Z. Johnson leading Kapalua without his best stuff

By Jason SobelJanuary 5, 2014, 1:42 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Here are three signs an elite professional golfer is on top of his game:

1. He walks off the course disgusted with himself after failing to birdie any of the four par-5 holes during his round. “One of my goals every year is those par 5s,” he explains. “I'm a little bitter about that right now.”

2. He feels sick to his stomach after three-putting three times during the first 36 holes. “My goal this week was to not three‑putt,” he says. “I three‑putted three times. God, it sucks.”

3. Despite all of this, he is still the tournament leader by three strokes.

Welcome to Zach Johnson’s world. By his own admission, Johnson has been far from perfect over the opening two rounds of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. All of which should make his lead over this elite field even more impressive.

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Only the best of the best – some guy named Tiger comes to mind – win these types of tournaments without their best stuff. And while Johnson hasn’t won anything yet, he’s winning so far with something less than his best.

“Pretty solid,” he called his second-round 7-under 66, which has him leading over Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar.

That’s hardly the expected self-aggrandizement of a guy atop the leaderboard, not that Johnson practices that policy anyway. He’s never been a chest-beater, never one to gloat about his accomplishments, never one to celebrate himself.

After he defeated Woods at last month’s Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in thrilling fashion, Johnson celebrated by getting stuck in Atlanta for a night on his way back from the West Coast, then got home and went right back to business as usual by picking up his kids from school. So this was never going to be a guy doing an end zone dance in the scoring trailer after grabbing the lead.

But Johnson’s disapproval over a few major aspects of his game shouldn’t underscore the fact that he’s in position to win for a second time in as many starts – or that he’s doing it on a 7,411-yard course which doesn’t seem to suit his game, as evidenced by just one result better than 18th in six career starts.

“I'm just getting more and more comfortable here,” he explained. “I feel like I know how to prepare before I get here more than I am in the past. I take a lot of time off; I'm not afraid to do that, and I know when to get back it and I know what to do when I get here.”

It can be argued that the world’s uppermost echelon of players separate themselves from the rest based on the fact that they can win on any course, anywhere, anytime. It can similarly be argued that Johnson has vaulted himself into this uppermost echelon, proving once again this week that his game is suited to any venue.

Just don’t expect him to make that argument.

“No, I'm not,” he said. “If you're playing well, does it really matter where you play? Probably not. You know, to win golf tournaments out here, you've got to get good bounces; you've got to get putts that lip in.

“Saying that, there's a couple of tracks, a couple of venues, a couple of surfaces that I'm not overly comfortable with and I don't know if I'm completely eliminating them, but I've kind of got an idea as to when to play and when not to play.”

The truth is, the Plantation Course might be one of them if it didn’t also come with all the spoils of being a PGA Tour winner – the guaranteed paycheck and the trip to paradise among those, in no particular order.

And yet, Johnson’s longtime caddie, Damon Green, made the case after their round that for a player who once won the Masters by laying up on every single par-5 hole, this course may actually play right into his hands.

“He’s never had success here in the past, but we talked about it this week,” Green said. “There are a lot of wedges here, so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be. He’s hit his wedges decent the last two days, so he’s had a lot of tap-ins, which makes putting easier – or so I hear.”

Johnson still isn’t playing his best golf. Far from it, if you listen to him grumble about missed opportunities on the par 5s and a few agonizing three-putts. Those might sound like bad problems to have, but it’s the mark of an elite player who can win a tournament of this caliber with something less than his best stuff.

After two rounds, Johnson is already halfway there.

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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, 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

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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 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