Notes: AimPoint users need to be careful

By Doug FergusonSeptember 8, 2015, 10:16 pm

NORTON, Mass. - Ian Poulter and Kevin Chappell played together at the Deutsche Bank Championship, and their birdie putts on the par-5 second hole during the second round were significant mainly because of how they read the greens.

Both use AimPoint Express, only Poulter had to do without on this occasion. He was just under 20 feet away. Chappell was about 12 feet away, and his marker was in the line of where Poulter ordinarily would have straddled the line of his own putt to feel the slope of the green.

''I thought it may go right-to-left, but I couldn't tell until I hit it that I picked the wrong line,'' Poulter said.

Poulter has been using the method since January, joining a growing list of players that includes Adam Scott, Stacy Lewis and Hunter Mahan. It has become so popular that the R&A and USGA published a joint statement at the start of the year that cautioned players of one pitfall.

One part of AimPoint Express is to pick an area halfway toward the hole where the feet can feel the slope (and from there players will hold up one or two fingers to help them figure out where to start the putt).

Rule 16-1a, however, makes it illegal for players to touch the line of their putts, which is defined as the line players want their balls to take and includes a ''reasonable distance on either side of the intended line.''

The European Tour went so far as to post a video explaining how the rule can be breeched if players are not careful. The variance of the line will be greater on longer putts than the shorter ones. No one is believed to have been penalized yet (two-stroke penalty or loss of hole in match play).

''You can't stand in your own line, but your own line is vague,'' Chappell said. ''When it first became big, it came up. They were going to try to outlaw it a few years ago, and then it became like, 'OK, your line from 4 feet is much smaller and precise than your line from 40 feet.' But it would be pretty hard to stand in your line from 40 feet and have them prove you have an advantage.

''I haven't been warned, but I've had discussions about it.''

FINAL MAJOR: The Evian Masters this week in France is the fifth and final major on the LPGA Tour schedule, and it presents another opportunity for an unprecedented feat. Only it doesn't involve Inbee Park.

Park won the Women's British Open last month at Turnberry for her fourth different major, and now she goes after the career Grand Slam (all five majors) at Evian.

But she wouldn't be the first woman to do that.

Karrie Webb won her first major at the du Maurier Classic outside Calgary in 1999, and she wrapped up the career Grand Slam over the next two years (Kraft Nabisco, U.S. Women's Open, LPGA Championship). But when tobacco sponsorship became an issue, the du Maurier was replaced by the Women's British Open, and Webb won that (at Turnberry) in 2002. That gave her what the LPGA referred to at the time as the ''Super Slam.''

If the Australian can win the Evian Masters for a career Grand Slam of six majors, the LPGA may as well called it the Karrie Slam.

LONG YEAR: Carlos Ortiz of Mexico finished his rookie year on the PGA Tour sooner than he wanted after a season that felt much longer than he imagined. The 24-year-old from Guadalajara can't recall playing so much golf in his life. The Deutsche Bank Championship was his 30th event.

''I thought it was bad in college,'' Ortiz said of his schedule. ''I played seven weeks in a row. It's too much. It becomes work. Hopefully, next year I can play better and have more breaks.''

He fell into the same trap of so many rookies who need a week off but are concerned about their position in the FedEx Cup or money list. As long as they're at home, they are giving up a chance at points or money.

Ortiz didn't miss a cut in four starts last fall, and he tied for ninth in Mexico. But his Fedex Cup standing fell out of the top 100 in the summer and he kept playing until he began the playoffs at No. 112 and needed a good week at The Barclays to advance. He was in good shape going into the final round until he opened with a quadruple-bogey 8.

''One of the worst experiences of my life,'' Ortiz said. ''I wanted to cry.''

Instead, he bounced back to play the rest of the round in 1 under and made it to the TPC Boston. This time, he wasn't so fortunate. Ortiz made four straight birdies early in the final round to get inside the projected top 70, only to make triple bogey at No. 9 and shoot 41 on the back nine for a 76. He had the look of a tired golfer.

Next year might not be much easier. Ortiz is likely to make the Olympic team for Mexico.

DIVOTS: Now that the LPGA has gone through the inaugural International Crown, it is moving back the dates to qualify so the cutoff is closer to when the event is played. The eight countries will be determined by the world ranking after the first LPGA major of the year at the ANA Inspiration. The four players who qualify for each team will be determined after the second major in June at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship. The tournament will be July 19-24 at Rich Harvest Farms southwest of Chicago. ... Keegan Bradley closed with a 69 to narrowly advance to the third FedEx Cup playoff event. That wasn't the only reason to celebrate. He got engaged at the start of the week to Jillian Stacey.

STAT OF THE WEEK: The 54-hole leader has failed to win the last six years at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

FINAL WORD: ''Nothing is different. I don't feel it's far off, even though my score is far off. It's just weird. It's almost like a bad dream. I just need to wake up and get the putts to go in again.'' - Jordan Spieth after missing back-to-back cuts for the first time in his career.

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Rahm, with blinders on, 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.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

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Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1