Stock Watch: 2016's risers and fallers

By Ryan LavnerDecember 6, 2016, 2:19 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf. This week, we’re taking a look at the year in its entirety.

RISING

DJ (+10%): After winning his first major under bizarre circumstances, Johnson is no longer golf’s most tantalizing tease. He’s the star with arguably the most potential for greatness. 

Ariya (+9%): This year will be viewed as the beginning of the Jutanugarn era in women’s golf. She’s the real deal.

Hideki (+8%): A scary thought: One of the game’s preeminent ball-strikers has significantly improved his putting. His five-win 2016 might be the start of something special.

Stenson (+7%): His near-flawless week at The Open, and his thrilling duel with Phil Mickelson, will go down as one of the best of all time. Now 40, he has never looked better.

Phil (+6%): No player did more in 2016 with less to show for it: a few close calls, a magical run at a major, and a macho performance at the Ryder Cup. Fortunately for us, he remains as unpredictable, and brilliant, as ever.

Jon Rahm (+5%): A star in the making – unless you don’t like ball-mashers with a soft touch around the greens – he is an easy bet for a victory (or two) this season.

Alex Noren (+4%): With four wins since mid-July, the 34-year-old journeyman has soared into the top 10 in the world. The next step is producing in the biggest events.

Patrick Reed (+3%): He’s the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s version of Ian Poulter … only way more talented.

Kevin Chappell (+2%): Kevin Kisner had four runners-up in 2015 before breaking through for a victory. Chappell had three runners-up in 2016 before …

Tiger (+1%): He’s upright, and happy, which is more than we could have typed a year ago. It’s anyone’s guess whether he wins again on Tour, but at least now his body is allowing him to try.


FALLING

Lydia (-1%): It’s a testament to her scoring ability and short game that she took a step back with her ball-striking and still won four times this year. Battling Ariya will be her greatest challenge yet.

Zach (-2%): Consistently excellent for much of his career, Johnson slipped 25 spots in the world rankings after posting just five top-10s in 25 starts.

Jim Furyk (-3%): Yes, he became the first Tour player to shoot 58, but offseason wrist surgery ruined the flow of his season and more distractions await if he’s tabbed as Ryder Cup captain.

Rickie (-4%): The narrative that surrounded his breakout 2015 season – he’s a better closer than Mariano Riviera! – quickly unraveled this year, after frittering away multiple chances to win. 

Bubba (-5%): He showed such little form for much of the year that he was passed up for a Ryder Cup spot even while ranked No. 7 in the world. 

Justin Rose (-6%): The Olympic gold was sweet, of course, but the Englishman’s nagging back injury has put a dark cloud over his immediate future. Rio was his only top-20 since May.  

Bernhard Langer’s peers (-7%): Every year, it seems, a familiar name turns 50 and threatens to take the senior circuit by storm. And every year, it seems, Langer eliminates any suspense with another sensational campaign.

European Ryder Cup team (-8%): Poor pairings, aging leaders, a controversial qualifying process … who could have imagined a few months ago that it’d be the Europeans who are facing the most questions about the direction of the team?   

USGA (-9%): They’ve vowed to simplify the rules, which is good, because this year had its share of forehead-slapping disasters.

U.S. women (-10%): Sure, the Americans had their worst showing in the 67-year history of the LPGA, but help is on the way with young U.S. stars like … um … well … 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.