Howell hopes for fast start despite recent young winners

By Doug FergusonJanuary 14, 2015, 10:25 pm

HONOLULU – The sun is shining and spirits are soaring at the Sony Open, the first full-field event of the year on the PGA Tour that seems to bring equal measures of optimism no matter how long a player has been around.

And it's quite the age range at Waialae, from 16-year-old Kyle Suppa to 58-year-old Fred Funk, one of four Champions Tour players at the Sony Open.

''Everybody is in a pretty good mood this week,'' said David Clark, the caddie for Paul Casey, as he watched a threesome wrap up a practice round. ''At least until Thursday.''

For Charles Howell III, he has reason for high hopes along the surf and royal palms.

He has never missed this event since 2002, and he has done just about everything but win. Howell has eight top 10s, including a pair of runner-up finishes. He has never shot worse than 73, and 41 of his 48 rounds at the Sony Open have been at par or better.

Howell started laughing as he listened to his record. About the only thing missing from his record is a trophy, the winner's lei draped around his neck and the champagne toast to the Waialae members.

''It's weird,'' he said. ''I think coming off of an offseason, Hawaii is an easy place to come to. We've always enjoyed coming here, even in the days of college when we would come to play college events this time of the year. Guys are excited to play. As far as my results, it's hard to say. I wish I knew what it was or I'd try it at some other event. For some reason, I like this course. It's an old-style course, not a modern design by any means, and I like that aspect of it.''

Indeed, the Sony Open can feel trapped in the 1980s, and it goes back even further. This is the 50th anniversary of the PGA Tour coming to Waialae, a course that yields low scores without seeming very easy.

But there is a modern aspect of this event that Howell or anyone else cannot ignore.

The PGA Tour is getting younger.

Howell is coming off a Christmas break with his two children, 4-year-old Ansley and 3-year-old Chase, so maybe he just feels old. He is starting his 15th year on the PGA Tour and has reason to look behind at the newcomers than at the players he spent a decade chasing.

Patrick Reed won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions last week for his fourth PGA Tour victory at age 24, joining only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy as players who have won that often before turning 25.

Jordan Spieth is 21 and already has three wins worldwide, though none that got him to Kapalua. So he elected to wait until Phoenix to make his 2015 debut. Russell Henley won the Sony Open two years ago in his debut as a PGA Tour member.

''I don't know if there's a way to measure it,'' said Justin Leonard, who is starting his 22nd year on the PGA Tour, ''but guys who come out in their early and mid-20s, they're ready to play and win. They don't care who they're playing against, whether it's Matt Kuchar or me or anyone else. It doesn't matter, because they've seen guys like Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler come out and play so well early that it's inspired them.''

Howell wonders how much if it is the Tiger Woods effect.

Much like Spieth a generation ago, Howell earned his PGA Tour when he started the season with no status. That was in 2001, the year Woods completed a sweep of the majors and was on a 15-year roll the likes of which had never been seen on the PGA Tour.

Howell jokingly said last year that Woods ''ruined a lot of guys' lives'' and caused sleepless nights, but that he also motivated a generation behind him.

''Tiger was the reason that working out become popular,'' Howell said. ''These (younger) guys, it's like they used him as a benchmark. When I came out, Tiger had this massive intimidation factor. Now it's like Tiger is the one who pushed them along and trained them. The dynamic is weird, but probably a guy my age would be more intimidated by Tiger than a guy who is just now coming out.

''Players coming out now are better,'' he said. ''They seem more comfortable. I don't know if that's because of how much golf is publicized, how much it's on TV to where they know what to expect.''

Coming off a short winter's nap and playing golf on a tropical island, expectations are higher now than they will be all year.

Getty Images

Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

Getty Images

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

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.