Conditions and conformity changed at PGA Championship

By Jason SobelAugust 6, 2012, 6:45 pm

AKRON, Ohio – There was a telling story making its way through golf's inner circle this past week. One agent was speaking with his player and – in classic agent-speak – told him, 'I really like your chances at the PGA Championship.'

To which the player, a world-class talent enjoying a standout season, replied: 'How can you like my chances?'

Without missing a chance to pump up his man, the agent countered: 'You're playing really well and that course suits your game and you've been playing well in majors and...'

The player stopped him with a reminder: 'There are 156 players in the field. Every one of them has a chance to win. So my chances are 1-in-156. They're terrible.'

Such is life in golf’s Brave New World, where the list of contenders is nearly equal to the entry list. That notion is even more prevalent at major championships, the last 16 of which have been won by 16 different players, giving the game’s elite tournaments a revolving door sensation.

Tee times: Rounds 1 and 2 at the 94th PGA Championship

Tee to green: Nobilo's video tour of The Ocean Course

Here’s a significant sign of the times: Of the top 10 players currently listed on oddsmakers’ boards for this week’s PGA Championship, only three have won a major before.

“It’s just really tough to win out here. You’ve got maybe a 1 or 2 percent chance of winning the events you enter over your career,” said Jason Dufner, who needed 164 starts to win his first title, then replicated the feat two starts later. “What happens at the majors is the cream of the crop rises to the top. They give themselves a better chance to win. The higher your skillset is on tougher golf courses, generally speaking, the better you’re going to play.”

It’s that last notion which compels four-time major champion Phil Mickelson to proffer a conflicting opinion.

“No, it’s not harder than trying to win a major with Tiger [Woods] at his best,” he said of the 14-time major champion. “Nobody has ever played to the level that he has.”

On the eve of the PGA, it can be debated whether it’s tougher for players to win based on the current climate or easier due to the lack of a singular dominant force. What can’t be argued is that the current landscape has indeed changed in recent years.

That’s speaking metaphorically, of course, but the literal landscape will take on a different dynamic this week on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

In advance of the tournament, the PGA of America made the following announcement: “All sandy areas at the Ocean Course will be regarded as ‘through the green’ and not designated as ‘bunkers,’ for the 94th PGA Championship.”

On the surface, it could be considered the Dustin Johnson Rule, in effect absolving any player of the same judgment error that caused Johnson to lose a chance at winning the PGA two years ago at Whistling Straits. In reality, though, it’s a local rule which has been employed in other events on this course in the past; this year’s decision simply falls in line with those of prior years.

And yet, it’s still going to look awfully strange.

Think about it: With sandy areas not designated as bunkers, competitors will be given the opportunity to not only ground their clubs, but move any loose impediments and even take practice swings. Imagine that? There could be a player standing in a greenside bunker – er, “sandy area” – on the final hole Sunday afternoon with a one-shot lead and rather than being at the will of the unknown, he will be able to test the playing surface by taking a few whacks  at the sand.

The question remains, though: As creatures of habit who are accustomed to hovering a club over the ball in these situations, what will they do?

“I don’t know,” Mickelson admitted. “I really don’t have an answer. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll probably treat it like a bunker, I guess. I don’t think I’ll pick away sand behind the ball. I don’t think – but maybe if I’m in a fairway bunker-sand-waste area, I might. I don’t know.”

““It will be strange in a greenside bunker,” Matt Kuchar claimed. “Taking a practice swing will be weird.”

“There’s no advantage to it, I think,” Johnson explained. “It’s actually a little strange if you’re in a greenside bunker and ground your club. I mean, I’m not going to.”

“I’m not all of a sudden going to start grounding my club,” said Bo Van Pelt. “You can take a practice swing in there, so from that standpoint it’s a good thing. You can test and see how much sand there is.”

There’s no doubt that throughout this week’s PGA Championship, it will be compared with the 1991 Ryder Cup that was held on the same venue and dubbed, “War by the Shore.” If this week’s event needs a nickname, it could do worse than, “A Changed Landscape.”

The look of golf’s turnstile of major champions has been altered in the past four years, but that may pale in comparison to the vision of the world’s best players grounding clubs, moving loose impediments and taking practice swings around the sand-laden Ocean Course.

It may not provide a specific advantage to anyone, but that’s just part of the norm. It seems like nobody has an advantage at the majors these days anyway.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry