Stock Watch: Highs and lows from 2015

By Ryan LavnerDecember 8, 2015, 2:04 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf. This is the year-ending edition.

RISING

Jordan Spieth (+10%): He is already the face of the sport, at age 22. The only question: How can Spieth possibly top one of the best seasons of all time?

Lydia Ko vs. Inbee Park (+8%): The 18-year-old sensation and the newly minted Hall of Famer combined for 10 wins and three majors in 2015, with their duel for player of the year coming down to the final hole of the final event. We can’t wait to watch how this respectful rivalry develops.

Big 3 (+7%): Remember all of the apprehension about who will fill the void in the post-Tiger era? It seems silly now, with three dynamic, affable, articulate under-28 stars putting the game in a chokehold.

Youth Movement (+6%): From Ko to Spieth, from Lexi Thompson to Justin Thomas, from Brooke Henderson to Matt Fitzpatrick, the 2015 golf year was dominated by players who can barely enjoy their breakout years with an adult beverage. The best part? Even more studs are in the pipeline.

Rickie Fowler (+5%): Overrated no longer, Fowler has toned down his Crayola look and committed himself to maximizing his considerable talent. His Players victory was the most thrilling tournament of the year, and he added Ws against top-notch fields in Scotland and Boston. The next step is to win a major – and to create a Big 4.

Bryson DeChambeau (+4%): One of the most fascinating amateurs in years took his game to the next level with victories at both the NCAAs and U.S. Amateur – just the fifth player to complete that double dip in the same year. Set to turn pro after the Masters because of his college team’s postseason ban, the quirky DeChambeau will continue to be one of the most talked-about players next summer.

U.S. cup teams (+3%): Sure, the Americans got walloped like never before at the Walker Cup, but the red, white and blue also staged an incredible rally at the Solheim Cup, continued their dominance in a down-to-the-wire Presidents Cup, and brought a new level of attention to Ryder Cup news conferences after Tiger Woods was named an assistant captain.

Kevin Kisner (+2%): No top player made a bigger jump in 2015, rising from No. 236 to No. 18 in the world rankings. At 31, Kiz is entering the prime of his career and now must be viewed as a serious contender to win a major and earn a spot on his first Ryder Cup squad.


HOLDING STEADY

Rory McIlroy: His decision to play soccer in the middle of the season cost him a shot at two majors and the playoffs, but his 2015 was far from a complete disaster, with four victories worldwide. Motivation should not be an issue in ’16.

Henrik Stenson and Stacy Lewis: They had nearly identical seasons, combining for no wins and 16 top-3 (!) finishes as the game’s next generation of stars pushed them into the background.

Bubba Watson: Quite literally, he held steady – he’s No. 4 in the world, just as he was at this time last year. He is one of the most enigmatic talents, a player capable of blowing away the field when engaged, but he lacks the week-to-week consistency of Spieth, Day and McIlroy.

Dustin Johnson: After returning from his six-month hiatus, he put on an awe-inspiring power display at Doral but also, incredibly, added to his long list of major meltdowns, three-putting from 12 feet at Chambers Bay and kicking away a 36-hole lead at St. Andrews. He’s too talented not to break through for at least one major … right?


FALLING

Jason Dufner (-1%): A new body didn’t lead to different results, as Dufner had one of the biggest slides in 2015, finishing in the top 10 only twice and dropping from 38th to 129th in the world.

Anchorers (-2%): Life without the long putter began in earnest for the likes of Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley, and it resulted in the worst years of their career. Throw in longtime anchorer Bernhard Langer, and these players’ transition will continue to be a major storyline to watch in 2016 and beyond.

Team Europe’s Old Guard (-3%): Before Graeme McDowell’s victory at Mayakoba, it looked like a lost year for the Ryder Cup stalwarts, with Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Thomas Bjorn all dropping out of the top 50. Don’t be surprised when a new-look European team heads to Hazeltine.

Phil Mickelson (-4%): Winless for more than two years, Lefty axed the best swing coach on the planet in hopes that a few new ideas will coax one more major out of his 45-year-old body.

Suzann Pettersen (-5%): The villain of the Solheim Cup, Pettersen’s unsportsmanlike conduct overshadowed the competition, ticked off players on both sides of the pond and ensured that she’ll get a frosty reception during the 2017 matches.

Michelle Wie (-7%): After the best year of her career, she was more like the Big Uneasy in 2015, battling injuries and ineffectiveness during a forgettable season. A bona fide superstar, it’s reasonable to wonder whether Wie still has the drive to be one of the world’s best players.

Tiger Woods (-9%): After three back surgeries in 19 months, an uncertainty hangs over Woods like never before. At this point, it’s no guarantee that he will tee it up next year, or ever again.

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

Getty Images

McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

Getty Images

Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

Getty Images

Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.