Labels look good on Donald

By Jason SobelJune 2, 2011, 7:53 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – It was late Wednesday afternoon when one competitor in this week’s Memorial Tournament was rolling a few putts on the Muirfield Village practice green while engaged in casual conversation.

All of a sudden, he stopped putting and talking.

The player motioned to Luke Donald walking in the near vicinity and in a hushed whisper exclaimed, “Look! It’s No. 1!”

Such is the respect that Donald has achieved in recent days – and no, not all of it has been mocking.

With his victory at last week’s BMW PGA Championship, the 33-year-old became the 15th player in the 26-year history of the Official World Golf Ranking to reach No. 1 status. On Thursday, he played his first competitive round since ascending to the top, posting an opening-round 2-under 70 amidst congratulatory cheers from the gallery.

“It feels good,” Donald said about playing with that new label. “I’m excited to be there and looking forward to the challenges and excited to hopefully keep playing the way I’ve been playing.”

For those still incensed that Donald is first in the world without ever having won a major championship, get over it. He owns 14 top-10 finishes in his last 15 worldwide starts. He won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship over Martin Kaymer, who became No. 1 two days later. And last week he triumphed in a playoff against Lee Westwood, the previous top-ranked player.

This week he’s trying to accomplish something neither of his Ryder Cup teammates could: Win in his first start after earning the No. 1 ranking. He intimated that he didn’t seek advice in playing with the new label from either of them and perhaps it’s for good reason. Westwood came close, finishing solo second at the WGC-HSBC Champions; Kaymer was T-24 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

In fact, of the 14 men to previously achieve the No. 1 ranking, only three – Ian Woosnam, David Duval and Vijay Singh – won in their next start after getting there for the first time.

So far, Donald looks like he’ll bid to make it a foursome.

Starting on the course’s back nine, he opened with a 2-over 38 that included an uncharacteristic double-bogey on the 18th hole when his second shot found the front bunker, then he barely escaped the hazard, chipped onto the green and two-putted.

“I thought I hit a great 8-iron right at the pin and it came up maybe two yards short of being perfect, kicked back in the middle of the trap and just got a little bit too cute,” he explained. “Hit a poor bunker shot, another poor chip and lipped out the putt. So taking four from literally 20 feet wasn’t what I was hoping for.”

One sign of an elite player is how well he bounces back from adversity. Donald rebounded to shoot 4-under 32 on his final nine holes, including five birdies in a six-hole stretch and four in a row at one point.

Actually, the real adversity may have come days earlier, in the aftermath of his BMW victory. Donald celebrated with friends, even posting photos to Twitter of the party.

On Thursday, he talked about what he learned from his actions.

“You shouldn’t really tweet when you’re drinking,” Donald said. “I thought you’re only No. 1 for the first time once. It’s OK to have a celebration. It wasn’t a very memorable flight home, I can tell you that.”

It’s a problem he would love to endure once again this week.

Whether it says more about Donald’s own mindset or the volatility amongst the best in the world these days, it was telling that within minutes of clinching the No. 1 ranking at Wentworth, he maintained, “Hopefully I can hang onto it for a few more weeks.”

Well, good news for him. No matter what happens at the Memorial this week, Donald will remain atop the world ranking when the new order is released on Monday.

Which means he’ll be able to enjoy at least one more week of reverential tones from his peers, simply impressed to be basking in the glow of the player ranked No. 1.

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.