Casey (66) puts 40th birthday celebration on hold

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2017, 7:08 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – Even on the cusp of his fourth decade, Paul Casey has no interest in acting his age.

The Englishman, who prepared for this week’s Open Championship by cycling 300 miles through the Italian Dolomites, inched closer to that elusive first major on Thursday, opening his week with a 4-under 66 to move within a stroke of the lead.

On Friday he’ll continue that unrelenting march against the clock as a newly minted 40-year-old.

“I haven't had a [mid-life] crisis yet. Maybe I'll have one tomorrow,” he laughed. “A white Lamborghini or something. I don't know. I'm still in my 30s there.”

Casey said he’ll celebrate his birthday regardless of score on Friday, which is a mature way of accepting fate, which hasn’t always been his specialty.

There was a time when a bad round of golf would be a reason to stew and lament his misfortune. He was a man of extremes, effusive and entertaining when things went well, volcanic when they didn’t.

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His play could be brilliant at times and he climbed to third in the Official World Golf Ranking in 2009, but along the way there were numerous bouts with injury, some self-inflicted – like when he dislocated his shoulder snowboarding in Colorado in ’12 – some not.

In ’11, things seemed to bottom out when he divorced his first wife, Jocelyn, and lost his PGA Tour card, all of which makes his climb back to competitive relevance, not to mention personal enlightenment, even more compelling.

He’s advanced to the Tour Championship each of the last two years and is poised to do so again and, perhaps more telling, he’s regained his form in the game’s biggest events, with top-10 finishes in three of his last six major starts.

But even all of that momentum doesn’t completely explain the smile etched into his face following his round on Thursday at Royal Birkdale.

“I think there's a whole slew of things, not having played in England for a while, excited to be here, away from the course doing things,” he explained when asked about his solid start. “I used to hide a lot of that stuff away, not tell people. Wouldn't tell people I injured myself snowboarding. I think because of that you get, oh, why is he doing that?

“Now I’m very comfortable with myself on the golf course, away from the golf course, I think that's part of why I'm playing good golf.”

His caddie Johnny “Long Socks” McLaren, also factors into that equation, having teamed with Casey with the singular purpose of a five-year plan to win a major championship; and a week back at home in south England prior to the championship enjoying “beer and cheese” has rekindled a familiar desire.

On Thursday, Casey was the low Englishman and it’s known far and wide in these parts that the last Englishman to win an Open in England was Tony Jacklin in 1969 at Royal Lytham.

“The Open has never been the one I seem to have fared the best at. My results haven't been good,” he said. “But I feel really good about this week. Don't know why. Maybe I'm more in love with links golf than I was before.”

Or maybe he’s just older, wiser even despite those bold treks through the Italian Alps on a bike.

There won’t be a birthday celebration on Friday for Casey. That can wait until next week when the stakes aren’t as high. Instead, there’ll be a quiet dinner and, if his title hopes aren’t swallowed up by Friday’s fearsome forecast, a quick assessment of his opportunities.

“Dinner tomorrow night, but nothing silly,” he shrugged before someone suggested a possible celebration following Sunday’s final round that could possibly include the claret jug. “Sunday, yes.”

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x