Power Rankings: 2017 Players Championship

By Will GrayMay 9, 2017, 4:17 pm

The 2017 fantasy golf season heads south this week, as the focus of the golf world shifts to the Sunshine State for The Players Championship. A field of 146 players will tackle the newly-renovated Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, which has hosted this event since 1982.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to submit your picks for this week's event.

Jason Day won this event last year by four shots over Kevin Chappell. Here are 10 players to watch in Ponte Vedra Beach:

1. Jon Rahm: It's no longer hype. Despite seeing most of these courses for the first time, Rahm continues to excel in his first full year on Tour including last week's fourth-place showing where he played the final hole with a chance to win. The Spaniard now has a win and five top-10 finishes over his last eight starts and will likely bag another trophy (or two) before the summer ends.

2. Dustin Johnson: The only thing keeping the world No. 1 from the top spot is his pedestrian record on the Stadium Course. Johnson hasn't finished better than T-28 in eight prior trips, but he now returns to Ponte Vedra with more momentum than ever before. A T-2 finish at Eagle Point last week showed that any lingering questions of rust following his back injury can now be dismissed.

3. Sergio Garcia: The Spaniard hasn't played since his Masters breakthrough, but he makes his return at one of his favorite haunts. Garcia won here in 2008 and nearly added trophies in both 2013 and 2015, with a T-5 finish wedged in between. Garcia leads the Tour in strokes gained off-the-tee and his command and control with his irons should be on full display this week.

4. Rory McIlroy: McIlroy is making some firsts this week: first start as a married man, and first start with new TaylorMade clubs and ball. The latter aspects may require some adjustment, but McIlroy has thrived at TPC Sawgrass in recent years with four straight finishes of T-12 or better. He finished T-7 in his last start at the Masters and has been outside the top 10 just once since winning the Tour Championship in September.

5. Jordan Spieth: Spieth continues to fly somewhat under the radar despite seven top-12 finishes in 10 starts this season, including a win at Pebble Beach. He currently ranks second on Tour in GIR percentage and, while he missed the cut here each of the last two years, he finished an impressive T-4 in his 2014 debut during which he played the first 54 holes without a bogey.

6. Rickie Fowler: Fowler has been absolutely feast-or-famine at this event, with a win (2015), runner-up (2012) and five other occasions where he failed to tee it up in the final round. But there's reason to think this could be another boom for the American, who has finished T-16 or better in each of his last six individual events.

7. Hideki Matsuyama: The Japanese phenom has largely cooled since his torrid fall and win at TPC Scottsdale, but his tee-to-green prowess still makes him a name to consider on the Stadium Course. Matsuyama has finished T-23 or better in each of his first three Players appearances, getting progressively better each year including a T-7 finish in 2016.

8. Jason Day: The Aussie dominated this event last year, going wire-to-wire to bolster his grip on the top spot in the world rankings. But he's not the same player that he was a year ago, admittedly battling confidence issues and with only one top-10 finish since August. His Sawgrass record is a Fowler-like mix, with three top-20 finishes and three missed cuts.

9. Francesco Molinari: The Italian has three top-10 finishes at this event since 2010, including last year's T-7 performance, and he has been rock-solid in 2017. Molinari held the early lead last week at Eagle Point en route to a T-24 finish, his fifth top-25 in his last seven starts. He currently ranks second on Tour in fairways hit and third in strokes gained strokes gained on approach shots.

10. Adam Scott: It's hard to believe that 13 years have passed since Scott's dramatic triumph on the Stadium Course, but he returns once again in solid form. Scott has three top-15 finishes over his last six starts and ranks inside the top 20 on Tour in driving distance, birdies and scoring average. He has finished T-38 or better each of the last five years here, with three top-20s in that span.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)