At 21, Spieth's stats eerily similar to McIlroy's

By Jason SobelNovember 30, 2014, 1:08 pm

You can paint yourself into a pretty tight corner trying to compare players to a certain No. 1 with four majors on his resume, especially when the guy on the other end of that comparison is a 21-year-old with two career professional victories.

So let's not compare Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. No, let's just state a few simple facts and let them linger in the air like a sweet aroma.

Just one year ago, McIlroy slogged through what most mortal golfers would characterize as a successful season, with eight worldwide top 10s entering the final month on the calendar. Still, being the young wunderkind that he is, there was criticism about failing to claim a trophy.

That’s when he “finally” broke out of that “slump” by winning the Australian Open, which turned out to be a springboard for a brilliant 2014 campaign that included two major titles.

This year, Spieth sputtered his way through a successful season of his own, earning nine top 10s around the globe, but like McIlroy also heard the skepticism when he failed to turn any of those close calls into victories. Then he traveled to the Aussie Open, where on Sunday – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – he “finally” broke out of that “slump” by winning his first title in nearly a year-and-a-half.

As for that springboard? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. It would be too bold to hold Spieth up to the expectations of replicating McIlroy’s feats this year, but it certainly isn’t without reason to believe his momentum off this victory – not to mention the confidence gained from it – will carry over to future tournaments.

You know, not that we’re comparing them or anything.

And while we’re on the subject of not comparing Spieth to his fellow millennial, there’s this: At the age of 21, each owned two professional wins – one on the PGA Tour and one elsewhere. (For further non-comparisons, Phil Mickelson had one worldwide win before he turned 22; Adam Scott had two.) Oh, and Spieth has seven more months to add to that total, too.

Again, these are just facts, not comparisons, but they should serve to quash any notion that Spieth can’t handle the pressure or can’t close on a Sunday afternoon or – and this one is laughable – isn’t on the proper track to becoming an elite player.

Breaking news: He’s not becoming one; he’s already there. He’s now ranked 11th in the world. He’s challenged in major championships. The wins will come, maybe not in bunches, but more and more as he matures into a better player and one more comfortable in the Sunday spotlight. It’s the narrowest of narrow-minded viewpoints to simply look at his near-misses at the Masters Tournament and Players Championship, and proclaim that Spieth doesn’t have what it takes to flourish under the intense heat of a potential title.

On Sunday, he did plenty to dispel that notion, stepping on the gas pedal during a final-round 63 and stepping on the necks of his fellow contenders in the process.

“It was the best round I’ve ever played, there’s no doubt,” he said afterward, less boastful than bewildered. “Being able to spread out from the field, that was a pretty awesome experience.”

Of course, some critics will still insist that he needs to prove that mettle in a bigger tournament. To that, recent history tells us that it hasn’t happened, but our collective intuition contends that it simply hasn’t happened yet.

In other words: The kid is still 21. Give it time. Even the world’s No. 1-ranked player, only four years his senior, hadn’t celebrated more success at this point in his career.

What Spieth has accomplished so far has eerily mirrored the accomplishments of a young – OK, younger – McIlroy.

Of course, those are just the facts. Only a fool would dare make that a comparison.

Getty Images

McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

Getty Images

Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

Getty Images

Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?