DJ gets major break from Mother Nature at Oakmont

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2016, 1:50 am

OAKMONT, Pa. – With apologies to Ayesha Curry – the wife of NBA star Stephen Curry who tweeted following the Golden State's Game 6 loss to Cleveland last night, “I've lost all respect. Sorry, this is absolutely rigged for money, or ratings [I’m] not sure which. I won't be silent” – it wasn’t the USGA tweaking Oakmont for the benefit of a potential Dustin Johnson ratings boon, it was Mother Nature.

There’s no other explanation.

All told, nearly three inches of rain soaked and softened what is widely regarded as the game’s most fearsome layout, a conditional about-face that would dovetail neatly with DJ’s unique skill set of power and precision.

Given Johnson’s ability to drive the ball the length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there’s probably not a course in the world that sets up poorly for him, but there was no ignoring that Thursday’s deluge made for conditions that distinctly favored DJ.

That’s not to say the game’s preeminent bomber airmailed his way to the 4 under total he currently sits at. In fact, one could fairly suggest that Johnson has put himself back into the hunt at his national championship – he’s now finished his last 10 consecutive rounds at the U.S. Open perched within the top 6 – playing small ball.

“His plan is to hit as many fairways as he can this week,” said Claude Harmon III, who along with his father, Butch, serves as Johnson’s swing coach.

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While that plan may seem overly simple, in practical terms, it’s not always the easiest thing to execute when holes like the 307-yard, par-4 17th loom.

Late in Round 1 with playing partners Sergio Garcia and Hideki Matsuyama waiting with drivers to try and reach the green, Johnson – the guy who is leading the field with a 320-yard average – smoothed a 5-iron into the fairway, safely punched a wedge to 25 feet and two-putted for par.

There may not be another 300-yard par 4 that could have prompted such a measured response from such a powerful player.

“With the wind like it was today I'm kind of right in between. I can't get a 3-wood there. If I hit a driver solid, it's going to go too far,” Johnson figured. “It's the U.S. Open. I like wedges out of the fairway.”

But it hasn’t been that driver that has made Johnson a perennial bridesmaid in major championships. He’s been unlucky, like at the 2010 PGA Championship when he grounded his club in the most crowded hazard in major championship history; he’s been too hasty, like at the ’10 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach; and he’s been betrayed by his putter, like at the ’15 U.S. Open where he three-putted the 72nd hole from 12 feet to lose by a stroke.

But there was none of that on a marathon day at Oakmont, which began for Johnson just after daybreak following the most meteorologically miserable round at a major since the Bethpage Open in 2009.

After scrambling for par on his first two holes, Johnson was perfect the rest of the way, finishing his round with three birdies and, more importantly, no bogeys. He was the only player in Round 1 to go bogey-free.

He largely played from the short grass, gave himself few of the type of par attempts that wear on a player’s nerves, took his medicine on occasion and tempered his talents in other moments.

Pop psychology suggests the downwind leg of the 116th U.S. Open will be the toughest for Johnson, with last year’s letdown at Chambers Bay still etched into his subconscious.

Grand Slam scar tissue doesn’t come with a shelf life and there’s no accounting for the psychological impact of opportunities lost, but then, that kind of mental mumbo jumbo doesn’t seem to apply to Johnson.

All 6-foot-4, 190-pounds of muscle, Johnson seems carved from Teflon, whether those watching from afar want to believe it or not. He’s no more concerned with the last U.S. Open than he is his last meal.

If one can only have painful association with memories, what’s the point?

Instead, he’s spent the weeks leading up to Oakmont focusing on the things he can control, like that ballistic swing and a short game that is better, at least this week, than he gets credit for.

Winning majors is often associated with heroic play, bold shots at crucial moments. But just as many times success it is the byproduct of persistence and timing.

“Tiger [Woods] told Adam Scott once, ‘The most fun is when they give it to you and you don’t have to play that well,’” Harmon said. “He told him, ‘You just have to learn how to hang around.’”

Even this week’s upended schedule caused by Thursday’s delays seemed to work in Johnson’s favor. One of the PGA Tour’s most athletic and fit players went 36 holes on Friday without breaking a sweet or any competitive China.

“This is perfect for him,” said one member of Johnson’s inner circle before his man set out for his second round.

Although he wasn’t spotless in his afternoon round, ending a streak of 27 holes without a bogey with his first miscue of the week at the first (he started on No. 10).

But he scrambled for par at the second hole from 8 feet to keep his momentum from turning, and at 7:55 p.m. ET, Johnson took a share of the lead with a 12-footer at the sixth hole.

Whether he’s in the same position 48 hours from now won’t depend on that nuclear driver or his ability to keep the demons of previous major misses at bay. The crucial component will likely be his ability to adhere to a routinely conservative game plan and the hands of fate, which dealt a wet nod in his direction on Thursday.

The most imposing also-ran in major championship golf has a lot of things going for him this week, but maybe Mother Nature just didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry