Knox, Kisner lead DJ by 1, Spieth by 3

By Doug FergusonNovember 8, 2015, 1:22 am

SHANGHAI - Even with two majors, five victories, a FedEx Cup title and more than $22 million in earnings this year, Jordan Spieth offered an honest appraisal about the final World Golf Championship of the year. He really didn't think he would have much of a chance in the HSBC Champions.

Now he does.

The third round at Sheshan International ended Sunday morning when Russell Knox returned to play one hole and it proved to be a wiser decision than trying to finish in the dark. He made birdie for a 4-under 68 and tied Kevin Kisner for the 54-hole lead.

Dustin Johnson played mistake-free to get within one shot. Also one back was Li Haotong, the 20-year-old who gave China hope one of its own could win on a world stage.

And then there was Spieth, right where he has been so much of the year.

"My theory on the tour and trying to win is your lead is never safe because some guy is going to make birdies," Kisner said after a 70. "Look at Jordan today. His name popped up. I don't even know where he started and he was on the leaderboard."

Some 24 hours earlier, Spieth was 12 shots behind and wondering if he could even make another par. He ended Friday with two birdies, and then raced up the leaderboard in soft conditions Saturday with a 9-under 63 to go from the middle of the pack to three shots behind.

"This will be the first and only time I would say this, but I was not expecting myself to be in this position come Sunday when the week started," Spieth said with a smile. "I came in with very little confidence in my trust of what I'm trying to do in my swing. ... But yeah, I'm extremely pleased just to be in contention."

Finishing it off doesn't figure to be easy.

Kisner chipped in for birdie on the 15th hole to go from a two-shot deficit to a tie for the lead when Knox three-putted for bogey, and the 31-year-old American pulled ahead with a birdie on the 16th and two pars to finish at 16-under 200.

Johnson, who won the HSBC Champions the last time he was here two years ago, has made 10 birdies in his last 21 holes and shot a 65. Li wasted no time getting the Chinese gallery fired up when he opened with four straight birdies on his way to a 66.

"It's going to be a dog fight tomorrow no matter what," Kisner said.

Spieth felt he was struggling to avoid his club face being shut during the final month of the PGA Tour season, and he has been working on a fix that is difficult for him. But he found a swing thought on the practice range Saturday morning and hit the ball so well that he shot 63 despite missing four putts inside 10 feet.

"I'm not going to complain about the round, but I felt like the way I played could have been 10 or 11 (under) for sure," Spieth said.

He finished with a bold move. Spieth had 239 yards to the hole, which required a precise carry over the water, on the par-5 18th. He could get there with a 3-iron if he flushed it, so caddie Michael Greller suggested he play it safe.

"Michael said, 'It's a bad number. Let's lay up and make birdie with a wedge,' Spieth said. "I said, 'I'm not laying up from 239. So I hit a 3-wood and aimed 30 yards left of the green with a big cut. I cut it a little too much. I was trying to get in the middle of the green, and it went further right and closer to the hole."

He missed the eagle putt from 15 feet, typical of his round. He still had another chance to win, typical of his year.

Knox birdied his opening three holes and built a two-shot lead with a birdie on the 11th. But he three-putted the 15th, narrowly avoided another bogey on No. 16 by making an 8-foot putt and missed on a short birdie attempt on the 17th. With the option to finish in the dark - as Kisner and Branden Grace did - Knox chose to wait.

Li might have wished for this day to never end.

China's brightest young star, he played the PGA Tour China series last year and earned Web.com Tour status, and he was in range to earn a PGA Tour card this year until fading late in the season. Playing before a home crowd - he grew up in Shanghai and plays out of Lake Malaren, home of next week's BMW Masters - he prepared Friday night to cope with the stress and pressure and turned it into the most fun he's had on a golf course.

"I never thought I could play that good," Li said. "Can't believe it."

Liang Wenchong, who tied for eighth in the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, is the only other Chinese player to finish in the top 10 in a PGA Tour event. Even though Li is only one shot behind, he kept his goal modest. He wants to finish in the top 10.

Can he win?

In a press conference in Chinese, Li answered in English with a big laugh.

"I don't think so," he said.

Patrick Reed (68) and Ross Fisher (65) joined Spieth at 13-under 203, with Grace playing the final three holes in 3 under for a 70. He was four shots behind. Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler each shot 68 and were eight shots behind.

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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.