Another dominant day puts Rahm on WGC doorstep

By Rex HoggardMarch 25, 2017, 11:00 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The newest edition of the Spanish Armada has cut a swath through the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play field on a path toward the ultimate competitive treasure.

Jon Rahm continued to defy his first-year player status with a sporty 7-and-5 victory over Soren Kjeldsen. That walk-over followed similar routs of Charles Howell III (6 and 4), Sergio Garcia (6 and 4), Shane Lowry (2 and 1) and Kevin Chappell (3 and 2) this week.

By any definition, the Spaniard has been dominant – think Seve Ballesteros without the magician’s ability to recover because there’s no need to scramble from where Rahm hits the ball.

For the week, Rahm is fourth in driving distance and driving accuracy, first in proximity to the hole and scrambling and second in strokes gained-putting. That’s called the Grand Slam of ShotLink.

Tim Mickelson, the brother of Phil who was Rahm’s coach at Arizona State and is now his manager, said there’s really no part of his game that stands out, “Because he’s above average at everything,” Mickelson said.

Those left in Rahm’s wake this week would agree.

Rahm played 27 holes on Saturday in 11 under without a bogey, he never trailed, never saw anything beyond the 15th tee and never once looked like a 22-year-old playing his first Match Play.

“The only thing I could have done better is maybe make that putt on [No.] 11 and that's about it,” said Rahm in reference to a missed 9-footer for birdie at the par 3. “There are not many rounds of golf where a player looks back and says I cannot play any better and today was one of those. Last time I said that was Torrey Pines.”

At Torrey Pines, just his fifth start as a PGA Tour member, Rahm closed with a 65 to win by three strokes, over Howell no less, and he hasn’t looked back, finishing tied for fifth at Pebble Beach and then third at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

The Scottsdale, Ariz., resident (via Barrika, Spain) was poised to play Phil Mickelson in the final four, but Lefty’s run ended with a 2-and-1 loss to Bill Haas. Maybe it was for the best.

Earlier this year, Mickelson spoke of a friendly match against Rahm at Whisper Rock Golf Club, a 4-and-3 loss despite Lefty posting a “nice, solid” 66.

“Let’s just say, I will only be his partner from now on,” Mickelson laughed at the time. “I haven’t been able to beat him.”

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So instead, Rahm will face Haas in the semifinals early Sunday.

 “I was making birdies but Jon Rahm has been making tons of birdies,” Haas joked. “Hopefully we both continue to do that and it will be an unbelievable match. Hopefully he eats some gas station sushi tonight and maybe he's sick tomorrow.”

Gas station sushi may be the only thing standing between Rahm and a showdown with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who is on an equally impressive path to his third consecutive victory and the World Golf Championships slam following a 3-and-2 triumph in the quarterfinals over Alex Noren.

Johnson will have to beat Hideto Tanihara early Sunday – that’s taw-nih-HAR-uh, the 38-year-old from Japan whose competitive claim to fame is a tie for fifth at the 2006 Open Championship. In other words, those who penciled in a DJ vs. Rahm final in their Match Play brackets are probably sleeping easy tonight.

In many ways it would be something of a coronation for Rahm, who has ascended quickly to world-beater status, at least within select golf circles.

Since winning the Famers Insurance Open in January, Rahm has become an increasingly popular pick for first-time major champion, which is something of a surprise considering he’s only played two Grand Slam events in his career.

“I've said earlier, I think he's one of the 10 best players in the world,” Phil Mickelson said. “He continues to validate that with some incredible play. He's a real threat.”

But it’s beyond the statistics and mechanics of an abbreviated backswing and cupped left wrist that makes Rahm such an interesting study.

He’s grounded beyond his 22 years to the point that after being asked how he prepares to play, he bypassed the normal routine of gym/range/putting green and launched into a telling glimpse into what makes the game’s newest star tick.

“I do a lot of work on my life outside golf. Because I'm a believer the better my life is outside my golf environment, family, friends, anything, the better I'm going to be able to play golf,” he said. “That's where I do a lot of work. And it's getting mentally ready and not getting hung up in wanting to win. Every day waking up motivated to practice hard and be aware that if I play good I'm going to have a chance.”

Rahm did concede that he’s “amazed” to be in this situation with just a marathon Sunday and the world’s best player standing between himself and his first World Golf Championships victory.

It was an interesting choice of words because amazing is really the only way to describe Rahm’s ascent up the professional ranks.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former 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 Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted 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