Fowler, Stenson to square off at Deutsche Bank

By Randall MellSeptember 6, 2015, 11:53 pm

NORTON, Mass. – OK, the Big Three won’t be a factor Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship, but this isn’t some undercard TPC Boston is offering up in the final pairing in the final round.

At their best, Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler are human fireworks shows.

They’ve proven they can light up final rounds with some bold, entertaining shot making.

Stenson took the lead Sunday with a bogey-free, 6-under-par 65, moving him down a path that ought to feel so familiar. At 13-under overall, he’s one shot ahead of Fowler (67) and two ahead of Sean O’Hair (67) and Matt Jones (68).

Two years ago, Stenson grabbed golf’s postseason by the throat. He won the Deutsche Bank Championship and then went on to win the Tour Championship and take the FedEx Cup. He wasn’t done there. He headed over to the European Tour and won its Race to Dubai to become the first player to win both postseason series in the same year.

“It's a good time to start playing well, and of course it's a big event and lots to play for,” Stenson said.

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Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day aren’t going to be factors in Monday’s finish. McIlroy is 15 shots back, Day is nine shots back and Spieth isn’t even on the property after missing the cut Saturday.

It opens a door for Stenson and Fowler to remind everyone there’s more star power waiting in the wings.

Fowler, 26, was spectacular winning The Players Championship in May. He played the final 10 holes of that event, including the playoff, in 8 under. He also won the Scottish Open this summer. He didn’t play the major championships as well as he hoped, but he would love to add a FedEx Cup Playoff title to his two triumphs. He would love to join McIlroy, Spieth and Day to make it a Big Four conversation.

“It's definitely been motivation to go out and get to the same level or be on the same level as those guys,” Fowler said. “Those three have kind of distanced themselves a bit. They're playing some great golf. But those are the guys that I want to go head-to-head against, and come out on top.”

Stenson and Fowler are dynamic players in their own right with distinctly different styles.

Stenson, 39, is the blacksmith. He can practically make sparks fly with his shot making. He is dominating the ball-striking statistics on the PGA Tour this year. He’s No. 1 in ball striking, No. 1 in total driving and No. 1 in greens in regulation.

Fowler’s more the artist, creating shots where you don’t always see them.

Sunday was a good example. Fowler was all over the place with his driver. While Stenson hit 12 of 14 fairways, Fowler hit just four. And yet like Stenson, he still produced a bogey-free round. Fowler got up and down for par all six times he missed greens.

Stenson is building some early momentum again in these playoffs. He finished second to Day last week at The Barclays. He’s fourth in the FedEx Cup Playoffs standings and looking comfortable in this format again. Stenson said he was emboldened after Barclays knowing he assured himself a spot at East Lake for the Tour Championship.

“Because I know I can win around there,” he said.

And that means another shot at the FedEx Cup and the $10 million jackpot that goes with it.

“If I'm in position, I can make it happen once more,” Stenson said. “Exciting weeks ahead, and again we've got one more day here, and I'd like to focus on tomorrow, rather than looking at what's ahead. But, yeah, I'm in good shape, and I'm trying to put myself in position to win golf tournaments, and I'm certainly up there now.”

Fowler’s looking forward to matching up against Stenson, who appears to be nearing the top of his game again.

“We're good buddies,” Fowler said. “We're going to enjoy being in the final group together. We'll have a good time.

“He's a strong, powerful player. He's a very good iron player. And, obviously, he's playing well this week, to be in the position he's in. I'm looking forward to the two of us playing well, going head-to-head and seeing if one of us will be the one to come out on top.”

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."