Changing of the Guard

By December 27, 2006, 5:00 pm
2007 Big Questions Editor's Note: TheGolfChannel.com is counting down its top 5 stories from the world of golf in 2006 and looking ahead to the five 'Big Questions' on the PGA TOUR in 2007. This is our No. 4 question for the upcoming season.
 
The term changing of the guard refers to a formal ceremony in which sentries providing ceremonial guard duties at important institutions are relieved by a new batch of sentries.
 
In sports, it is usually used to describe a gradual or sudden shift in power from a once dominate team, conference or single individual athlete to another.
 
Jim Furyk
Jim Furyk has steadily risen to the No. 2 spot in the world rankings.
And in golf, while there looks to be no changing of the guard for the foreseeable future ' at least not at the top where Tiger Woods resides - we might, however, be starting to see a shift, or changing of the guard, in the small group a players who will challenge Woods with his stiffest competition for the next several of years.
 
A quick look at the current world golf rankings shows the slide of what once was known as the Big 5 ' Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen (Tiger, of course, excluded).
 
Lefty (No. 3) and Ernie (No. 5) still reside in the top-5, but Vijay and Retief have been replaced by now world No. 2 Jim Furyk and young Aussie Adam Scott (No. 4). It marks the first time in three years that the so-called original Big 5 will not inhabit all of the top five slots in the rankings at the end of a season.
 
Is there anything to make of this? Will the floor right below Tigers penthouse permanently become occupied by a new host of challengers? If so, who?
 
Well, the potential list of renters includes the aforementioned Furyk and Scott, as well has Padraig Harrington, Englands up-an-comer Paul Casey, current U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, and, of course, Sergio Garcia and the seemingly never-ending talk of his potential.
 
Of the new crowd, its hard to argue that Furyk wont be a fixture for several years to come.
 
Jim Furyk could be the most overlooked player today ' and hes ranked second in the world. He doesnt have the power of an Els or a Singh, but with his swing and his lack of power he has (still) gotten to No. 2 in the world, said Golf Channel and CBS Sports analyst Peter Oosterhuis. I think that is an amazing accomplishment.
 
Furyk, who finished a career-best second on the PGA TOURs money list this past season with $7,482,275, appears to be becoming more comfortable in his role as one of the top players in the world.
 
Already with one major to his credit, Furyk had a monster season in 06 with wins coming at the Wachovia Championship and the Canadian Open. In addition, he had four runner-up finishes as well as three third-place showings. As a result, the 36-year-old Furyk rose from seventh in the world rankings at the beginning of the year to second at seasons end.
 
Furyk works really hard and is probably known as the grittiest player in the world, said Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo.
 
But other than Furyk, who else can join the fray?
 
Nobilo points out that it might be tough for a group of players to try and take away Tigers mantle.
 
Paul Casey
Paul Casey is one of a handful of players hoping to give Tiger a run for his money.
Hes too prolific of a winner to be chased by a pack, said Nobilo, who then added his thoughts on the others. Ernie and Vijay have the mental makeup, and of course Phil and his brilliance. With Adam Scott Id certainly like to see more intensity.
 
But a player he says to keep a close eye on is Casey.
 
Casey began the year all the way down at 51st in the rankings. Three wins during the 2006 European Tour season vaulted him to the top of the Order of Merit race, although he eventually was edged out from winning that title by Harrington ' on the final day of the season, no less.
 
Casey is a star in the making, added Nobilo. All the roads point to him becoming one of the elite players in the world.
 
Case in point: his romp through the loaded HSBC World Match Play Championship in September. En route to the finals, Casey took out Goosen, Mike Weir and Colin Montgomerie, before his 10-and-8 drubbing of Shaun Micheel in the finals. He followed that with an impressive unbeaten record at the Ryder Cup, which included a defeat of Furyk in the Sunday singles as well as a hole-in-one on Saturday.
 
Yet as impressive as Casey has been, he is still ranked below another pair of 20somethings in Garcia and Donald.
 
The 29-year-old Donald finally notched his second PGA TOUR title with his win at the Honda Classic earlier in the year and finished third alongside Sergio at the PGA Championship. But as good an iron player as he is, Donald is often thought to be too short off the tee to go head-to-head with the likes of Tiger over the long haul.
 
Which leads us to Garcia himself.
 
Plenty of length, plenty of self-confidence, plenty of talent.
 
And plenty of missed putts.
 
After finishing the 2005 season almost dead last in putting average on the PGA TOUR, Garcia hardly made an improvement this year, when he ranked a dismal 158th. Yet despite his trouble with the flatstick, Sergio continues to be a major player when it comes to the major championships. In his still young career he has racked up 12 top-10s in the majors, including a fifth and a third-place showing, respectively, in the final two majors of the year at Hoylake and Medinah.
 
Garcia was once the surefire answer to who would eventually challenge and perhaps even surpass Tiger. But Tiger has now won 12 majors and Sergio is still stuck on zero. If he could breakout and get that first one, would it signal a start of a major run? With his talent its possible, but for the moment his potential is still on hold.
 
A new season will be upon us soon and the questions of who will challenge Tiger ' whether it is a group or maybe just one individual - will begin to play themselves out.
 
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    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

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

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    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

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    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.