The Social: Put 'er there, partner

By Jason CrookMarch 28, 2017, 4:20 pm

Jon Rahm's wish for a rematch with a familiar foe came true, but Paige Spiranac and John Daly are looking for new playing partners. All that and more in The Social.

Three weeks ago, Dustin Johnson topped (among others) Jon Rahm to win the WGC-Mexico Championship on a wild Sunday which saw the upstart rookie briefly grab the lead at one point.

Rahm took to Twitter shortly afterward to congratulate DJ and ask for a rematch in the near future. He said he wouldn't mind it being at Augusta National, but hey, life comes at you fast. So the 22-year-old got his wish a couple weeks early, going head-to-head once again with the world No. 1 on Sunday in the championship match of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Once again, DJ came out on top. And once again, Rahm made it close. But it's interesting to note that this time, his congratulatory tweet didn't include a call for a re-rematch.

Rahm will get his victories, no doubt. But they'll probably come a little easier when the best player in the world isn't standing in his way.

On a side note, get this man a blue check mark Twitter, he's at least good enough for that.

Grayson Murray has opinions, and luckily for us, he's not afraid to share them.

Last week during the WGC-Match Play, the rookie responded to a tweet from fellow pro Kelly Kraft about the perception of Asian and European Tour players rising quickly through the rankings and qualifying for WGC and major events more easily than those grinding it out on the PGA Tour.

It got plenty of response from the Twittersphere, and shocker, it wasn't all positive.

Keep 'em coming, Grayson.

The aforementioned Murray made headlines a week ago when he asked model Lindsey Pelas to caddie for him in the Masters Par 3 Contest, and she accepted, provided, you know, that he's actually in the field. A tall task considering he has to win the Shell Houston Open this week.

But that story got people talking, and it didn't take long for golf's It Girl, Paige Spiranac, to reach out with an offer for golf lessons.

Ms. Pelas, as she likes to do with propositions from random members of the golf community who she doesn't know, accepted without much hesitation.

People seemed to like the idea. Dare we say, even loved it.

Just a good boy and a hockey rink. What more could you ask for out of this section?

While Spiranac and Pelas were working on their dastardly plan to break the Internet, another dynamic duo were busy playing one of the world's most iconic golf courses.

Jordan Spieth and Tom Brady played Augusta National and posed for a picture on the par-3 12th, a hole you may recall, has given Spieth a little trouble in the past. But I guess even a trip down that particular memory lane is better than dealing with a case of the Mondays like all you regular Joes.

It's unclear what their on-course conversation entailed, but if Spieth wanted to talk about successful comebacks, he picked the right playing partner.

As for a bonus dream twosome - How about John Daly and The Rock?

Hey, it could happen. After Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson posted an Instagram photo claiming that he hit a drive 490 yards, leave it up to John Daly to call him out, because no matter how big his muscles are, of course The Rock didn't hit a ball almost 500 yards.

Daly also dropped this gem of a line, "I don't work out, I put out," and said he'd like to play golf with the "Baywatch" star.

Well, as he tends to do, JD won The Rock over, and basically got him to fess up, so maybe we'll see them teeing it up together (possibly shirtless since they're both so comfortable with their bodies?) sometime in the future.

Not sure if any golf networks out there are looking for analysts, but if there are any openings, we found the man for the job.

William McGirt took his precious time with this short MISSED putt at the WGC-Match Play, but that gave us the opportunity to hear some great commentary from one Twitter user, who is probably up for a Sports Emmy Award after this incredible rant.

No, but seriously. Gary, you up?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.