Punch Shot: Who will be 2016 Player of the Year?

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 1, 2016, 4:00 pm

Jordan Spieth ruled in 2015, but Jason Day wasn't too far behind. So who will emerge as the top dog in 2016? Our writers weigh in.

By RYAN LAVNER

Rory McIlroy.

He says there is “no reason” he can’t be world No. 1 by the time the Masters rolls around, and he’s absolutely right. With seven scheduled starts before Augusta – two more than in 2015 – it’s clear that McIlroy is determined to be in top form for the year’s first major and not coast through the opening months of the season as he has in recent years.

Jordan Spieth will be adjusting to his new normal as a global superstar. Jason Day will be adjusting to his new normal as a parent of two young kids. And Rory? Well, his personal life has quieted down, and the alpha dog should be nothing if not motivated in 2016, after a frustrating and humbling year in which he lost his No. 1 ranking, his spot atop the sport’s marquee and his chance at two majors because of an ill-timed kickabout.

McIlroy is poised to reclaim his spot atop golf’s pecking order. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.


By RANDALL MELL

This year ended with Rory McIlroy holding up a pair of trophies in Dubai.

It was a nice image with a strong message.

McIlroy might have slipped behind Jordan Spieth and Jason Day in the Official World Golf Ranking and major championship title hauls in 2015, but he’s highly motivated to catch up. Winning the DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai left McIlroy with good feelings about making the best of his injury-interrupted year and taking some strong momentum into 2016.

You remember how McIlroy bounced back from his struggles in 2013, winning a pair of majors in ’14? He didn’t really struggle in ’15. There was the ankle injury in the important summer run, but he still won four times around the world. The swing and confidence are intact. With all the talent he possesses, it’s all you need to know about his prospects coming into the new year. He’s still the best all-around player in the game, and he’ll be looking to remind Spieth and Day of that fact.


By REX HOGGARD

Jordan Spieth was historic in 2015, dominant on the game’s biggest stages and otherwise unrivaled in the final PGA Tour Player of the Year voting, but in 2016 that honor will shift back to Rory McIlroy.

We’ve seen the Northern Irishman’s modus operandi before.

In 2012, McIlroy won four times on Tour, including the PGA Championship by eight strokes, and was the consensus Player of the Year; but he followed that campaign with a relatively pedestrian 2013.

McIlroy rebounded in 2014, winning three times on Tour including the Open Championship and PGA Championship to claim the Jack Nicklaus Award for the second time only to endure another lackluster season in 2015 that featured two victories but no major championships.

Although his struggles in ’15 were born from a mid-season ankle injury that forced him to miss the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, it has become a familiar ebb and flow to the 26-year-old’s career – periods of brilliant play framed by stretches of mortal performances.

McIlroy also seemed to learn a valuable lesson from his injury-induced hiatus in 2015. After winning the season-ending DP World Tour Championship on the European Tour, he lamented his missed opportunities in ’15 and talked of a renewed desire to continue his dominance.

If history is any guide, another “bounce-back” year is likely.


By WILL GRAY

Hey guys, remember me?

Just little old Patrick Reed, sitting here with my four PGA Tour trophies and a game that many seem to have forgotten.

It was a year ago, after all, that Reed kick-started his 2015 campaign with a playoff win at Kapalua. But the rest of the season didn’t go according to plan, and even though he made the Tour Championship it was seen as a bit of a disappointing season for Reed, as the brunt of the discussion shifted to names like Spieth, Day, and McIlroy.

But then a funny thing happened this fall. While spanning the globe and cementing his European Tour status, Reed rekindled his game. In fact, he closed out the year with six straight top-10 finishes in OWGR-sanctioned events, highlighted by runner-up finishes at the BMW Masters and the Hero World Challenge, and cracked the top 10 in the world for the first time.

No one disputes Reed’s ability to win on a big stage, or his desire to perform under the brightest of spotlights. So don’t be surprised if this year ends with Reed winning multiple events, and not only earning a spot in that elusive top-5 category – but taking home Player of the Year honors, as well.

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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.