Spieth? Fowler? Who will be McIlroy's rival?

By Doug FergusonDecember 2, 2014, 10:42 pm

WINDERMERE, Fla. – Jordan Spieth took a big step in Australia for his confidence and career. It was a mere baby step, however, toward being a legitimate rival to Rory McIlroy.

Then again, he's in good company.

Golf thrives on good rivalries, even if they are one-sided, and most of them are. That could be the case with McIlroy, who at 25 already has won four majors. Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones were the only other players to have that many majors at such a young age. Boy Wonder also has 14 wins around the world.

Even with that landslide win in the Australian Open, and with one of the great closing rounds of the year, Spieth still only has two victories.

That's as many as Rickie Fowler.

And Jason Day.

Patrick Reed has three victories. He can rightfully claim to be among the top five in the world, but only if he's talking about five players in the same age group as McIlroy with the potential to challenge him over the next decade.

Rivalries aren't restricted to age, of course. Nicklaus was 10 years younger than Arnold Palmer (and wound up winning 11 more majors). Tom Watson was nine years younger than Nicklaus. The next four players behind McIlroy in the world ranking - Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia - are all about a decade older.

Woods is in a league of his own. There remains potential for a rivalry, though Woods is an old 39 because of mounting injuries. Woods is very much like Nicklaus, who had a revolving door of rivalries throughout his career - Ernie Els, David Duval, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh. There's still time to add McIlroy to that list.

As golf winds down another season, one question for next year is which player in his 20s might emerge as a rival to McIlroy.

''There's a bunch of young guys that could break through and become legends of this game - Rickie Fowler being one of them,'' McIlroy said after a few months ago after adding his second straight major. ''You just have to look at how he's played the majors this year.''

Fowler joined Woods and Nicklaus as the only players to finish in the top five at all four majors, except that he didn't win one.

''Jordan Spieth is another,'' McIlroy said. ''There's a lot of great, young players that will be playing in majors for the next sort of 20, 25 years that can really make their mark on the game.''

Spieth deserved mention because he was 21 and in his second year. He had only one victory at the time (John Deere Classic), but he went down to the wire at the Masters and The Players Championship this year, after having the best rookie campaign of anyone since Woods.

But it starts with winning.

Nicklaus and Palmer never went head-to-head as often as the greatness of their rivalry suggested. Nicklaus and Watson clashed in three majors over a five-year stretch. Greg Norman and Nick Faldo took turns at No. 1, with Norman spending more time at the top and Faldo winning the showdowns in majors.

For all the rivals Woods had, Mickelson stands out with the second-best record in PGA Tour victories (42) and majors (five).

There is not a single definition of a rivalry. You just know it when you see it.

Spieth was asked a few months ago what it would take for him (or Fowler) to become a true rival. He mentioned winning majors, before pausing to state the obvious.

''We need to win another TOURNAMENT first,'' he said.

So consider the Australian Open a baby step. Spieth moved up to No. 11 in the world, which felt a lot more than 10 spots in the ranking from McIlroy.

''I believe that I'm still far away because I believe that I have to win at least a major or two in order to at least start to significantly progress to that goal,'' Spieth said.

McIlroy was runner-up in both of Fowler's victories, in South Korea and at Quail Hollow. Fowler, however, hasn't won in two years, which led him to say after the PGA Championship that McIlroy was ''definitely a step ahead of me - or two. Or four majors.''

Most intriguing about Fowler is that he and McIlroy have been competing against each other since the 2007 Walker Cup. McIlroy turned pro the next year, Fowler in 2009. For now, that's where the similarities end.

''I definitely have some work to do, but there is a potential of him and I being able to play against each other for a long time to come, both being the same age,'' Fowler said. ''There's a lot of guys under 30 in the top 50 in the world right now. So as far as Rory and I sticking out, I think Rory is kind of out on his own right now. And we'll see if a few of us can rack up some more wins.''

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x