Fearsome Foursome: Rory, Rickie, Jordan - Patrick

By Rex HoggardMay 14, 2015, 11:35 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – This has all the makings of a high-stakes game of one-upmanship with no end in sight.

You know the deal, whatever you can do, another guy wants to do better. But in this case, those other guys are an assortment of infinitely talented twenty-somethings trading challenges and championships with regularity.

Prodigy see, prodigy do.

Jordan Spieth, 21, got on the board in the biggest way in 2015, winning the Masters by four strokes; he was followed in order by 26-year-old Rory McIlroy’s 121-hole marathon triumph at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play and 26-year-old Rickie Fowler's extra-inning victory at The Players.

It only stands to reason that it would be 24-year-old Patrick Reed’s turn to get back into the game, and he did so with authority on Thursday with an opening 66 at the Wells Fargo Championship that left him one stroke off the lead held by Robert Streb.

That he reinserted himself into the mix playing alongside McIlroy only serves to thicken a plot that will become more intriguing as we inch closer to the next major episode – June’s U.S. Open.

It a dramatic landscape shift from where the game was just five years ago, when Tiger Woods vs. the field was always an easy bet and few were able to mount any type of challenge to his dominance.

“It seems like from top to bottom now in fields that more and more guys are having the ability, if they're on that week ... to win the golf tournament," said Reed, who has a win of his own this year at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. "It's great for the game of golf because it's not the same guy every week that, ‘Oh, well, he's going to win the event, so might as well hand him the trophy. Who is playing for second?’”

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Instead, it’s becoming a favorite-by-committee world, where one man’s victory is another man’s bulletin-board material.

Even McIlroy, the world No. 1 by a healthy margin, is both inspired and intrigued by the play of his rivals, so much so that each Monday morning he checks his lead in the rankings.

“It was very inspiring to see what Jordan did at Augusta, seeing how Rickie won last week, Patrick already won this year,” said McIlroy, who was tied for 30th after a first-round 70 at Quail Hollow.

“There’s a lot of good young guys coming through and playing well and it’s nice. I mean when you see those guys winning you feel like you need to step it up a little, too. Nice healthy rivalry.”

Despite recent developments from Augusta, Ga., to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., it’s a rivalry that expands well beyond the current twenty-something circle.

Jason Day, fully healthy for perhaps the first time in his career, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka all have victories this year on Tour.

“There's a handful of guys to a couple dozen that have a chance of winning the golf tournament if they're on,” Reed said. “If all of them are on, it's going to be a battle.”

Perhaps, but to put it in NASCAR terms – which seems fitting with the Tour in the heart of racing country this week – it’s the four twenty-somethings that appear to be drafting off one another, as evidenced by Reed and McIlroy’s play on Day 1 at Quail Hollow.

The two were on the verge of making the Wells Fargo a two-man match until they both got run over by the layout’s infamous Green Mile.

McIlroy bounced his 8-iron tee shot off the rocks and into the lake for a double bogey-5 (dropping him from 4 under to five back) at the 17th hole, while Reed – who stormed into the lead with the help of four consecutive birdies beginning at the fifth hole – failed to convert his par putt after a sloppy blast from a greenside bunker (costing him a share of the lead).

Still, the two are poised to continue the trend and a cycle that’s equal parts self-fulfilling and entertaining.

“When you watch a guy like Rickie or Jordan have success and you’ve competed against them, you’ve beaten them and they’ve beaten you, but when they have success [on the Tour] you think, ‘I can do that, too,’” Reed said.

It’s a notion that is quickly becoming the norm on Tour, as the fearless foursome continues to trade accomplishments and raise the stakes one title at a time.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.