Power Rankings: Valspar Championship

By Will GrayMarch 11, 2014, 7:28 pm

This week marks the 18th event of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season, as the Florida swing continues in Tampa with the Valspar Championship. A full field of 144 players will tackle the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, where the famed "Snake Pit" will serve as a strong test for contenders all week long.

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Kevin Streelman returns to defend the title he won last year by two shots over Boo Weekley. Here are 10 players to watch this week along the Gulf coast:

1. Matt Kuchar: One of the more consistent players on Tour, Kuchar has finished outside the top 15 just once since October. He's also been inside the top 15 in each of his last three starts in Tampa, a stretch that includes a T-10 finish in 2012 after a Sunday 65. Five of Kuchar's last eight rounds on the Copperhead Course have been 69 or lower.

2. Luke Donald: A winner here in 2012, Donald has struggled in recent months but often finds his form in Tampa. The Englishman may also be trending back in a positive direction, as he cracked the top 10 at the Honda Classic and finished T-25 last week at Doral despite a Friday 82. Donald has shot over par at Innisbrook just once in 12 competitive rounds since 2010, with a T-4 (2013) and a T-6 (2010) finish to go along with his win two years ago.

3. Jordan Spieth: While Patrick Reed may be the hottest name in golf this week, Spieth has occupied that spot for the better part of a year. The 20-year-old tied for seventh in his Tampa debut last year, bettering par in each of his final three rounds. Spieth struggled somewhat at Doral, especially in Friday's windy conditions, but prior to that finished inside the top 20 in four straight starts. Expect him to start a new, similar trend this week.

4. Webb Simpson: Simpson nearly claimed his first PGA Tour title at Innisbrook in 2011, but bogeyed the 72nd hole to finish second by one stroke. He's played well in Tampa since then, though, with a pair of top-20 finishes in the past two years, and has played well during this wraparound season following his win in Las Vegas in October. Simpson has yet to miss a cut in eight starts this season, with five top-10 finishes across that stretch.

5. Harris English: English has continued his career year in Florida, with a T-9 finish at PGA National followed by a T-16 showing at Doral. Since winning at Mayakoba to close out the 2013 portion of this season, he's finished outside the top 20 just once in seven official starts. The former Georgia standout is familiar with course conditions in the South, and English was T-7 here last year with three rounds in the 60s.

6. Jason Dufner: Dufner faded Sunday in Miami, but the reigning PGA champ notched top-10 finishes in each of his last two starts and has finished inside the top 30 at Innisbrook every year since 2009. That stretch includes a T-10 in 2012 when he opened with a pair of 66s and a T-21 finish last year, when Dufner was two shots off the lead through two rounds but failed to break par over the weekend. Three of his five starts in 2014 have resulted in top-10 finishes.

7. Jim Furyk: The veteran struggled mightily at Doral but he's had no trouble in Tampa recently, following his 2010 win with T-13 (2011), T-2 (2012) and T-7 (2013). Furyk was among the four-man playoff won by Donald two years ago, and he has broken par in 14 of his last 16 rounds on the Copperhead Course. He made it to the quarterfinals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play last month, so the form is not that far away.

8. Gary Woodland: Woodland notched his first career PGA Tour win here in 2011, and after battling through injuries for much of the past two years he is now playing some of his best golf. Woodland followed his breakthrough win with a T-29 here in 2012, carding four straight rounds at par or better. This season he has a quartet of top-20 finishes, including a playoff loss in Malaysia and a T-10 finish at Torrey Pines when played in the final group on Sunday.

9. Justin Rose: The reigning U.S. Open champ is one of the highest-ranked players in this week's field, but he's struggled to get things going in 2014 while battling shoulder tendinitis. Rose has never finished outside the top 30 in seven career starts at Innisbrook, though, a run that includes a T-5 finish in 2011. He may still need some reps before rounding entirely into form, but this week should help move him in that direction.

10. George McNeill: Fresh off three straight top-20 finishes, McNeill returns to an event where he was a runner-up in 2008. A graduate of Florida State, McNeill went to high school in nearby Ft. Myers and has plenty of experience playing golf along Florida's west coast. He has five top-25 finishes in nine starts this season, including a T-6 last month at the Northern Trust Open and a T-19 last week in Puerto Rico despite a final-round 73.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.