Punch Shot: Best rivalry in today's game?

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 3, 2014, 8:40 pm

World No. 1 Inbee Park beat No. 2 Stacy Lewis this past week in Taiwan. Is that the best rivalry in golf? If not, then what is? GolfChannel.com writers offer up their take on the best rivarly in today's game.

By JASON SOBEL

In terms of progressive movements, golf often remains stuck in neutral a little longer than other sports – let alone society. In terms of rivalries, growing them organically is nearly impossible because of the eclectic nature of the game, which features one new leaderboard after another instead of the same stalwarts battling on a weekly basis.

With each of those ideas in mind, it should speak volumes that after about 15 years of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson serving as golf’s greatest rivalry – despite the not-to-be-overlooked fact that we can count on one hand the number of times they truly went head-to-head on Sunday’s back-nine of a big tournament – we’ve finally transitioned into the next phase.

The biggest rivalry in the game is now that of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

It’s less about direct matchups (we’re still waiting for one) or any perceived friction (there isn’t any) and more about the generational gap. Woods represents everything we’ve known about golf for the past two decades; McIlroy represents everything we’re in the process of learning.

In this way, their rivalry is less analogous to Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer – a comparison which was fitting for Woods v. Mickelson – and more so to that of Nicklaus and Tom Watson. Here’s hoping we’ll soon get a chance to witness their own Duel in the Sun.


By RANDALL MELL

Hey, how often do Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson actually duel? Or Tiger and Rory McIlroy? The Americans and South Koreans bump heads in Sunday finishes just about every week on the LPGA circuit. They’re the most dominant forces in the game, consistently battling each other for titles. The Americans reigned supreme over the first half of this season, with the South Koreans taking over in the second half.

These nations have combined to win 21 of the 29 LPGA events staged this year. Plus, there’s the duel atop the world rankings, where South Korea’s Inbee Park and the United States’ Stacy Lewis have taken turns holding the No. 1 ranking for the last 86 weeks. Park and Lewis also are battling over Rolex Player of the Year, the Race to the CME Globe, the Vare Trophy and official money winning title. South Koreans (2) and Americans (3) combined to win all five of the majors this year. Now that’s a rivalry.


By RYAN LAVNER

It’s telling that Tiger vs. Rory is the most hyped rivalry in golf and the two stars have never even clashed head-to-head on Sunday in a major – typically, a rivalry requirement.

But Sunday showdowns or not, it’s the most compelling competition in the sport. The battle lines are clearly drawn: Tiger backers claim that Rory’s four major titles still leave him, you know, TEN behind Woods; Rory’s supporters, meanwhile, say that Tiger is washed up, injury-prone and will be stuck on 14 for eternity.

There is no right answer, of course, not yet anyway, which makes their mere presence in tournaments all the more intriguing. Fifteen or so times a year the rivalry is renewed, the old master versus the young king, with Woods, the most dominant player of all time, trying to ward off not just Father Time and injury but also a 25-year-old kid with the star appeal, the powerful swing and the fearless attitude, each result seemingly providing more fodder for the opposing side. 

If ever they face off on the back nine at Augusta, or over the closing stretch at the Open, the rivalry will reach new heights. In the meantime, embrace the new reality because the website metrics don’t lie – it’s the most compelling rivalry in golf. 


By WILL GRAY

It’s been a few months since we last saw them clash, but the best rivalry in the game remains Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia.

The scene that broke out at the 2013 Players Championship was nothing short of surreal, with both players actively voicing their displeasure with the other, and Garcia even accusing Woods of some mid-round gamesmanship. The rivalry goes back to the 1999 PGA Championship and was rekindled at the 2002 U.S. Open, both instances where Woods emerged victorious – as he did last year at TPC Sawgrass.

To have a potent rivalry, you need players with strong emotions, and opinions, on both sides. Woods vs. Garcia certainly has that – somewhat of a rarity in golf – and what their history lacks in volume, it more than makes up for with the quality of each duel. 

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''