Bunched 'board means big drama in Chapel Hill

By Ryan LavnerMay 15, 2015, 9:24 pm

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The top seven teams are separated by 10 shots here at the Chapel Hill regional. 

In other words, no spot is safe. 

Stanford may have recorded the low round of the day by nine shots Friday, but it still holds only a one-shot lead over Charlotte and is just eight shots clear of the all-important fifth spot. The low five teams after Saturday's final round advance to the NCAA finals later this month.

“You can’t slow down in this deal,” Stanford coach Conrad Ray said. “You have to put the gas pedal down. We have been in this position before, both on the other side of it and leading, so they will handle themselves hopefully and believe that every putt you make now is one you don’t have to make later.”

Among the teams that might lose a little sleep Friday are No. 1-ranked Florida State and host North Carolina. Most expected those two squads to cruise, but through two rounds the Seminoles (-6) and Tar Heels (-1) are third and tied for sixth, respectively.

Let’s start with FSU.

No. 1 man Jack Maguire turned in a second-round 69 Friday, but that’s the lowest score for any Seminole this week. If not for solid contributions from fourth man Josh Lee, who is 1 under through two days, Florida State could be in real trouble. 

The Seminoles, though, can take comfort in the fact that they've been within five shots of the lead heading into the final round of every tournament they've played this season, and won six times.

“These guys know what to do,” coach Trey Jones said. “They’ll be trying to win the tournament (Saturday).”

Every team feels pressure this time of year. Even the top team in the land isn't immune to that.

NCAA men's regional team and individual scores

Full coverage: NCAA men's regionals

“As good as the guys have played this year, how do they handle it when they get discouraged and things aren’t going their way?” Jones said. “We’ve been on offense so much this year.”

North Carolina, meanwhile, has struggled mightly on its home course.

Standout freshman Ben Griffin made a triple bogey on his last hole Friday to spoil what had been a 5-under round. Only one UNC player, Will Register, who held the first-round lead after an opening 66, is under par after 36 holes at Finley Golf Course.

“I’m glad we’re still in it,” coach Andrew Sapp said, “because we’ve played very poorly to this point. We’ve just been playing too conservatively. We’re not attacking like we normally do.”

Part of that is playing in front of the home crowd, with all of the expectations to succeed. The Tar Heels have combined to make three doubles and a triple so far, and those are costly miscues in an event where every shot is magnified.

This looks nothing like the confident team that won their home event in the fall here by 23 shots.

“I just need to remind the guys of how well we’ve played here,” Sapp said. 

Every other team will be freewheeling Saturday.

Charlotte is the No. 9 seed and ranked 50th in the country. The 49ers took the first-round lead with a 275, then followed it up with a 291.

The good news is that they’re still within a shot of the lead. The bad? They’re only seven shots clear of a pair of fourth-place squads.

"We tried to play with no expectations entering this week," coach Ryan Cabbage said, "and that won't change now." 

Florida didn’t realistically expect to be in this position either, not after No. 2 man Alejandro Tosti was left home with bacterial meningitis. Instead, the Gators have rallied around the crew that they do have here, and at 6-under 570 they’re squarely in the mix for one of the five spots. 

Kennesaw State is the No. 4 seed in the region, but the Owls are on the bubble after two rounds at 3-under 573. Austin Vick’s 69 and Jimmy Beck’s 70 helped keep their team within striking distance with one day to go. 

“Everybody knows what’s at stake,” coach Jay Moseley said. “The nerves are just something you’ve got to learn to embrace.”

Clemson appeared to be on its way to shooting itself out of the tournament when four of its players signed for a 74 or worse on Friday. Then came Austin Langdale, whose career-best 68 put the Tigers two shots out of fifth place. 

“With all of the teams this close,” coach Larry Penley said, “it may come down to a swing or two. You’ve just gotta have fun with it, but you can almost want it too much sometimes. You’ve just gotta be able to channel it.” 

The final round of NCAA regionals is always the most stressful day of the year. With so many teams in the mix, this site should be particularly entertaining. 

Getty Images

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

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.