Hawk's Nest: Aussie Open could be deceiving

By John HawkinsDecember 2, 2013, 1:40 pm

Just to recap, the guy who began 2013 atop the world ranking ended the regular season with more missed cuts than top-five finishes. He was replaced at No. 1 by a guy who used to win majors in his sleep, but 5 ½ years since his last big title, each passing failure is still an eye-opener.

The Masters went to an Australian who had just coughed up a British Open, the British Open to a Yank with an allergy to links golf. Our PGA champion became famous not for conquering Oak Hill, but for sitting on the floor in a Texas classroom. These days, doing nothing gets it done.

If perception is 90 percent of reality, reality doesn’t know which end of the club to hold. As golfers, we learn to expect the unexpected, but 2013 was like walking through a haunted mansion without a sedative. You don’t predict things happening in this game. You take a wild guess.

OVERRATED: Swoosh = swoon. To blame Rory McIlroy’s tumultuous ’13 on the switch to Nike equipment is way too easy – a default excuse. Granted, the transition from Titleist to Nike went very poorly. The kid was still testing drivers in early July, at least six months after the deal was signed, but his swing lacked its normal fluidity in the early season. From there, the pressure only escalated.

To me, McIlrusty looked vastly unprepared for the highest level of tournament golf on several occasions, which would explain why his frequency of blowup holes (double bogey or worse) basically doubled in ’13. A majority of his better rounds was played on the weekends, long after he’d slopped his way out of the mix. Sounds like a mental thing, not a mechanical deal or a lack of compatible tools.

The Australian Open victory over Adam Scott this past weekend sends McIlrebound out on an upbeat note, but he finished 2012 with an elite-field win and looked like a completely different player when he came back two months later. There is baggage to be dealt with before the Irish Lad finds his way.

UNDERRATED: Up ’n Adam. His Masters victory was a scream, his come-from-nowhere triumph at the Barclays mighty impressive, but the late-season triumphs in his native Australia (and 72nd-hole loss to McIlroy) indicate Scott is ready to dominate. His return home came to a hero’s welcome, a distraction if ever there was one, but Scott has continued to play hard. And very well. Winning has become a habit. Well, almost.

Scott’s evolution as a competitor and body of work in 2013 command even more attention than they’ve gotten. Only a handful of players have the goods to become the best in the world, and now he’s one of them. Expectations are a dangerous thing. Then again, so is the combination of mental toughness and a perfect golf swing.

OVERRATED: Showing up early. Long gone are the days when Kapalua was considered a must-play. The fields at Torrey Pines aren’t what they used to be, and the same could be said of Pebble Beach. More and more top-tier guys are starting their seasons in the Middle East, where the sun shines bright and the appearance fees are right.

Bad for the game? Over time, the pay-to-play policy could widen the chasm between the PGA and European tours, which should be moving closer to unification and, eventually, one international circuit. Today’s players don’t concern themselves with such issues, however. They do what’s best for them, as well they should, but the dilution of pro golf’s commercial product cannot be healthy in the long run. Meanwhile, the West Coast swing will only get weaker.

UNDERRATED: The five-win season. I found it amusing that a lot of knowledgeable golf people didn’t think Tiger Woods deserved Player of the Year honors. If Scott or Phil Mickelson had won five times, three of them against premium fields, there would have been absolutely no discussion. Major championships are a big deal, but the fact of the matter is, the Players and WGCs include the same number of top-tier guys, in some cases more.

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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