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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”



Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.



Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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Phil eyes Augusta after third straight top-6 finish

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 11:54 pm

LOS ANGELES – For the third straight Sunday, a valiant back-nine charge came up just short for Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson began the final round of the Genesis Open five shots off the lead, but after a chip-in birdie on No. 12 he got within a shot of Bubba Watson. With the leaders a few holes behind him, he continued to press and his aggressive approaches into Nos. 15 and 16 both led to bogeys that effectively ended his chances to win for the first time since 2013.

Mickelson’s closing 3-under 68 ultimately left him in a tie for sixth, four shots behind Watson. It comes on the heels of a runner-up finish last week at Pebble Beach and a T-5 finish the week before that in Phoenix, marking the first time since 2007 that Mickelson has strung together three straight top-6 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“My game’s on the upswing,” Mickelson said. “I’m playing well enough to compete week in and week out now, and now it’s just a matter of a shot here or there, the difference between winning and not, as opposed to kind of finding my game. I’m not searching anymore.”

Mickelson added that he has seen “significant” progress in both putting and driving, two areas of concern he addressed in the offseason. But as the season’s first major continues to draw near, he believes that turning top-10s into a victory is critical to his chances at a fourth green jacket.

“I think it will be important for me, if I want to go into Augusta with the expectation of winning again, that I win before then,” Mickelson said. “If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. But I think that that would be a big thing for momentum, because you need to perform under the gun, in the clutch, and play well enough to win a tournament before you expect to win a major.”

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Watson wins at Riviera for third time

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 18, 2018, 11:35 pm

Bubba Watson holed a bunker shot midway through the back nine Sunday on his way to a 2-under 69 and a two-stroke victory in the Genesis Open. Here's the plot lines of Watson's third victory in the PGA Tour's Los Angeles stop:

Leaderboard: Bubba Watson (-12), Kevin Na (-10), Tony Finau (-10), Scott Stallings (-9), Patrick Cantlay (-9)

What it means: This is the third time Watson has won at Riviera Country Club, following victories in 2014 and 2016. It's his 10th PGA Tour win and his first since he won at Riviera two years ago. After a shaky, three-bogey, two-birdie front nine, he settled down - helped by his prodigious length - to make three birdies on the back with no dropped shots.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


Round of the day: Adam Hadwin shot his second consecutive 5-under-par 66. Only a second-round 74 kept him from being squarely in the mix.

Best of the rest: Jordan Spieth shot a final-round 67 to finish tied for ninth.

Biggest disappointment: Graeme McDowell was just two shots off the lead after 54 holes, seeking his first win since 2015, but he closed with a 77 and fell 23 spots.

Shot of the day: Watson's bunker hole-out from 16 yards at the par-3 14th. It gave him a two-stroke cushion over Cantlay.

Quote of the day: "It means a lot. My goal has always been to get 10 wins." - Bubba Watson

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Bubba holes birdie from bunker after caddie calls it

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 18, 2018, 10:31 pm

Bubba Watson started the final round of the Genesis Open with the lead, but quickly squandered it with three bogeys on the front nine.

That didn't crush the two-time tournament champion's (or his caddie's) confidence though, as evidenced by his birdie on the par-3 14th hole, which he made from the greenside bunker.

Watson regained the final-round lead by finding the bottom of the cup with this splash-out from the sand, a shot his caddie, Ted Scott, apparently called before he hit it:

Hey, when you caddie for a guy who has two green jackets hanging in the closet at home, sometimes you just know.

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Watch: Daly makes an ace at the Chubb Classic

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 18, 2018, 9:01 pm

John Daly won't walk from the Chubb Classic with the trophy, but he certainly deserves recogition for his Sunday scorecard, which came complete with a hole-in-one.

Daly aced the 154-yard par-3 16th on the Talon Course at TwinEagles, when his ball carried the froont bunker and tracked right to the hole.

Two holes later, Daly signed for a final-round 67 that included four birdies, three bogeys and two eagles, which both in the span of four holes on the back nine.