Defending Champ Out But Masters Winner In

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 14, 2007, 4:00 pm
AT&T ClassicDULUTH, Ga. -- The PGA TOUR moves from the TPC Sawgrass to the TPC Sugarloaf this week, where last week's winner at THE PLAYERS Championship, Phil Mickelson, has decided not to defend his title at the AT&T Classic.
Last year, when the tournament was named the BellSouth Classic, Mickelson successfully defended his 2005 title by sprinting to a 13-shot win at Sugarloaf a week before he won his second Masters title.
Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson
Phil Mickelson gets a fist bump from Zach Johnson during his 2006 blowout. (WireImage)
Like THE PLAYERS, this event was moved back in the schedule to give the TOUR a different May lineup in the weeks before the U.S. Open.
Mickelson, the new world No. 2 after his win on Sunday, isn't the only top-10 player who is skipping this week's event. Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and five of the other six top-10 players are also taking the week off.
Only No. 7 Henrik Stenson is in the field, where he will be joined by just three of the last 13 champions (Zach Johnson '05; Paul Stankowski '96; and John Daly '94).
The purse is $5.4 million, with $972,000 going to the winner.
As always, the GOLF CHANNEL will have coverage of the first two rounds and CBS will broadcast the weekend. Next week is the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial (the Colonial), where Tim Herron beat Richard S. Johnson in a playoff last year.
Next week, the TOUR will head on back to Texas for the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. But here are the guys to watch out for this week:
Zach Johnson
The recently crowned Masters champion has been on a whirlwind tour of America since his victory, but will feel right at home this week in Georgia. Playing just a hop, a skip and a jump from Augusta, Johnson apparently has quite the feel for Georgia courses. His one other TOUR victory came here at the TPC Sugarloaf three seasons ago. He also had a runner-up finish here last year and is coming off a solid week at THE PLAYERS where he tied for 16th.
Henrik Stenson
Although he missed the cut in his only appearance last year, Stenson does come into the event as the highest ranked player in the field. The long-hitting Swede has played steady golf this year following his breakout win at the WGC-Match Play Championship, where he took down Aussie Geoff Ogilvy. He finished 23rd last week in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Peter Lonard
Lonard doesnt have a strong history at Sugarloaf, but he did manage to finish fifth in 2004. He has played this tournament three times, making the cut on each occasion. What may favor him most, however, is his recent form. The Aussie played quality golf last week at THE PLAYERS, tying for sixth. It was his best finish since a third-place showing earlier in the year in Mexico.
Stewart Cink
The Georgia Tech grad and Duluth resident is a local favorite. Hes had some success at Sugarloaf, but hasnt yet climbed into the winners circle. Cink has played this tournament every year since 1997 and has six top-10 finishes. His best result came in 1999, when he finished runner-up to David Duval. This may be his week to breakthrough (just like Dallas Scott Verplank did at the Byron Nelson). Cink has finished inside the top 5 each of the last two weeks, including a T3 at THE PLAYERS.
J.J. Henry
If not for Mickelson, the 2006 tournament would have gone right down to the wire, and Henry would have been in the mix. He closed in 4-under 68 to secure a tie for fourth, one back of runners-up Johnson and Jose Maria Olazabal. He also tied for ninth here in 03. Henrys length is an asset on the 7,343-yard layout.
Here are four other players to keep an eye on at TPC Sugarloaf:
Jonathan Byrd
After missing the cut in his AT&T debut in 2004, Byrd tied for 32nd in 05 and was solo sixth a year ago. If he continues to improve along those lines, he could be hoisting the trophy over his head this time around.
Rory Sabbatini
Sabbatini has made more headlines recently with his mouth than with his play. The South African has never had much success in this particular event, missing the cut five times in the last six years, but past results mean little to him. He had only made one cut at the Masters before this year and tied for second. He has three top-3s in his last four starts. And with no Tiger in the field, maybe he can keep his focus on his own game.
Charles Howell III
For the first time in five years, CHIII will tee it up in this event. He missed the cut way back in 2002, but did tie for sixth in 01. Hes certainly worth keeping an eye on this week.
Rich Beem
Beem was among the four unfortunate losers to Mickelson in the 2005 playoff. He returned last year and tied for 19th ' one of only four top-20 finishes on the season. He could use a good finish this week, as he hasnt broken the top 20 since the Nissan Open in February.
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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.