Stat attack!: WGC-Cadillac Championship preview

By John AntoniniMarch 4, 2014, 9:15 pm

The old adage that the golf season doesn’t really begin until the PGA Tour comes to Doral was disproven years ago. With the European Tour building a strong Middle East swing, and the PGA Tour concluding its West Coast swing with the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, the world’s top stars have many places to shake out the winter rust before the Tour comes to Florida. This year, with the wraparound season beginning in October, 15 PGA Tour events were in the books before Doral appeared on the schedule. But for some players the venerable adage does hold some truth. Eight qualifiers for the Tour Championship a year ago are currently outside the top 100 on the 2013-14 FedEx Cup standings and the top three players on last year’s list – Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker (pictured) – would not qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today. The Tour still has 26 events to go, so time isn’t quite running short, but this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral would be a good place for the players listed below to “start” their seasons.

2013 Tour Championship qualifiers outside the top 125 in FedEx Cup points in 2014

 Player 2013 rank 2014 rank
 Henrik Stenson 1 151
 Tiger Woods 2 T-226
 Steve Stricker 3 195
 Brandt Snedeker 12 116
 Brendon de Jonge 26 108
 Charl Schwartzel 27 109
 Luke Donald 28 117
 D.A. Points 30 158

The good news for Woods and Stricker is that they finished first and second at the WGC-Cadillac Championship a year ago. The bad news is that they are not returning to a course they are familiar with. As part of an overall $250 million renovation of the newly named Trump National Doral, the Blue Monster course underwent a redesign after last year’s championship led by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner. This was more than a tweak. Hanse and Wagner rebuilt every green, moved every bunker and made extensive alterations to just about every hole. Water now comes into play on 14 holes, up from six a year ago. Speaking on Morning Drive in December, Hanse said the Blue Monster was “basically a brand new golf course.”

Woods set a personal best (after an alignment tip from Stricker) when he needed just 100 putts a year ago. But any notes he has about the putting surfaces are obsolete, as it has been reported that the green complexes are larger and trickier than before with more undulations. There are more opportunities to tuck pin positions, and avoiding three-putts will be a tournament key for the seven players in the field are in to top 20 on Tour in three-putt avoidance.

Tour leaders in three-putt avoidance in the WGC-Cadillac field

 Player  Rank Three-putt percentage
 Matt Kuchar 2 1.19%
 Jonas Blixt 10 1.56
 Zach Johnson T-12 1.62
 Webb Simpson T-12 1.62
 Brendon de Jonge T-16 1.67
 Dustin Johnson T-19 1.74
 Hunter Mahan T-19 1.74

Of just as much importance to Simpson and the two Johnson’s is the fact it has been critical at this tournament to get off to a strong start – regardless of where the event is held. The eventual winner has been under par in the first round 13 times and only two champions were in the 70s after the first day. In addition, 12 of the 14 champions were in the top 10 after day one. Ernie Els, 16th after one round in 2004, was the only player outside the top 15 on Thursday to go on to win. Simpson, Zach Johnson and Dustin Johnson are all in the top 10 on the PGA Tour in first-round scoring average in 2013-14.

Tour leaders in first-round scoring average in the WGC-Cadillac field

 Player Rank First-round scoring average
 Chris Kirk T-1 67.00
 Webb Simpson T-1 67.00
 Ryan Moore 3 67.29
 Zach Johnson 4 67.67
 Kiradech Aphibarnrat 5 67.75
 Keegan Bradley T-6 68.10
 Harris English 8 68.22
 Kevin Stadler T-9 68.25
 Dustin Johnson T-9 68.25

Unlike the Match Play, the WGC-Cadillac Championship has a history of identifying a world-class winner. The Cadillac champ was also a major champion in all but three years – and two of those three players, Mike Weir and Justin Rose, would eventually win major titles. (The Match Play champion had not won a major 11 times, and only two of those – Darren Clarke in 2000 and Geoff Ogilvy in 2006 – would eventually win one.) In the seven years the Cadillac has been held at Doral, five champions were in the top 20 on the World Ranking and only one runner-up was ranked outside the top 50.

World rank of WGC-Cadillac winner and runner-up: 2007-2013

 Year Winner (rank) Runner-up (rank)
 2013 Tiger Woods (2) Steve Stricker (13)
 2012 Justin Rose (22) Bubba Watson (23)
 2011 Nick Watney (31 Dustin Johnson (14)
 2010 Ernie Els (20) Charl Schwartzel (35)
 2009 Phil Mickelson (3) Nick Watney (78)
 2008 Geoff Ogilvy (17) Jim Furyk (8), Vijay Singh (11), Retief Goosen (36)
 2007 Tiger Woods (1) Brett Wetterich (44)

One final note: Hanse gave PGA Tour players the opportunity to comment on the course before the redesign and to visit the course once much of the work was complete. Phil Mickelson was one of the few to take him up on the offer. Mickelson had success at the old Blue Monster, winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship in 2009 and finishing second to Woods in the 2005 Ford Championship.

If you haven’t already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.