'Nervous' Rahm in position to make Masters history

By Randall MellApril 7, 2017, 10:37 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Yes, Jon Rahm was nervous making his first start at the Masters.

The Spanish rookie felt some jitters stepping on the first tee Thursday afternoon. He felt the weight of history at Augusta National in his pairing that day.

“On that first tee shot, you realize that you’re teeing off in the Masters, next to Rory McIlroy, who might win the Grand Slam this year,” Rahm said. “It’s a major championship, you’re going to get nervous.”

Rahm, who is built like a tank with arms and feet, didn’t take long to bust through those feelings.

Like, maybe, one shot.

“I think that second shot got rid of any uncomfortable moment,” Rahm said. “You’ve just got to fight hard and be mentally tough.”

With a 2-under-par 70 Friday, Rahm didn’t just make the cut in his first Masters’ appearance. The 22-year-old got himself into contention. He’s just three shots off the lead going into the weekend.

This fearless, youthful generation of PGA Tour pros looks poised keep upping the ante. No Masters’ first-timer has won a green jacket in nearly four decades. Nobody has done it since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Rahm was asked how daunting that fact is.

“First-timers don't usually have a great history at Torrey Pines, either, and I was able to win that,” Rahm said. “I’ve kept that in mind. There's nothing that says I'm going to play bad or that I should play bad.”

Rahm broke through to win his first PGA Tour title at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in January, becoming the first player to win the San Diego event in his first start since Arnold Palmer in 1957. Rahm gained more momentum two weekends ago, pushing world No. 1 Dustin Johnson to the brink before succumbing in the finals at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Rahm didn’t come to Augusta National just to make a cut.

“I've been playing great, my ball-striking is great, so if I can get myself more looks, get the putter going a little hotter, and maybe, maybe get a good round going, you never know,” Rahm said.

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Through their two rounds together, Rahm is two shots better than McIlroy.

You couldn’t ask for much tougher conditions to make your Masters’ debut, with 40 mph gusts rolling over Augusta National on Thursday and chilly winds continuing to blow on Friday.

Fred Couples, playing his 32nd Masters, left Thursday shaking his head over the challenges blustery conditions created.

“I’ve never seen it like this,” Couples said.

Rahm relished it.

“I think I liked the conditions, because I usually like tough conditions,” Rahm said. “I can keep the ball low, and pars are my friend. On days like today, I am able to take advantage of my ball-striking. I think I lucked out in that sense.”

Lucked out?

These emerging young stars are shattering long-held notions about pedigrees, about what kind of experience is required to win the game’s big prizes.

Jordan Spieth finished T-2 in his first Masters as a 20-year-old. He won his second and tied for second again last year.

Rahm doesn’t see why he ought to expect to serve some sort of apprenticeship before making a serious run to win at Augusta National.

Neither does three-time Masters’ champ Phil Mickelson, who has taken the young Spaniard under his wing, showing him around Augusta National in a practice round on Tuesday. They both played at Arizona State, albeit in different eras.

Mickelson called Rahm a “real threat” leading up to this Masters.

“And he continues to validate that,” Mickelson said.

In their practice round together, Mickelson said he was careful not to give Rahm too much to think about because Rahm has been playing so well.

“He basically told me, playing the way I've been playing, if I overload my head with information, it's only going to hurt me,” Rahm said. “So, he just gave me a couple pointers here and there, and just told me to keep playing like I've been playing.”

Rahm’s obliging.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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."

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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