Punch Shot: Biggest storyline in 2016

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 5, 2016, 4:50 pm

Major championships. The Ryder Cup. The Olympics. A Jordan Spieth encore. 2016 is shaping up to be a huge year. What will be the biggest storyline? Our writers weigh in.


The Olympics.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how the summer unfolds, because in 2016 the biggest tour in the world will resemble the Champions circuit, with three majors and a WGC in a seven-week span.

There are so many unknowns: How will the new course hold up? Will players be interested? Will any A-list players skip? How will the joy of winning a gold medal compare to hoisting a major trophy? Because of the crowded schedule, will other events suffer? Will a player get hot and rip through the summer, sweeping all of the big events? Will the best players have anything left for the playoffs and Ryder Cup?

No other event in 2016 will produce so much intrigue.


The Olympics won’t trump the majors or the Ryder Cup.

There won’t be another run at the Grand Slam.

Tiger won’t win and he won’t retire, but we’ll have an even better sense what his future holds.

No, the big story will be Rory McIlroy reasserting himself as the best player in the game today, the best all-around talent. He’ll make history completing the career Grand Slam in golf, joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to have accomplished the feat. He’ll win more than anyone else next year, more than Spieth or Day, and he’ll climb back to No. 1 in the world.


The narrative will change from week to week, as is normally the case as the PGA Tour makes it way through the major championship season, and golf’s return to the Olympics in August will generate plenty of headlines, but it will be the Ryder Cup that will dominate the conversation in 2016.

The biennial matches have become one of the biggest spectacles in all of sports and that intensity will be even higher as the season builds toward this year’s event.

Following the U.S. team’s eighth loss in the last 10 matches in 2014, the PGA of America embarked on an extreme makeover with the creation of the Ryder Cup task force.

Players became part of the decision making, the selection process was overhauled, Davis Love III was named captain for the second time, and Tiger Woods committed his support to the event even if that means serving as a vice captain.

The American side has been infused with a level of optimism that has been missing since the last time the U.S. won the Ryder Cup in 2008, and it seems likely Love’s team will include plenty of new faces.

A win by the U.S. team at Hazeltine National would be the year’s biggest story, and a loss might be even bigger.


Spieth’s encore.

Regardless of the direction Jordan Spieth’s season takes, all eyes will be on the world No. 1 as he attempts to follow up a season that seemingly can’t be topped.

Spieth’s play over the last two years has set the bar impossibly high for him heading into 2016. So should he regress a bit to the mean, should he falter in some big spots, or should he fail to keep up his regular rate of trophy acquisition, it will become just as big of a story as the names ahead of his on the leaderboard.

Should he somehow find a way to raise his game – or even just keep up with his 2015 pace – Spieth will be the biggest storyline of the year without question.

We enter the new year with a three-headed monster atop the world rankings, but no one captivated the landscape this past year quite like Spieth. So the question leading through the spring, and into the Masters, and into the U.S. Open and perhaps beyond will be ... what’s next?

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

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

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.