Walker, Koepka, Singh star in Frys.com drama

By Mercer BaggsOctober 14, 2013, 3:13 am

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Some events are as much about who doesn’t win as who does. The Frys.com Open qualifies as such.

The tournament epitaph will read: Jimmy Walker won here. It could add, in parentheses, Brooks Koepka and Vijay Singh did not.

This was Walker’s first career PGA Tour victory, in his ninth full season. Lucky No. 188.

“I’m still trying to process it all,” Walker said. “Haven’t won a golf tournament in a long time. Feels pretty good.”

Frys.com Open: Articles, videos and photos

He earned it, too. The 34-year-old shot 5-under 66 Sunday to defeat Singh by two strokes. His round included six birdies and one bogey, and aside from a 9-foot miss for birdie at the par-4 17th, which would have sealed victory, he was rock solid. He can also say he beat a Hall of Famer.

“When you think about all the things he’s done and all the wins he’s had, it was a pretty good day,” Walker said.

Count Walker among those who believe the wraparound calendar is a good idea. He had his best season in 2013 with five top-10 finishes, including a tie for second at The Greenbrier Classic. He finished 36th in the FedEx Cup standings and made more than $2.1 million.

That yearly total is now over $3 million thanks to the $900K first prize. He also earned what is essentially a three-year Tour exemption, through the 2015-16 season (if we’re still wrapping around in the future).

“When you don’t win and you don’t rack up the two- or three-year exemption, you always start your year off going, 'I’m at ground zero. I got to start at the bottom and go get it,'” Walker said.

“I had always wondered, will it change the way you think about things if you win? But I want to stay hungry.”

This tournament, however, featured an ensemble cast. Walker ended with top billing, but most of those watching came to see Singh and Koepka – two men who couldn’t be more dissimilar.

Singh’s a 50-year-old Fijian whose previous start came last month in his Champions Tour debut. He’s won 34 PGA Tour titles and is enshrined among golf’s all-time greats. Koepka is a 23-year-old Floridian who was making his first start in a regular Tour event. He’s a four-time winner … on the European Challenge Tour.

About the only thing they have in common is their passport history.

Koepka has played in 15 countries this year. Looking for a few more Stateside opportunities, he led by two strokes after 54 holes and four shots through six holes on Sunday. Though 18, however, he was three in arrears. The product of a closing 1-over 72 and a bit of nerves over some short putts.

Koepka describes his demeanor as “chill.” But he came unnerved a bit attempting a 3-foot par putt at the par-5 ninth. He missed. He then missed a 5-footer for par at the 11th.

“You know, certain parts of my game I need to work on. These 5-footers under pressure, I think all of them were missed left,” he said. “Learn from it and move on and everything should be OK.”

One back of Walker on the par-3 16th, Koepka badly pulled his tee shot. He failed to get up and down and made bogey. He bogeyed the par-4 17th as well when he hit a 3-wood into the water while trying to drive the 297-yard hole.

“You know, things weren’t going my way. I didn’t execute the shots. We were making the right decisions, playing well,” Koepka said. “I just didn’t make the shots I needed to win.”

Singh’s day was ultimately undone in a two-hole stretch. Bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8 dropped him five off the pace at the time and he was unable to make up that much ground. He still left with a smile on his face, a positive attitude and a few words. Yes, that Vijay Singh.

“I hung in there. Had a lot of good shots, and really, really happy with the way I putted,” Singh said. “So it’s a good start for the season, and I’m really excited.”

Who knew Vijay was an optimist? Maybe he’s more like Koepka than we thought, so chill.

Singh, Koepka and Walker are headed to Las Vegas now, where they’ll try to headline another show at the Shriners Hospitals Open. Koepka is in thanks to his top 10 this week. Another good week and he could get his Tour card based on the non-exempt money list.

Singh said he’s been working on a slight change in his swing and with the way he’s putting, he sounded downright giddy Sunday evening. “It’s a great feeling,” he said.

As for Walker … well, he doesn’t seem to get too excited. There wasn’t much reaction after he secured his maiden win and there wasn’t much emotion in his voice when he spoke about it. He may be drier than a cracker, but, in his own way, he expressed its significance.

“This game is tough. It’ll beat you up. You can’t keep thinking about what could’ve been. You can only learn from it and keep going. That’s what I try to do, just try to keep getting better,” Walker said.

“This is pretty cool. It’s pretty great. I wouldn’t take back anything I’ve ever done or anything I’ve ever gone through to get here.”

And then there’s Koepka. The man who's played everywhere from Tallahassee, Fla., to Ahmedabad, India. This week was just one more new endeavor, a chance to learn and mature.

“This whole experience is kind of new,” Koepka said. “Everything in the last year has been a bit crazy.”

“It was a good week, if you take it overall. It was very good. I played very well, so I just can’t get too down on it. Tied for third isn’t too bad. Just move on.

“And the end of the day, it’s just golf. Things could be a lot worse.”

Getty Images

Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

Getty Images

McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

Getty Images

What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x