Newcomers are making winning on Tour harder

By Doug FergusonMarch 10, 2014, 9:05 pm

DORAL, Fla. – The road to the Masters is just getting started, and already two players have combined to win five times on the PGA Tour.

They're not Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

How many would have guessed Jimmy Walker (three wins) and Patrick Reed (two wins) when the wraparound season began in October?

Reed might have had his hand up.

In a moment of bravado on national television after he went wire to wire (with ties) to win the Cadillac Championship, the 23-year-old Reed said, ''I'm one of the top five players in the world. I feel like I've proven myself.'' He has won twice this season, three times dating to August.

Reed and Walker are the latest newcomers to winning on the strongest tour in golf. Harris English won in Mexico last November for his second PGA Tour title in six months. Jordan Spieth won in July, and he started this year by giving himself three chances to win.

It's just another example that winning is getting hard, even for those who are used to winning a lot.

Each season seems to bring a new crop of younger players who have a lot of game and no fear. Russell Henley won the Sony Open in his debut as a PGA Tour member. Just over a year later, he overcame a two-shot lead playing with Rory McIlroy in the final group at the Honda Classic and won a four-hole playoff.

Scott Stallings won at Torrey Pines for his third PGA Tour win. He's 28.

The last three winners of the World Golf Championships – Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Reed – are all in their 20s. Ten of the 17 winners this season are in their 20s. That includes 26-year-old Chesson Hadley, who won the Puerto Rico Open on Sunday about the time Reed was beating the strongest field so far this year at Doral.

''Look at Russell Henley – he's won twice,'' Reed said. ''Harris English has won twice, Jordan Spieth won once. Myself, I've won three times. It's just one of those things that we've worked very hard – all of us – to get where we are. And it's definitely shown what we are doing is working. To see the young guys coming out and playing and putting it to the veterans is always nice.''

Walker turned 35 in January, so it's hard to consider him one of the younger players. Then again, injuries slowed the start of his career. And once he finally won at the Frys.com Open to kick off the new wraparound season, he has made it a habit. Over the weekend, Walker talked about new opportunities that have come his way following his three wins. He's not interested in anything but playing good golf.

Now that he has tasted winning, his appetite is only growing.

Walker leads the FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup standings. Johnson is No. 2 on both lists, while Reed is at No. 3 in the FedEx and No. 4 in the Ryder Cup. Five of the top nine players in the Ryder Cup standings were not on the last U.S. team at Muirfield Village for the Presidents Cup.

Remember, it's still only March. The first of four majors has yet to be played. Reed has never even played in a major.

He rubbed a few people the wrong way when he declared himself among the top five in the world (he's actually No. 20). It showed what he thought about his game and that he's not afraid to say it.

So if he's top five, who are the other four?

''Tiger Woods, of course,'' Reed said.

And that was as far as he got before he smiled and said, ''You know, good question. I said top 5. I didn't know where I was going to be in the top 5.''

He then went on to mention Masters champion Adam Scott (No. 2 in the world) and Mickelson (No. 5). He mentioned how impressed he was with Graeme McDowell, and having played Saturday with Johnson, he acknowledged how good he could be when he gets on a roll. And the list stopped there, right when it was starting to grow.

The ranking (determined over two years) has Henrik Stenson at No. 3, Day at No. 4, McIlroy at No. 6.

It was clear that ''top five'' was more figure of speech than an actual number. Anyone's list of ''top five'' is likely to include as many as 10 players these days.

Years ago, Colin Montgomerie jokingly said that it was hard to win majors because Woods usually won two of them, Mickelson, Vijay Singh or Ernie Els won another and that left only one for everybody else each year.

Twenty-one players have won the last 24 majors. That would seem to make it even harder.

It's getting that way for regular PGA Tour events, too.

Getty Images

Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

Getty Images

Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

<
Getty Images

DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

Getty Images

Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”