Drama, distress among top players entering Open

By John FeinsteinJune 6, 2014, 11:10 am

During the three days leading up to the start of the U.S. Open every year, the most popular man on-site – certainly among those wearing media credentials – is USGA executive director Mike Davis.

A big part of the story at every Open is the golf course and its setup. Since Davis spends several years preparing each Open layout for its close-up, then several weeks making final decisions on setup, everyone wants a few minutes of his pre-Thursday time.

Davis will certainly be in demand next week to talk about re-designed Pinehurst No. 2, but the mad dash for him may not be as intense as it would normally be before the first meaningful tee shot takes flight.

That’s because the 114th U.S. Open presents a unique set of off-course-leading-to-the-golf-course story lines. Heck, the fact that the No.1 player in the world – Adam Scott – is having some Sunday difficulties of late leads to little more than a raised eyebrow.

Consider three names: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. With all due respect to Scott and his legion of female fans, these are the three most famous golfers in the world. And right now, the one with the least on his mind is McIlroy – who recently broke off his engagement and ended a three-year relationship with a glamorous tennis star.

In fact, it’s a toss-up as to who has the most tsouris (that’s Yiddish for stress) between the two old pals, Woods and Mickelson. Woods’ golf career could be in jeopardy. Mickelson’s life could be in jeopardy.

Okay, those are absolute worst-case scenarios, but let’s think about all this for a moment.

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Woods had back surgery on March 31. Since then, he has gone into hiding, breaking silence to say on his website that he has no idea when he’ll play again; and taking part at a news conference promoting the tournament he hosts at Congressional Country Club to say that he still has no idea when he’ll play again.

There have been no leaks – which usually come through agent Mark Steinberg to Tiger-friendly media outlets – since then indicating that he’s starting to fully swing a club or that the doctors have cleared him to do anything more than the “gentle” chipping and putting he has talked about.

Some people think Woods will be in England next month for the British Open, which is being played at Royal Liverpool, a golf course he dominated when the Open was last played there in 2006. But Day 1 of that championship is only six weeks away. In the grand scheme of recovery from back surgery that’s not very long. It’s worth noting, too, that the doctor who did the surgery on Woods said that an elite athlete could normally be “back in the field,” in three to four months – but might need longer than that to be as good as he was when 100 percent healthy.

If Woods was a normal human being you would think he would need at least one warm-up event before Liverpool. But Woods isn’t normal. He came back after post-Masters knee surgery in 2008, showed up at the U.S. Open, won – and played an extra 19 playoff holes – and then needed more surgery right after that.

Never count him out. But the smoke signals coming from his camp have, at least until now, not been terribly encouraging.

The world knows even less about what’s going on with Mickelson. Last Thursday, two FBI agents showed up at the Memorial wanting to talk to him. As you might expect, he suggested they speak to his lawyers. No doubt they have or will.

The Wall Street Journal subsequently broke a story saying that Mickelson is being investigated by the SEC – the Securities and Exchange Commission, not the Southestern Conference – and by the FBI for possible insider trading. Specifically, the Journal reported, there were questions about Mickelson’s involvement with billionaire investor Carl Icahn and big-time Las Vegas gambler Billy Walters in a 2011 deal involving Clorox stock.

It’s no surprise that Mickelson says he did nothing wrong. And none of us has any idea what’s involved here. We do know this: According to the Journal story, the investigation started over a year ago. When Mickelson became aware of it is anybody’s guess but since his victory at Muirfield last summer, he has not been a ball of fire on the golf course. Everyone knows the numbers for this season: no wins, no top-10 finishes and a missed cut at the Masters for the first time since 1998.

Very un-Mickelson like.

Perhaps it’s coincidence. Perhaps the psoriatic arthritis is starting to affect his game. Perhaps he’s finally starting to show his age as he approaches his 44th birthday next week.

Or, perhaps he’s got something on his mind. Those who deal with the SEC on a regular basis are unanimous in saying it is a nightmare – regardless of whether you are innocent. The SEC is relentless and doesn’t make anything easy for anyone who is being investigated – for ANYTHING. Perhaps that’s what they have to do in order to get their jobs done. But it is almost impossible to believe that the presence of SEC and FBI investigators in anyone’s life can be terribly pleasant.

All of which makes McIlroy’s emotional announcement of his break-up with Caroline Wozniacki two weeks ago seems like, well, puppy love by comparison. Not that a three-year relationship or a broken engagement should be taken lightly. Certainly McIlroy didn’t do that. But he’s 25 and she’s 22. They will both move on to other relationships and it’s possible that McIlroy now feels he’s brought closure to a phase of his life that needed closure.

Neither Woods nor Mickelson appear likely to find closure with their current predicaments in the near future. Next week, Mickelson has to deal with all the normal questions about finally winning a U.S. Open with the SEC and the FBI lurking over his shoulder. Woods, even when he comes back, will have to show the world that he can be Tiger Woods again.

Daunting tasks in both cases.

Mike Davis won’t be lonely next week but he’ll probably have more free time than usual.

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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