Will stars finally align for Sergio in a major?

By Randall MellApril 9, 2017, 1:22 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Maybe Sisyphus gets a reprieve in golf’s retelling of the story.

Maybe this Sunday is that epic for Sergio Garcia, who must know the frustration of the mythic king the Greek gods compelled to roll a boulder up a hill, a damned task in that the king spends eternity trying over and over to roll the boulder to the top, only to see it roll back down without ever reaching the peak.

That’s how major championships have gone for Garcia, and yet here he is going to Sunday at Augusta National with his game and maybe even something cosmic working for him in the final round of the Masters.

Sunday, after all, will be a special day for Spaniards in golf.

It would have been Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday.

There are so many terrific stories lining up to be Sunday’s defining tale, but would any be more stunning than the 37-year-old Garcia slipping into a green jacket?

Garcia is 0 for 73 in majors.

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With a 2-under-par 70, Garcia seemed to finally break the Saturday curse plaguing him at Augusta National. He moved into a share of the 54-hole lead with Justin Rose and will go off with him in Sunday’s final pairing.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to me making sure that I keep doing the things that I've been doing all week and just believe that I can do it,” Garcia said.

Once the can’t-miss kid, the gifted prodigy who seemed destined to win multiple majors, even Garcia seemed to give up on himself and any chance he would finally break through.

Wasn’t it here that we all gave up on him winning one?

This is where Garcia practically shook his fist at the heavens and cursed the golf gods.

It’s where he declared he wasn’t good enough to win a major.

“I don’t have the thing I need to have,” he said here five years ago. “The conclusion is I need to play for second or third place.”

Maybe this is where he finally makes his peace with the golf gods. Or maybe where they break his heart again. They certainly smiled on him Saturday with the gift they gave him down at Amen Corner.

That’s where Garcia rocketed a 4-iron that slammed into the grassy bank in front of the 13th green. That ball looked doomed to roll back down into the tributary of Rae’s Creek there, but it seemed to defy gravity, much like Fred Couples’ ball did when it stayed up on the bank above Rae’s Creek at the 12th when Couples won in 1992.

“I've definitely had some good breaks throughout all three rounds,” Garcia said. “The 13th was obviously was one of them.  ”

Instead of bogey or maybe worse there, Garcia took advantage. He chipped up to a few inches and made birdie.

Garcia finished strong, holing a pivotal 6-foot putt for par at the last to secure his share of the lead.

Garcia looks like a different man than he was five years ago, when he ranted at the Masters over another lost opportunity in a major. He’s engaged to be married to Angela Akins in July. He says there’s more balance and perspective in his life and game now.

“My mentality has kind of changed a little bit, the way I’m thinking things, particularly this week at Augusta,” Garcia said.

Garcia says his once rocky relationship with the Masters is different, too.

“It’s definitely improved,” Garcia said. “There's no doubt about that. Nothing wrong with Augusta. It's the kind of place that if you are trying to fight against it, it's going to beat you down. So you've just got to roll with it and realize that sometimes you're going to get good breaks, like has happened to me a few times this week, and sometimes you're going to get not‑so‑good breaks.  But at the end of the day, that's part of the game.”

Garcia came into Saturday with the worst third-round scoring average of any player over the last 30 Masters. He was cumulatively 38 over par for his career in the third round of this event.

“I’m glad I took the scoring average down a little bit,” Garcia cracked.

Garcia idolized Ballesteros, and he will draw inspiration trying to win the Masters on what would have been his idol’s birthday.

Amen Corner looked like it was jumping with spiritual activity Saturday.

That’s where Jordan Spieth invoked the name of Arnold Palmer after he drove into the trees and pine straw at the 13th. It’s where Spieth shrugged off his caddie’s advice.

“What would Arnold do?” Spieth told caddie Michael Greller before lasering a shot into 30 feet that would set up a two-putt birdie.

Garcia could ask a similarly inspiring question throughout Sunday. He could ask “What would Seve do?” Ballesteros won the Masters in 1980 and ’83. Garcia’s other idol, Jose Maria Olazabal, also won the Masters twice (1994 and ’99).

“I don't want to get ahead of myself,” Garcia said. “I don't even know how much it would mean to be able to join both of my idols as a Masters winner.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

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“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.