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

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.