Lydia vs. Ariya: It all comes down to this

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2016, 10:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship isn’t a major, but Sunday’s finish might be more pressure-packed for the game’s best players.

No, Tiburon Golf Club, where birdies are plentiful, isn’t set up like a major championship test, but the weight of what’s at stake in the season finale more than rivals what’s at stake in any of the women’s five majors.

For Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn, there is more than the biggest payday in women’s golf hanging in the balance, with $1 million going to the winner of the CME Globe jackpot and $500,000 to the winner of the Tour Championship.

There is arguably more history to be won than in any single major.

The Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average are up for grabs.

On their own, these are coveted prizes, each marking a player as among the best who ever played. They are each worth a Hall of Fame point.

And both of those awards ride on Sunday’s outcome.

As does the 2016 LPGA money-winning title, another valued honor among pros, who are by definition measured by their money-making prowess.

Charley Hull took the lead Saturday at the CME Group Tour Championship, posting a 6-under-par 66 to move to 13 under overall. That’s one shot better than So Yeon Ryu (69) and Brittany Lincicome (66).

But Ko (73) and Jutanugarn (65) are also in the mix, two shots behind Hull.

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If Ko wins the CME Group Tour Championship, she will sweep all the year’s major awards. She’ll take home $1.5 million as the Tour Championship winner and CME Globe winner. She’ll take home the Rolex Player of the Year title for the second time, and she’ll take home the Vare Trophy and money title.

If Ko doesn’t win, Jutanugarn will be the Rolex Player of the Year.

Jutanugarn is also in the mix to take home $1.5 million as winner of the Tour Championship and CME Globe and to take home the money title. The Vare Trophy is about all Jutanugarn isn’t in line to take home Sunday. She would need a miracle of a low round to claim the year’s low scoring average.

Hull, Lincicome and reigning Evian Championship winner In Gee Chun are among a logjam of challengers lined up to play spoilers. There are 11 players within three shots of the lead. Chun (68) is tied with Ko and Jutanugarn among players who are two shots back.

If you are Ko and Jutanugarn, how do you approach Sunday’s weighty challenges?

“With the Player of the Year, it’s simple,” Ko said. “I’ve got to win to get it.”

Ko may be tied with Jutanugarn on the CME Group Tour Championship leaderboard, but she trails her in Rolex Player of the Year points. Only a victory gets her past Jutanugarn.

“I’m the chaser,” Ko said. “I think that almost puts less pressure on me, where I’m not thinking about where I am exactly. I’m trying to make as many birdies as I can and give myself those opportunities.”

Jutanugarn has a tour-best five LPGA victories this year, but there’s no guarantee she will take home any of the year’s biggest awards. How is she approaching the challenge?

“I know tomorrow’s going to be a lot of pressure,” Jutanugarn said. “I’m just going to do my best and whatever is going to happen, I still love my year this year.”

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.