Cards, status on the line at finale

By Will GraySeptember 17, 2014, 11:46 am

While the FedEx Cup may be stashed away in Billy Horschel's trophy case, there is still plenty to play for this week at the Tour Championship.

The Dye Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass plays host to the fourth and final event of the Tour Finals, which will conclude Sunday with 50 players moving on to the PGA Tour for the 2014-15 season.

The Finals pit Nos. 1-75 from the season-long Tour money list against Nos. 126-200 from the final FedEx Cup standings, with 25 cards going to the players who earn the most money from the month-long series. The top 25 earners from the regular-season money list are playing with the security that their PGA Tour cards are already assured for next season, though their priority ranking among the Finals graduates won't be determined until after this week's event.

The player wearing the largest target this week is Patrick Rodgers, who holds the 50th and final spot in the rankings through three events, $703 ahead of Tag Ridings. The summer hasn't gone as planned for Rodgers, who turned pro after an incredible college career at Stanford with the hopes of parlaying a handful of sponsor invites into a PGA Tour card, as Jordan Spieth did in 2013. Tour Championship tee times Tour Championship: Articles, videos and photos

Instead, Rodgers battled an oblique injury and failed to notch a top-25 finish, barely earning enough FedEx Cup points to qualify for the Finals. The injury then forced the 21-year-old out of the first postseason event, though his T-8 finish at last week's Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational netted him $30,000 and moved him inside the bubble with one event to play.

Ridings is currently the odd man out, but he's not alone in needing a strong showing in Ponte Vedra Beach to have a chance at the PGA Tour next season. The list of names currently outside the top 50 includes several former PGA Tour winners: Eric Axley (52nd), Chad Campbell (64th), Heath Slocum (71st), Kyle Stanley (72nd), Johnson Wagner (78th), Y.E. Yang (91st), John Rollins (98th), Tim Herron (T-112) and Trevor Immelman (T-112).

Those outside the number can take inspiration from Brad Fritsch and Andrew Loupe, who both missed the cut at each of the first three Finals events in 2013. Fritsch tied for second at the Tour Championship, while Loupe shared sixth place, and both went from zero to a PGA Tour card in the span of four days. Both men are now back in the Finals and once again outside the number, and will need a similar finish in order to return to the main circuit next season.

The race near the top also comes with its own reward, as the highest earner from the four-event series will join the top earner for the entire year (regular season plus Finals) in being fully-exempt for the 2014-15 season and earning spots in the 2015 Players Championship.

The season-long winner is currently projected to be Carlos Ortiz, who topped the regular-season money list after winning three times, while the best player thus far in the Finals has been Adam Hadwin. The Canadian, who finished fourth in regular-season money, won the Chiquita Classic two weeks ago and followed that with a T-10 finish last week in Columbus.

While having a PGA Tour card is nice, being able to use it is even better. As a result, players will be montoring their projected priority ranking this week, a number from 1-50 that will indicate where in the pecking order they will begin the new season. While last year those rankings were based solely on money earned during the four-event Finals, this year the top earners from the regular season were able to carry their earnings into the Finals, placing a greater emphasis on regular-season performance.

Last season, starts for Finals graduates became a growing concern, as players near the bottom of the priority rankings often had to rely upon sponsor invites or Monday qualifiers to try to crack PGA Tour fields. The difference was sizeable between those at the top of the priority list and those at the bottom, and it continued to grow as the season progressed. While six of the top 10 kept their PGA Tour cards, none from Nos. 41-50 were able to play well enough in the starts they received to stay on the circuit for next season. At No. 38, Tim Wilkinson was the lowest-ranked player from the Finals priority rankings to keep his card for 2014-15.

For some, this week is a chance to build momentum toward a PGA Tour debut. For others, it's an opportunity to move up the priority list and give themselves a better chance for success next season. While for many in the field it's one last chance to try to play their way into the big leagues. Regardless of category, everyone has something to play for this week as the Finals conclude at TPC Sawgrass.

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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

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On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

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Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1