Season officially underway for Tour's biggest stars

By Doug FergusonFebruary 26, 2014, 11:29 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The PGA Tour season began five months ago. The new year is two months old. And yet there's something about the Honda Classic that makes Tiger Woods and a collection of stars feel as though it's all about to get underway.

''I think once we get to Florida, I think we're all thinking about our way to Augusta,'' Woods said.

Six tournaments remaining before the Masters, the first major of the year, and this is now serious business. It shows in the strength of the field at PGA National, with seven of the top 10 players from the world ranking.

The last time Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott competed in the same tournament was the BMW Championship near Chicago last summer.

That's how it was a generation ago, when some of golf's top players either rested or played overseas early in the season, and then showed up in tropical conditions at Doral to start the official road to Augusta National.


Honda Classic: Articles, videos and photos


Woods has plenty of work to do based on his early performance – a missed 54-hole cut at Torrey Pines in his lone PGA Tour start this year, followed by a dismal performance by his standards at the Dubai Desert Classic, where he tied for 41st.

He conceded that he spent most of his winter break working on his body instead of his golf. Since returning from overseas earlier this month, Woods said he has spent most of his time working on his short game.

Woods isn't the only player coming off a substantial break.

Scott, the defending champion at Augusta, hasn't competed since the Sony Open in Honolulu. He spent the following week on the Big Island, surfing and playing a few casual rounds with his buddies, then killed time on the couch or doing anything not related to golf until it was time to get back to work.

He plans to play three of the next four tournaments.

''After three weeks I kind of felt like I needed to start swinging again and started to get the itch, but I think I timed it pretty well because I've had a nice couple weeks of intense practice before getting here and a week of playing with some mates before that,'' Scott said. ''I feel like I've had a nice preparation, but this is a very tough test, and it's probably not the ideal one to float back in off after an extended break.''

PGA National looks to have as much blue (water) as green (grass), and the course is converted into a par 70 at 7,140 yards for the Honda Classic. Michael Thompson won last year at 9-under 271.

It wouldn't seem to favor Mickelson, who has not played PGA National since he was an amateur.

Mickelson missed the last two weeks because his kids were on spring break, spending some of that time skiing and some of that playing golf. He did not want to fly out from California for one tournament next week at Doral, so he added the Honda Classic.

''The greens are really immaculate,'' Mickelson said. ''If you get hot with a putter, you can make a lot of putts. But I do like the golf course. I've always liked Nicklaus-designed golf courses. I know this course he renovated or redesigned years ago, and it's a wonderful test of golf, and I think that's a real credit as to why such a strong field continues to come here.''

This is only the third time Woods has played the Honda Classic as a pro. He rallied with a 62 in the final round in 2012 to finish behind McIlroy, and then struggled off the tee – particularly on the sixth hole – a year ago when he tied for 37th.

McIlroy has his own set of memories from PGA National, not all of them good. Even though he won in 2012 to become No. 1 in the world for the first time, he followed that by playing 26 holes last year before walking off the course with his game in disrepair and his business affairs not much better.

McIlroy said it was a mistake to quit, something he won't ever do again. But the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland is in a better frame of mind this year. He is comfortable with his equipment. He's engaged. He has settled into his own management (though he still is going through a legal battle with his old firm). And he is playing like the guy everyone expected to be the biggest threat to Woods.

''I'm in a better place,'' McIlroy said. ''And I feel like when my game is in a good place, everything else can sort of fall in line with that. It makes me feel more comfortable about everything.''

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.

Getty Images

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.