Punch Shot: Most defining moment of 2016

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2016, 8:40 pm

From Jordan Spieth's epic meltdown at the Masters to the U.S. reclaiming the Ryder Cup, there were plenty of moments everyone will remember from 2016, but which one defined the year? Our writers weigh in:

By WILL GRAY

The year’s most defining moment came, as so many have in the past, amid the majestic pines and swirling winds of Amen Corner.

It was there that Jordan Spieth, with a second consecutive green jacket seemingly within his reach, unraveled in the most surprising fashion imaginable. He first put his tee shot on No. 12 into Rae’s Creek, then another ball, and within minutes what had seemed a fait accompli was turned on its head.

There were other more dramatic wins than Danny Willett’s three-shot victory at Augusta National, and certainly many other memorable moments. In fact, history will show that Spieth still had a chance to win after his debacle on Golden Bell.

But the Masters remains the biggest event of the calendar year, and when the defending champion inexplicably melts down, it tends to stick out. So when we look back on 2016, we will first return to that bewildering 15-minute stretch, when Spieth and caddie Michael Greller exchanged shocked expressions as the Masters slipped away. 


By REX HOGGARD

As is normally the case in even-numbered years, the 2016 season built to a crescendo at September’s Ryder Cup, and the matches didn’t disappoint.

After almost endless debate since the U.S. team’s loss at Gleneagles in 2014, captain Davis Love III & Co. were under even more pressure than normal when they arrived at Hazeltine National. While anyone associated with the team would tell you that the overhaul to the U.S. Ryder Cup process was about the next 10 matches not just the ’16 edition, another American loss would have been devastating.

After so much effort, so much change, so much promise, to lose the ’16 matches would have led to an even more difficult question – now what?

But the process worked, with Love picking the hottest possible players, including Ryan Moore, and creating the best possible atmosphere.

While Love was unquestionably the leader, it was the captain-by-committee concept that seemed to truly make a difference; with Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Tom Lehman and Bubba Watson all adding something invaluable to the team room.

Patrick Reed emerged as a genuine American star, beating Rory McIlroy in what may become the event’s most inspiring singles match, and Phil Mickelson secured his status as a true leader.

It was a defining moment for golf and for an event that desperately needed a dose of parity.


By RANDALL MELL

It was Tiger being shooed out of the U.S. team photo at the Ryder Cup in September.

As defining moments go, it captured the confusing and awkward nature of this new era, where nobody’s quite sure where Tiger fits anymore. The team photo was for players only, and though Woods has been out of the game more than a year recuperating from multiple back surgeries, it was still hard to get your mind around the notion he was an assistant captain in Hazeltine.

Watching a photographer shoo Woods out of the players-only photo was humorous, especially when Woods thought the photographer was merely maneuvering him to the other end of the photo, where Woods got the boot again. Woods still thinks he’s a player, we think. We want him to be a player. But nobody’s quite sure if he’ll ever really be a player again. Whether or not Woods comes back in any meaningful way, we’re seeing the game move on without him this year, whether we like it or not.


By RYAN LAVNER

Memorable moments often lead to indelible images. That was certainly the case with Jordan Spieth, after he kicked away the Masters with a quadruple-bogey 7 on the 12th hole Sunday.

The rinsed tee shot was understandable – he’d been battling the weak-right shot all week, and that tee ball requires more precision than perhaps any other at Augusta. But the chunked wedge shot that followed led to the most defining moment of 2016, when Spieth spun around and took off his hat, unable to watch his bid for a second consecutive Masters title dribble into Rae’s Creek.

The next few holes would produce an array of heartbreaking images, with a shell-shocked Spieth crouched down, head in hands. The collapse led to a trying year, as he won just once in the next seven months and at times looked lost and vulnerable. Unfortunately for Spieth, long term, his miscues will be replayed on television screens and in the minds of many every time he walks to the 12th tee for the next 40 years.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.


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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”


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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.


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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.