Punch Shot: Major questions on eve of PGA

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 12, 2015, 10:50 pm

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – The men’s final major of the season begins Thursday at Whistling Straits Golf Course. The on-site team answers some pressing questions on the eve of the 97th PGA Championship.

WHO WILL FINISH THE WEEK NO. 1: RORY MCILROY OR JORDAN SPIETH?

REX HOGGARD: When the dust settles on Sunday it will still be McIlroy atop the Official World Golf Ranking, but not by much. Of the litany of scenarios for Spieth to overtake McIlroy – ranging from a Spieth victory to McIlroy missing the cut – it will still be difficult for the exchange to occur, at least this week.

RANDALL MELL: Spieth. This is a less severe Chambers Bay moonscape, with really good greens. McIlroy’s rust is a factor.

RYAN LAVNER: Rory will stay No. 1, at least for a few more weeks. I expect both to play well, but neither to win, which would keep McIlroy in the top spot. Spieth isn’t a short hitter by any means, but he’ll be at a significant disadvantage on a course that is softer than anticipated. You have to figure that at least one of the big bombers – Bubba, DJ, J-Day, etc. – will power their way to victory.

MERCER BAGGS: Spieth. There are scenarios that could unfold to where he doesn't have to win and can still ascend to No. 1. If he wins, however, he dethrones Rory unless McIlroy finishes solo second. Since I think Spieth is going to win, therefore I think odds are he will be No. 1 come Sunday evening.


HOW WILL TIGER WOODS FARE: WIN, CONTEND, ALSO-RAN OR MISSED CUT?

HOGGARD: The progress Woods has talked about for so long finally arrived two weeks ago at the Quicken Loans National (T-18), but he continues to struggle to hit fairways - he’s 181st on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy - and that’s not a recipe for success at Whistling Straits. He will make the cut, just don’t expect him to contend.

MELL: Tiger misses the cut. The game isn’t really there, and the mental edge isn’t there, either. Woods sounds like he wouldn’t be overly upset if his season ends this week so he can regroup yet again.

LAVNER: He’s more likely to miss the cut than seriously contend. Woods has never played Whistling Straits when he was in good form – he was in the midst of swing changes at the PGAs here in 2004 and ’10, and now he’s a player who seems capable of stringing, at best, only a few good rounds together. He will have to hit driver more this week than at any point this season. Big red flag.

BAGGS: Don't use his T-18 at the Quicken Loans as a baramoter for this week. Look to his most recent major performances - a pair of badly missed cuts. It would be great to see Woods in the mix this weekend, even if it's just on Saturday. But we likely won't see him at all this weekend.


WHO IS A DARK-HORSE CONTENDER?

HOGGARD: Brooks Koepka won his first Tour event earlier this year in Phoenix and has been trending in the right direction recently, with top-10 finishes in three of his last five events. But more importantly, he hits the ball a mile which is required at Whistling Straits.

MELL: Kevin Kisner. He’s knocking on the door with three second-place finishes this season, two of those in playoff losses. His runner-up finish at The Players showed he can handle playing against the big stars on the big stages.

LAVNER: If a 2015 PGA Tour winner can be considered a darkhorse, I’m taking Brooks Koepka. He’s coming off a T-6 at Firestone, a venue that has proven to be a strong indicator of PGA success. More reasons to dig him this week: He’s made the cut in all three majors this season (including a top-10 at St. Andrews) and Whistling Straits should fit his smash-mouth game.

BAGGS: Justin Thomas. He has to be brimming with confidence. In addition to teaming with Spieth to beat Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in a Tuesday money match, Thomas has a pair of top-5 finishes in his last two Tour starts.


WHAT IS THE BEST SUNDAY STORYLINE?

HOGGARD: Sports is at its best during true rivalries and it would be hard to imagine a better time for Spieth and McIlroy to officially kick off their rivalry than the PGA Championship. The game’s two young stars going head-to-head on a major Sunday with the top spot in the world ranking hanging in the balance, not sure it could get much better than that.

MELL: Steve Stricker. If he gets some putts to fall early, he’ll ignite the land of bubbling cheese pits and malt-and-barley lakes. The Wisconsin boy is striking the ball confidently. If he wins, it’s a fairy-tale story, the homegrown talent winning his first major in what he believed could be his last start in a major.

LAVNER: Spieth holds off McIlroy and denies Dustin Johnson again down the stretch to win major No. 3, but McIlroy stays No. 1 because he finishes second in his return from injury. Too much to ask? OK, probably. Our only hope should be that this major lives up to last year’s PGA, with plenty of star power and birdies during the final round.

BAGGS: Sheboygan Shocker: Woods wins 15th major. But that ain't gonna happen. What is more likely to happen is Spieth winning his third major of the season. And barring a Tiger miracle, that would be the best storyline this week. It would be even better if it was Spieth vs. McIlroy in the final group on Sunday. But we'll probably have to settle for their early-round showdown. Why would a Spieth win be better than a McIlroy win? Because an individual sport needs a single, dominant figure. That's what Spieth would be with a win.

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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