After 3 major duds, the golf gods giveth back at PGA

By Jason SobelAugust 10, 2014, 1:02 am

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Let’s not sugarcoat things: As far as golf seasons go, this one has stunk worse than Craig Stadler’s old socks.

The Masters was over by the time the final pairing reached the back nine on Sunday. The U.S. Open was over by Friday. The Open Championship was over before it even started.

The game’s most popular player went from winning to wincing, as Tiger Woods never finished higher than 25th place.

The next guy on that list hasn’t exactly dominated, either, with zero top 10s for Phil Mickelson on the PGA Tour so far.

Meanwhile, the guys who have won titles aren’t even household names in their own households. Bowditch? Hadley? Noh? No offense to any of ‘em, but each could walk through his local mall holding a trophy and still not get hassled by anyone but the perfume lady.

Even Scott Stallings, who won his third career title earlier this year at Torrey Pines, doesn’t get any respect. Following his second round at the 96th PGA Championship on Friday, the walking scorer in his group asked where he currently works as a club professional.

Cue Rodney Dangerfield and commence collar tug.

Such is life in the topsy-turvy world of parity, where anyone can win on any given Sunday.

Not to go all Sergio Garcia circa 2007 on you, but there is only one villainous organization to blame for this year’s interminable snoozefest: Those unmerciful golf gods.

The almighty beings who control the game’s landscape from behind the curtains have robbed us of our fun. They’ve taken away our excitement, our nerves, our diversion from lives spent in too many cubicles and classrooms, wishing away the hours with thought bubbles of final round drama floating above our heads.

They have rendered our Sunday afternoons into fitful bouts of burdened sleep on the couch. Or even worse, they’ve turned ‘em into the perfect time to get cracking on that honey-do list.

Maybe, though, just maybe, they were testing us.

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Testing our patience, our perseverance, our love of the game. They wanted to see just how long we’d keep returning to watch listless leaderboards.

Well, entering Sunday’s final round at Valhalla Golf Club, there’s finally some good news: We’ve passed the test.

Those insidious golf gods have turned benevolent. They’ve nurtured our waning interest back to health at just the right time.

With 18 holes remaining, there are currently 18 players within six shots of the lead. And these aren’t just any players – we’ve got a handful of world-class talents in contention, from next-gen stars Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler to old favorites Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker to the underdoggiest of underdogs in Bernd Wiesberger and Mikko Ilonen.

“Jam-packed,” Fowler called the leaderboard. “You never know what can happen. It's wide open and someone is going to have to play some good, solid golf tomorrow to win.”

This is all we’ve been asking for the entire year, isn’t it?

It’s the Daytona 500 with cars racing bunched together on the final lap. It’s the Kentucky Derby with horses neck and neck down the stretch. It’s the Super Bowl with an offense driving and the clock quickly ticking down to zero.

A few years ago, the PGA of America dropped the longtime slogan, “Glory’s Last Shot,” for this tournament, but the premise remains. Sunday will mark the last major championship round for eight months and while there’s obviously still plenty more golf to be played this year, a final-round dud could leave a bad taste in our mouths for an awfully long time.

If this one goes anything like the previous day, those afternoon naps will be replaced by edge-of-your-couch anxiety, leaving the honey-do list taped back to the fridge for another week.

Not only will a cushioned course provide plenty of pin-seeking darts and red numbers on the leaderboard, but the par-5 18th hole has the opportunity to produce fireworks in the manner of an eagle to secure the win – something that has never before happened in 430 previous majors.

Then there’s the historical angle: You’ll someday want to tell your grandkids about the day you watched Mickelson win his sixth major. Or McIlroy win his fourth. Or Fowler win his first.

“You have to push yourself [Sunday],” Mickelson explained. “You can't make the mistakes, but you can't play defensive and conservative. You have to attack. The golf course is soft and you can get to a lot of pins.”

For the first seven months of this year, the golf gods needed to taketh away. Now it appears they have finally decided to giveth back.

Congratulations. We’ve waited for this day, waded through enough of the doldrums. We deserve this. We passed the test. The best day of this golf year is almost here. All we need to do is stock up on Cheetos and make sure those couch grooves are conforming.

But just in case, we all might want to pray to the golf gods extra hard beforehand.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x