Florida's best events, best courses don't match up

By Rex HoggardMarch 8, 2016, 10:50 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Forget strength of field, purse size, location or even a World Golf Championship pedigree. If players picked which tournaments to play based entirely on the quality of a golf course, the fields during the PGA Tour’s Florida swing would look vastly different.

It may not be “Super Tuesday,” but the results from an unscientific poll of players on Tuesday at the Valspar Championship regarding the best track on the Florida swing may prove a surprise.

Asked to rank the PGA Tour's five Florida stops based on the courses themselves, this week’s stop just outside Tampa edged TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players in May, for the top spot.

In order, based on player polling (five points given for a first-place vote, four for second, three for third, etc.), Innisbrook was No. 1, followed by TPC Sawgrass, PGA National (Honda Classic), Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational) and, finally, Doral (WGC-Cadillac Championship).

In fairness to all five Florida stops, if a player is in this week’s field at Innisbrook, he clearly has an affinity for the course. That, and Tour types tend to make decisions about where to play based on all manner of reasons, which is the definition of partisan politics.

“The list of champions [at Innisbrook] has been pretty strong,” smiled Kevin Streelman, the 2013 Valspar Championship winner, before adding, “It’s one I played every single year. I enjoy staying here, and I like coming to Tampa.”

But Innisbrook’s popularity seems to go well beyond the normal reasons on which players base their schedules.

“It would be hard to find a course that is a better design than this on the PGA Tour,” Trevor Immelman said. “Great par 3s. The only real funky hole is the sixth. To me, that’s the only funky hole out here, and all the other ones are pretty damn strong.”

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Ryan Palmer, who added this week’s stop to his schedule in an 11th-hour attempt to secure his spot in the WGC-Dell Match Play, made a more personal argument for Innisbrook’s lofty spot in the Sunshine State lineup.

“This one is an iron-play golf course and you have to drive it well. It rewards ball-striking,” said Palmer, who annually ranks among the Tour’s top ball-strikers.

His perspective is one indicator of what factors into a player’s definition of a good golf course.

Conversely, what doesn’t seem to influence players at all is the degree of difficulty.

Of the five Florida courses, PGA National ranked as the toughest last year - it was the fourth toughest overall on Tour in 2015 - and yet received a healthy share of support in player polling.

“PGA National is the hardest just because every shot is disaster waiting to happen,” Immelman said.

“There’s water on both sides and out of bounds, bunkers. A lot of times what I found playing that course was you play away from the trouble and then you’re in the [5-to-6-inch] rough and you make bogey anyway. You might as well just aim it down the water line and give it a rip. And you throw in 15-20 mph winds it gets very tricky.”

That difficulty is seen by other players as an attribute.

“PGA National is definitely the best,” Palmer said. “It’s hard and fair. There’s nothing tricky about it. It’s right in front of you. If you hit your irons well all week you’re going to play well.”

That philosophy also explains TPC Sawgrass’ status as Florida’s second-best Tour layout.

Although the Stadium Course has been something of an acquired taste for some throughout its history, there is an appreciation for the layout’s demanding nuances.

There’s also something to be said for the eclectic list of champions TPC Sawgrass has produced, a group that includes Fred Funk, Tiger Woods and Tim Clark.

“The No. 1 thing when rating golf courses is whether there have been a lot of different players winning,” Chris Stroud said. “That’s normally the best golf course. So Sawgrass is going to be up there because every type of player has won there.”

Even Streelman, who has missed the cut four times in seven starts at The Players, conceded the home of the Tour’s flagship event is among his favorite stops.

“Obviously, I love Innisbrook, but I love Sawgrass as well, so I’d give those 1-A and 1-B,” Streelman said.

As for Doral, it's slice of prime South Florida real estate does little to influence players’ view of the Blue Monster.

In fact, one player – who asked not to be identified for fear he would be fined for being critical of a Tour course – hadn’t played PGA National and declined to vote on its place in the Florida lineup, but smiled, “Doral is still fifth.”

That presents an entirely different question: If a World Golf Championship were played at Innisbrook instead of Doral, what would the field look like?

“WGC here? Best field in golf,” Stroud said.

It’s always that way in politics, you can’t have polling without a little lobbying on the side.

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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, GolfChannel.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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