 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.”