Why not scale back to focus on first win?

By Jason SobelJanuary 9, 2014, 1:38 am

HONOLULU – Tiger Woods started a trend. He wasn't the first player to place more of an importance on major championships, but he's certainly spun enough press conference queries into responses about hoping to peak four times per year.

Others have fallen in line. Grizzled veterans like Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. Younger guys like Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Even super-sophomore Jordan Spieth has promised his own variation on this strategy.

All of which got me thinking about lesser-known players, those with PGA Tour status, but still seeking their elusive first win.

Why don't these guys treat a few tournaments per year like the superstars treat majors? Why don't they arrive early to some venues they like and learn every inch of sod? Why don't they put all of their eggs into three or four baskets, trying like heck for a victory that would net a seven-figure paycheck and a two-year exemption and – in most cases – a trip to the Masters?

“That’s a really good question,” Brendon de Jonge said with a laugh.

Sony Open: Articles, videos and photos

He’s right in the perfect demographic for this experiment. Last year, de Jonge finished 42nd on the money list with just under $1.8 million. He played for the International team at the Presidents Cup. He’s ranked 59th in the world.

He’s accomplished plenty, really – except a win.

At 33, de Jonge is just about maxed out on the perks and benefits of being a full-time PGA Tour member who has never claimed a title. He competed 30 times last season, but why not cut that number back to, say, 27 and enter three hand-picked events fresh and rested and ready to win, just like the superstars try to do before majors?

“It’s a very, very good point. I’ve never thought of it,” he explained. Thinking out loud, de Jonge surmised that the Greenbrier Classic, where he finished top-20 in three of the last four years, could be a good place to try it. “You know what? I would consider that. It’s that time of year where if you’re playing well, you might have gotten your card locked up, so you don’t have that to worry about. It might be something to think about.”

Of course, there is an innate problem to this suggestion, as well: Resting isn’t necessarily synonymous with peaking. Woods perennially doesn’t play during the week before each of the first three majors; Mickelson always tries to play in order to keep his competitive edge.

The idea, though, is really about more than that. It’s about treating a few regular tournaments with more importance, more reverence. Fly first class. Rent a house. Have the swing coach and sports psychologist around each day. In other words, simply give these events more respect.

We often hear players refer to a favorite course or a hometown event as their “fifth major.” This would be an opportunity to truly treat it that way.

Essentially, it's the difference between playing roulette and blackjack. One is pure luck, while the other involves a little strategy.

“I think there’s definitely some merit to that,” said David Hearn, who owns 25 career top-25 results without a win. “But it would be hard to pick the exact four events you’d want to peak for, because you don’t know which courses you’re personally going to play the best. That would be the hard part about it. But it definitely makes sense to play courses you haven’t seen before.”

Hearn has actually done exactly that in the past, traveling to Riviera Country Club in the offseason one year prior to competing in the Northern Trust Open for the first time.

Others see the benefit, too. All you had to do was check the tee sheets last week at places like PGA West and TPC-Scottsdale – home venues to each of the next two PGA Tour events after this week’s Sony Open – and see how many players were gearing up their games on courses they’ll soon play in competition.

During the season, though, that proposition becomes much more difficult.

“You get in your routine of week to week to week to week, but maybe they don’t peak that way,” suggested Daniel Summerhays, who earned four top-10s last season but is still seeking his initial victory. “If I knew that I was going to play good in 15 tournaments – if I was Steve Stricker – I’d play 13 tournaments a year and just prepare for those. The guys at the top get to take their time off, they get to prepare, they don’t get burned out, they know where they’re going. It’s an advantage, but you have to credit them, because they got to that point.”

“Most of these tournaments we play, we’ve played them four or five times now,” said Jeff Overton, who’s posted four career runner-up finishes without a win. “So we’ve seen the golf courses, we know where the pins are going to be, we know the ins and outs, whereas the majors come on courses where the guys haven’t seen them in a long time. … Most of the places we’ve seen – I’ve seen this place [Waialae Country Club] 25 times already – so one practice round is good.”

What it comes down to is routine. As PGA Tour pros still striving for that elusive trophy, these guys are accustomed to teeing it up whenever and wherever they have a chance. Giving up these chances is like handing money on the roulette table to the guy next to them, then walking away without any potential for sharing the payout.

“As golfers, we never know when we’re going to play well, so to put all your eggs in one basket probably makes us more nervous,” Summerhays explained. “We try to play as much as we can to try and diversify our portfolios. But maybe in doing that, we do lose some of the peak moments.”

Tiger, Phil and the other superstars can try to peak four times each year. Players still aiming for their first win often feel like they can’t afford this luxury, that quantity will beget quality.

Maybe they’re right. But I still can’t help but wonder what would happen if one of ‘em tried this experiment.

Getty Images

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

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

Each week, GolfChannel.com 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

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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