Power Rankings: 2015 Honda Classic

By Will GrayFebruary 24, 2015, 5:42 pm

The PGA Tour kicks off the Florida swing with the Honda Classic, the 15th event of the wraparound season. A field of 144 players will tackle PGA National this week, which has previously hosted both the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup.

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Russell Henley won this event a year ago in a playoff over Rory McIlroy, Ryan Palmer and Russell Knox. Here are 10 players to watch in Palm Beach Gardens:

1. Rory McIlroy: McIlroy sandwiched a bizarre withdrawal in 2013 around a win (2012) and playoff runner-up (2014) at PGA National. Already a winner this year, he enters this week brimming with confidence and deservedly receives the top spot in the rankings as he makes his 2015 PGA Tour debut.

2. Justin Rose: Rose surprisingly missed the cut last time out at Torrey Pines, but his track record at the Honda can't be ignored: four top-15 finishes in five starts at PGA National, including top-five finishes in each of his last three trips. The Champion Course has traditionally rewarded tee-to-green ball-striking, and the Englishman fits that bill.

3. Keegan Bradley: Bradley was T-4 last week at Riviera, a course where he typically thrives, and now heads to another venue filled with positive vibes. Bradley is one of many pros in the field this week who makes his home in South Florida, and he has cracked the top 12 each of the last three years at this event, including a T-4 finish in 2013.

4. Lee Westwood: Like Bradley, Westwood lives near PGA National and has had some success on the Champion Course. The Englishman enters off a pair of top-10 finishes on the European Tour and he has turned five Honda starts since 2010 into a trio of top-10 finishes, including a fourth-place showing in 2012.

5. Sergio Garcia: Garcia appeared in line to win last week at Riviera before a bogey-bogey finish, but now he'll look to bounce back on a course where he tied for eighth last year. Garcia was also T-13 at PGA National in 2009 and at No. 6 in the OWGR he is the second-highest ranked player in the field behind only McIlroy.

6. Dustin Johnson: Arguably the hottest player on Tour, following a T-4 at Pebble Beach with a playoff loss last week at Riviera. Johnson is making only his third start at PGA National, following a missed cut in 2008 and a T-46 finish in 2013, but despite the relative lack of success he has shown no signs of rust following a six-month layoff.

7. Brooks Koepka: Koepka grew up in South Florida and will have plenty of support this week at PGA National. A winner last month in Phoenix, Koepka also won on the European Tour in November and already has three top-10 finish in only four starts this season on the PGA Tour.

8. Graeme McDowell: McDowell was T-46 here last year, but prior to that he reeled off three straight top-10 finishes at PGA National. He hasn't played in the U.S. since the BMW Championship in September, but the Ulsterman has shot par or better in 10 of his last 14 competitive rounds on the difficult Champion Course dating back to 2011.

9. Patrick Reed: Reed was a solid T-24 at PGA National last year in just his second Honda start, and this season has been a model of consistency, with a win last month in Maui and only one finish outside the top 30. Reed was T-29 at Pebble Beach in his last start and currently ranks 19th on Tour in total strokes gained.

10. Rickie Fowler: Fowler has been slow out of the gates in 2015, but PGA National has typically been a place where his game has shined. Fowler has three straight top-25 finishes at this event, including a tie for seventh in 2012 and a T-24 finish last year when he had four straight rounds of par or better.

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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.

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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.  

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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.” 

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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.”