Punch Shot: Bold predictions for 2015

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 2, 2015, 1:00 pm

It's a new year and anything can happen. So we asked our writers for their bold predictions for 2015. Here's what they said:

By REX HOGGARD

Phil Mickelson will win the U.S. Open in June and complete the career Grand Slam.

While it seems likely the bookmakers won’t share our optimism for Lefty’s Open chances considering his love/hate relationship with his national championship, it will be those less-than-stellar odds that finally deliver the Open title to Mickelson.

While the flawless symmetry of the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where he’d posted the first of six runner-up finishes at the championship in 1999, seemed poetically perfect for Mickelson’s breakthrough, the pressure proved to be too much for him and he finished 16 strokes off the pace.

Mickelson will turn 45 two days before Round 1 at Chambers Bay. Only Hale Irwin – who is the oldest to win the U.S. Open (in 1990) at the age of 45 years, 15 days – has collected the title past his 45th birthday.

But when the golf world arrives in the Pacific Northwest the spotlight, and the pressure, will have largely moved on to other points of interest.

Without that scrutiny weighing on him, Mickelson, who dedicated himself to a new workout regimen in the offseason and said he plans to reexamine his schedule in order to peak during the majors, will finally collect a title that has painfully eluded him for 2 ½ decades.


By JASON SOBEL

Making a bold prediction is sort of like Goldilocks rummaging through the house trying to find the perfect bed and the right bowl of porridge. Rory McIlroy will win a few tournaments? Not bold enough. Some no-name from Luxembourg will claim the green jacket? Whoa, that’s way too bold.

You’ve got to find a happy medium that is bold enough to raise some eyebrows and yet not so bold that it’s an outlandish suggestion. All of which leads to mine for the 2015 campaign: The International team will win the Presidents Cup. Finally.

I’m basing this on nothing but the law of averages. This biennial competition has been contested 10 times previously and the “rest of the world not including Europe” squad has won just one of 'em.

This time, though, there should be enough firepower to beat what should be another strong U.S. roster in South Korea. Nick Price’s lineup will once again be led by Adam Scott and Jason Day; Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen have become stalwarts; and Graham DeLaet and Hideki Matsuyama could each be top-10 players by next autumn.

The struggle, as usual for the International side, will be filling out the bottom half of its batting order. Just as the U.S. Ryder Cup team needed a jolt of enthusiasm from rookies Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth, they could use an infusion of energy from the likes of Anirban Lahiri, Matt Jones and Carlos Ortiz; granted, none have the talent of Reed and Spieth, but the formula should be analogous. 

Don’t fret for the U.S. side, though. Even if it loses for the second time ever, there’s always time to create a task force before the next one.


By RYAN LAVNER

Dustin Johnson wins twice in 2015.

DJ hasn’t played on the PGA Tour since August, when he took a self-imposed leave of absence to deal with “personal challenges.” He figures to return sometime in February, and by all accounts he’s stayed sharp with his game and rededicated himself to his craft.

That should be bad news for the rest of the PGA Tour, because despite his “personal challenges” Johnson has been one of the most consistent players in the world – he’s won at least once every year since turning pro in 2007.

With better decision-making both on and off the course, Johnson might finally be able to maximize his awesome talent. I bet that process begins this year.


By RANDALL MELL

Michelle Wie wins two majors.

There was so much to like in Wie’s game in 2014, from her renewed confidence in her driver to her career best scoring average and putting stats, but what you had to like most was the look in her eyes. She was in no way content winning twice, with one of those her first major championship, the U.S. Women’s Open. Watching with her confidence coming back, you see the ambition in her eyes again. You see a player who at times looks like she wants to plow through the field to get to a trophy. And you hear a player talking openly about wanting to be No. 1 in the world.

Wie’s “table-top” putting stroke may look odd, but it held up at Pinehurst No. 2, in a U.S. Women’s Open, where the nerviest putts in the world have to be holed to win. She has the game, confidence and drive to keep winning big events this year.


By WILL GRAY

Ernie Els will win again on the PGA Tour.

The Big Easy is 45, but there’s still plenty of gas left in his tank. While Els hasn’t garnered many headlines since his win at the Open in 2012, he has had plenty of time to adjust to some new equipment, including a new putter in advance of the 2016 anchoring ban.

Now 63rd in the Official World Golf Ranking, Els is coming off a season that included only three top-10 finishes, and the globetrotter will likely continue to split time between the U.S. and Europe. But with 19 PGA Tour wins, Els doesn’t need a lot of starts to have a chance to contend, nor will he feel uncomfortable with his name on the leaderboard come Sunday.

The putter has been the issue for Els in recent years, but his tee-to-green game is still good enough to contend with some of the game’s best. At some point this year, the flat stick will get hot and Els will lift a trophy on U.S. soil for the first time since March 2010.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

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

Former Web.com 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 Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com 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