Woods, McIlroy forging rivalry in FedEx Cup playoffs

By Randall MellSeptember 5, 2012, 7:59 pm

CARMEL, Ind. – Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods keep crossing each other’s paths in these FedEx Cup playoffs.

It’s a wonderful thing.

It happened again Wednesday in the BMW Championship media center with Woods moving off the stage and McIlroy moving onto it.

With McIlroy winning two big events in the last month, you wondered if there was something compellingly symbolic in this passing, if McIlroy, in a larger sense, is ready to take Woods’ place on the game’s grand stages.

It’s better for the game if they’re both ascending with their forms, if they can keep sharing big moments in these playoffs and beyond.

They had smiles for each other, shaking hands in the media center.

“Good to see you playing so well in the pro-am,” McIlroy cracked after seeing Woods’ team atop the leaderboard.

Video: Tiger Woods' BMW Championship news conference

Video: Rory McIlroy's BMW Championship news conference

“You like that, huh?” Woods said.

Who doesn’t like seeing Woods and McIlroy moving toward top form together? So many crave seeing the game’s next meaningful rivalry develop, but it’s Woods and McIlroy who hold the power to make it happen.

In PGA Tour headquarters, there isn’t a better time for a rivalry like this to emerge.

McIlroy and Woods could re-shape the way we think about the playoffs.

They are in position to make this the best FedEx Cup ever.

After watching McIlroy and Woods put a buzz into the opening of the playoffs with their first- and second-round pairings at The Barclays, and then watching Woods chase McIlroy down the stretch of last week’s Deutsche Bank Championship, the table is set for the most memorable FedEx Cup finish since the PGA Tour created this postseason format in 2007.

With McIlroy and Woods paired together again this week for the first two rounds of the BMW Championship, the storyline heats up.

McIlroy was asked if there’s an added challenge in being paired so often.

“I think it definitely creates some more interest for the fans and for golf in general,” McIlroy said. “I don't see any challenge in it. I think it's just good fun.”

McIlroy is clearly the frontrunner to win his first PGA Tour Player of the Year honor, but Woods can give his peers pause before casting their votes with a big FedEx Cup finish. McIlroy and Woods each have claimed a Tour-leading three titles this year, but McIlroy has a substantial advantage with his PGA Championship victory, the lone major between them this season.

Still, what if Woods wins the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship and takes home the FedEx Cup? The vote after that would tell us a lot about how much majors really matter to Tour pros and how important these playoffs have become.

The voting matters to Woods, who is looking to add to his 10 PGA Tour Player of the Year awards, his first in three years.

“It’s always nice to get the respect of your peers,” Woods said. “It’s voted on by us. It's not voted on by anybody else. To have a year where the guys that you're trying to beat day in and day out think that you're the best player, that's saying something. It’s a great honor, and it's something that the guys who have won are very proud of.”

Here is a look at how McIlroy and Woods compare this season:

• McIlroy and Woods each have three victories this year with McIlroy claiming the only major between them. McIlroy won the Honda Classic, the PGA Championship and the Deutsche Bank Championship. Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial and the AT&T National.

• McIlroy is first in FedEx Cup points, Woods is third.

• McIlroy leads the PGA Tour in money ($6,402,192), Woods is second ($5,533,158).

• McIlroy leads the PGA Tour in scoring average (68.869) with Woods second, just two thousands of a point behind.

• McIlroy is No. 1 in the world rankings, Woods is No. 3.

Though the major championship season is over, these playoffs and the upcoming Ryder Cup make for a potential big-bang finish to 2012. With Woods and McIlroy in starring roles, they make September matter.

They both like where their games are at for this big finish.

“I think I've really hit the ball well this entire year, especially this summer on, I've hit it really well,” Woods said. “It was just a matter of making a few more putts and a couple up and downs, here and there. I'm starting to do that now. So that's a good sign.

“The work I've put in with Sean [Foley], it's really coming together. I'm driving the ball probably better than I ever have. I'm hitting it farther, I'm hitting it straighter, which is a nice combo. I think my statistics kind of reflect that, which is great. It goes to show you where I was and how bad I was driving it to now, how well I'm driving it.”

While a McIlroy/Woods rivalry would put a jolt in the game, the sport’s biggest story continues to be Woods’ quest to overtake Jack Nicklaus record for major championship titles (18).

McIlroy was asked if Woods, at 36, looks capable of adding to his 14 major championship titles.

“He’s old, huh?” McIlroy playfully cracked. “I said it at the start of the year. I played with him in our first event of the year in Abu Dhabi, and I thought he played really, really well. He got himself in contention. He didn't quite win, but after seeing the performance there, I expected some great things from him this year. Obviously, he has won three times, and he has played well. He has had his chances in the majors, going into the weekends, and it just hasn't quite happened for him. But, for sure, he's going to keep putting himself up there in positions, and he's going to have a lot of chances to win tournaments and majors.”

While major championships will always be the greatest forum for forging rivalries, McIlroy and Woods hold the power to make the playoffs remembered for where theirs began.

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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."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.