Punch Shot: Who at HSBC will have best 2015 campaign?

With 40 of the top 50 players in the field this week at the HSBC, we asked GolfChannel.com writers, who will have the best campaign in 2015? And they answered.


By JASON SOBEL

There’s a "South Park" episode from 2011 during which the character Stan Marsh becomes more cynical of the world around him and grows depressed. As part of an unsuccessful pep talk, his mother suggests, “As you get older, you realize the best thing to do is just stick with what you know.”

A few years ago, I might have looked at the WGC-HSBC field with less cynicism. I might have energetically predicted that the best season would come from a bright-eyed upstart like Graham DeLaet or Thorbjorn Olesen or Hideki Matsuyama. But hey, like everyone else, I’m getting older and so I’ve realized the best thing to do in this situation is just stick with what I know.

And so rather than go out on some skinny limb, I’m picking the sturdiest branch possible. I’m taking Adam Scott to have the best season of anyone in the field.

Why? Well, after minutes of careful consideration, here’s the rationale behind my decision: He’s really, really good at golf. If I need more to go on than that, then I’ll take increased rejuvenation with a new caddie on the bag to go along with a sense of urgency at 14 months and counting before he has to abandon the anchored putting stroke.

All of that should be enough to have the past Masters champion knocking on the door for a second major title, among other spoils.


By RANDALL MELL

Rickie Fowler is coming up on a year since he began working with Butch Harmon, and there’s no denying the elevation in his game. Fowler has done just about everything except win since joining Harmon last December.

With his blistering run starting last summer, Fowler looks like a player on the verge of something special, including a major championship breakthrough. His run of eight top-10 finishes in his last nine starts includes finishing T-2 at the U.S. Open, T-2 at the British Open and T-3 at the PGA Championship. It includes three top 10s in the FedEx Cup playoffs. That’s an impressive display against tough competition on tough courses.

Fowler is equipped to begin adding to his one career PGA Tour victory. At 25, he begins the new wraparound schedule with his swing and confidence soaring. While it’s tough not picking Billy Horschel here, Fowler’s putting the game together to consistently contend for big titles.


By RYAN LAVNER

Though we’ve approached his seasons with this level of optimism before, 2015 truly feels like it’ll be a breakthrough year for Sergio Garcia.

His talent has never been in question; he remains one of the game’s preeminent ball-strikers and is a vastly improved putter. Instead, it’s been whether Sergio had the mental makeup to win multiple big-time events each season.

Garcia’s finish at the Open – where he shared the lead on Sunday – was encouraging, not just for the result (T-2) but more for the way he handled defeat. Sure, it helped that his good friend Rory McIlroy cradled the claret jug, but his graciousness afterward was a sign that Garcia was maturing.

His game is as sharp as it’s ever been (six top 12s in his last eight starts), and he’s as happy off the course as he’s ever been. That last point shouldn’t be underestimated: A smiling Sergio is one capable of finally winning a major.


By REX HOGGARD

It’s going to be difficult for any golfer to unseat Rory McIlroy atop the world heap next year, but if any player appears up to the challenge it is Justin Rose.

Following a relatively quiet start to 2014 – the Englishman had just a single top-10 finish in his first six starts – Rose has become the game’s most consistent golfer not named Rory.

After winning back-to-back starts in the middle of the summer (the Quicken Loans National and Scottish Open) he finished tied for fourth place at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Tour Championship and last week’s BMW Masters on the European Tour.

Since his breakthrough major victory in 2013 at the U.S. Open, Rose has sidestepped the predictable competitive slide that so often besets many players and continued to improve at his own measured pace.

For all the criticism heaped on Sean Foley during his time with Tiger Woods it is largely overlooked how he has transformed Rose into one of the game’s best ballstrikers. In 2014, Rose ranked fourth and sixth in strokes-gained tee-to-green and strokes-gained total, respectively.

Perhaps more importantly he has steadily improved on the greens the last three seasons, which makes him the player to watch heading into 2015.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.