Wie, Gretzky in harsh spotlight at Kraft Nabisco

By Randall MellApril 4, 2014, 1:34 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Under clear blue skies, a couple of lightning rods were the story Thursday in the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Paulina Gretzky made the grounds crackle here in the morning, Michelle Wie in the afternoon.

Gretzky stirred a storm over what she isn’t doing on a golf course, Wie for what she is.

Not long after tour pros teed off at Mission Hills, Golf Digest revealed Gretzky is on the cover of its May magazine. Clad in a revealing exercise outfit, Gretzky is featured in an issue devoted to fitness. She’s the daughter of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, the fiancée of PGA Tour pro Dustin Johnson and fairly new to recreational golf.

Given the last three women to grace Golf Digest’s covers aren’t professional golfers – Gretzky, supermodel Kate Upton, Golf Channel’s Holly Sonders – LPGA pros’ reactions were predictable.

“It’s frustrating for female golfers,” said two-time major championship winner Stacy Lewis, who has never been on Golf Digest’s cover. “We don’t get the respect for being the golfers we are.”

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Wie knows what it’s like to be vilified for enjoying what critics believe is undeserved attention. As a teenage phenom with dreams of playing the PGA Tour, she became a lightning rod. Today, at 24, Wie’s story has evolved. Now, for many, she’s the scarred fighter getting up off the mat. She’s the former prodigy who fought through injury, disappointment and burnout to keep the dream alive.

For others, she’s still a cautionary tale.

With a 5-under-par 67 Thursday, Wie did more than move a shot off the lead held by Shanshan Feng. She rekindled some of the excitement she first generated as a teenager making runs at winning the Kraft Nabisco. At 13, in her first major championship, she played in the final Sunday pairing with a chance to win. At 14, she finished fourth here. At 16, she led late in the final round before faltering to a tie for third.

Through the highs and lows, Wie remains the most potent potential game changer for the LPGA. If she wins, she will get on more magazine covers than Golf Digest.

If she’s going to realize all that potential she was trumpeted for, there would be poetry in scripting it here.

“When you're younger you're kind of fearless,” Wie said. “You don't know what failure is. I've definitely had my ups and downs. My downs have been down. But at that, I'm just so grateful. I'm so grateful to have rounds like these. I'm so grateful just to be here. I'm grateful that I can do what I love to do. I had a blast today.”

Wie knows there’s a long way to go this week, but there have been signs pointing to something big. She played in the final Sunday pairing at the Honda Thailand last month and tied for fourth. She has two top 10s in five starts this year. She’s second on tour in hitting greens in regulation. She’s fifth in scoring.

When pressed on her goals, Wie has steadfastly asserted all season that she’s just trying to be more consistent. She believes that will lead to winning.

“I think she has come full circle, to the point where I think this is like a second coming for her, a re-birth,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach.

Wie is seeking her third LPGA title, her first since winning the Canadian Women’s Open almost four years ago. She put a jolt through the galleries here Thursday with a torrid run in the middle of the round. Starting at No. 9, she went birdie, birdie, eagle and birdie. She holed a 40-footer at the 11th for her eagle.

The only hiccup in the round was the 2½-footer she missed for par at the 17th after she had taken a share of the lead. Even that didn’t dampen her satisfaction with the round.

“She’s just very confident right now,” Leadbetter said. “There’s this whole look about her. Her game is definitely coming around. I think she’s going to be a factor out here this year.”

Leadbetter has watched Wie’s swing come back the last nine months or so. Tentative and uncertain with her driver the last few years, she’s ripping it with authority again. Leadbetter says the confidence she has in her driver filters through her entire game. Wie agrees. She says it’s because tempo is so important to her game, and when she’s hitting her driver well, she knows her tempo is spot on.

“Listen, Michelle has something to prove to herself,” Leadbetter said. “She knows she has all the talent in the world.”

Mission Hills is the perfect stage for Wie to prove she’s still a major player in the women’s game.

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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