Hawk's Nest: Rory, Ryder Cup in playoff spotlight

By John HawkinsAugust 22, 2014, 5:32 pm

PARAMUS, N.J. – For a state that gets picked on pretty often, New Jersey sure does have a lot of great golf courses, and Ridgewood CC is one of them. A classy A.W. Tillinghast design with a terrific medley of holes and plenty of elevation change, Ridgewood is something of a rarity in today’s game: an old-school gem still capable of challenging the world’s best players.

That said, close to half the field shot under par Thursday in the opening round of the 2014 FedEx Cup playoffs. One of those 55 men was not Rory McIlroy, who respectfully let Tiger Woods do most of the talking during their joint appearance on “The Tonight Show” last Monday.

Tiger clearly was in a buoyant mood while hanging with host Jimmy Fallon, hamming it up a bit and even making fun of his recent shoddy play. We don’t get that kind of stuff in the media center. If Red Shirt announces one more time that he’s “close” and just needs to get his power back, I’m gonna call the electric company and pay his delinquent bill myself.

McIl-rebound, of course, has done his career no harm since ditching his fiancee back in May, although he did struggle to beat Fallon in a little test of shot-making accuracy the other night. Keep in mind that he’s been kicking back since winning the PGA Championship, doing cool stuff like hanging out with his boy Harry from the boy band “One Direction.”

Once you’ve fired the girlfriend, a man can do sillier things than find a pal who has 18,000 screaming lasses in his grill every time he picks up a microphone. So Thursday at Ridgewood, it made perfect sense that McIlroy’s tee ball was seen heading in One Direction:

Right of the fairway.

“We don’t play many courses where you have to drive the ball straight,” veteran caddie John Wood told me after his boss, Hunter Mahan, posted a 66. “Here, you have no chance if you’re playing from the rough.”

A CHANCE. THAT’S all a bunch of U.S. players are hoping to accomplish over the next 10 days: a realistic opportunity to earn one of Tom Watson’s three Ryder Cup captain’s picks. After talking to a half-dozen or so knowledgeable people at Ridgewood, you get an even greater sense of how difficult Watson’s task is.

Regardless of whom he selects, this U.S. squad is vastly inferior to the Europeans, at least on paper, which makes compatible partnerships even more important than usual—and Keegan Bradley a virtual lock to receive a bid.

Bradley’s performance alongside Phil Mickelson in 2012 was a lasting highlight from a week that ended with an infamous U.S. collapse. The pair won their first three matches in routs, and when the Yanks blew a four-point lead in singles, skipper Davis Love III was roundly criticized for having rested the Mickelson-Bradley combo the previous afternoon.

Besides, Bradley has had a very solid year despite not winning: 12 top-25 finishes in 23 starts, four of them top-fives, including Bay Hill, the U.S. Open and Firestone. When you look at the other options, Bradley’s case only gets stronger, which is another way of saying the other two picks are pure guesswork.

One guy who hasn’t gotten much notice is Mahan. He has an exceptional match-play history and has played on six Ryder/Presidents Cup teams, compiling a 13-9-4 record. His flubbed chip late on the 17th hole in his singles match against Graeme McDowell made him a target of blame in the 2010 loss – an unfair charge if ever there was one.

This squad isn’t good enough to leave behind a guy who has won 15 points in 26 matches over the years. As much as some people love Brandt Snedeker, another top American having an off-year, he can’t touch Mahan in terms of experience and performance.

“You know what it’s like to face an opponent who hits every fairway, like Hunter does?” Wood says. “It can get pretty demoralizing. He’s never out of a hole.”

THEN THERE IS the curious case of Jason Dufner, who led many to believe he might be done for the year after a neck problem forced him to withdraw from the PGA Championship. The injury basically cost Dufner an automatic spot—he fell to 10th in the final week of qualifying.

“As of now, he’s in the field next week,” his agent, Ben Walter, told me Thursday.

You may recall Dufner’s frustration after walking off at Valhalla. When asked by TNT about the seriousness of the neck issue and when he might return, Duf quipped, “It may be next week, it may be next month, it may be next year, it may be never.”

It wasn’t exactly the most encouraging self-prognosis ever, but a couple of weeks have passed, and it appears Dufner won’t have to retire after all. As well as so many Americans played during the first two days at Medinah, few, if any, were better than Dufner, a ball-striking machine who can make life very easy for a partner in the alternate-shot format.

“If he’s healthy, he’ll play [at Deutsche Bank].” Walter added. “If he’s not healthy, he won’t play just to try and grab a spot on the team.”

And if I’m Captain Watson, I think long and hard about making Dufner my third and final pick. You can talk all you want about how Ryder Cup experience can become a negative, how the U.S. could use some new blood on its side, but I’ll take my chances on guys who have been there before.

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

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“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.