Koepka further proof young stars have taken over

By Jason SobelFebruary 2, 2015, 12:48 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Don’t believe the headlines. Don’t give in to clichéd opinion. Don’t buy all the hype about this week’s PGA Tour event representing some sort of “changing of the guard” or “young gun uprising” or “end of an era” or “the future of golf.”

What happened at the Waste Management Phoenix Open – where a 24-year-old prevailed over a 22-year-old, with a 21-year-old and a 20-year-old in hot pursuit after two other 21-year-olds had stolen the spotlight during first two days, which also featured a 44-year-old superstar and 39-year-old mega-superstar looking stiff and tired and fragile in a few different ways – isn’t the future.

On a weekend when 25-year-old Rory McIlroy reaffirmed that he’s far and away the world’s best golfer with a seemingly easy win in Dubai, and 17-year-old Lydia Ko reached No. 1 in the women’s rankings, Brooks Koepka’s victory doesn’t symbolize a new world in the game and it isn’t emblematic of any seismic shift.

No, this is the present. This is golf. Deal with it – or get left behind like so many seasoned PGA Tour veterans have lately.

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“Just playing against each other for years and years, since about 14,” explained Koepka about their collective knack for appearing so comfortable. “We have played against these guys for years and years, and it's fun. We enjoy it and they are all really good players.”

If the last three weeks had been the PGA Tour's soft launch to this calendar year, this tournament was to be its grand opening, a celebrated ribbon-cutting that represented hope-springs-eternal optimism at the game's biggest keg party.

Tiger Woods was returning to TPC Scottsdale for the first time in 14 years; favorite son and three-time champion Phil Mickelson was here, too. Before the weekend, though, each had been relegated to slamming his trunk after a missed cut.

And yet, the optimism didn't subside. It just shifted.

The old stalwarts were replaced by young upstarts all over the leaderboard. For two rounds, rookies Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger lingered atop the leaderboard. They gave way to more experienced youngsters. Jordan Spieth notched a share of seventh place. Hideki Matsuyama was in it until the final hole. Even an Arizona State amateur named Jon Rahm impressively navigated himself to a T-5 result.

Then there was Koepka, who used brute strength to overpower TPC Scottsdale, including a 331-yard drive that split the fairway on the final hole.

So much for nerves. So much for inexperience. So much for toiling amongst the rank-and-file, learning the ropes before contending and, finally, winning.

There’s no statistic to measure this, but this generation’s young stars are more fearless than ever before. Koepka appeared as comfortable in the final group as fellow 24-year-old Patrick Reed was inspired during his fourth career win just three weeks ago.

The amount of young players with serious game is so significant that even one of the game’s so-called “up-and-comers” already sees himself in a different light.

“I don't know if [I’m] considered to be a vet yet or if I'm still young,” Rickie Fowler, 26, philosophized earlier in the week. “I guess I'm kind of in the middle. Yeah, last year and this year I have had a couple groups where I have been the oldest player. Maybe that's veteran territory. I don't know.”

It’s not just that this next generation of players is talented. It’s that they’ve changed their goals. They’re reaching higher. It’s not enough for them to treat the first few years of PGA Tour life as graduate school. They want to skip right to the real world and take over the corner office.

It wasn’t so long ago that players in Koepka’s situation – he was technically a rookie last season, while playing most of his golf on the European Tour – would speak of keeping their cards as a major goal. Now those objectives have been elevated.

“Winning on the PGA Tour was the one thing that I wanted to accomplish,” he said afterward. “I wanted to come out this year, get a win, make Presidents Cup and further down the road make the Ryder Cup. … That's the goal. I don't see why I can't. I feel like my game is ready for that. I was ready to compete for majors and win them.”

It’s one thing to aim high. It’s another to reach those goals.

Koepka certainly appears to be on the right track so far, with his first PGA Tour title now matching his one from the European circuit just three months ago. He’s not alone, either.

This isn’t the future of golf. It’s already the present. Get used to it.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

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

Former Web.com 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 Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com 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