McIlroy, Spieth, Fowler represent golf's new landscape

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2015, 7:18 pm

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Even by West Coast standards this is a target-rich environment for feel-good stories.

Imagine the possibilities of a reclamation project wresting himself off the competitive trash heap on a reclaimed sand quarry hard on the shores of Puget Sound.

Tiger Woods, seven years removed from his last major victory, arrived at Chambers Bay filled with optimism in his ongoing quest to be more than what his record says he is – which at the moment is the 195th-ranked player in the world who is nearly two years removed from his last top-10 finish on the PGA Tour. Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, was only slightly less hopeful in his race against the clock to complete the career Grand Slam.

Tiger vs. Phil, Phil vs. Tiger – the default option for more than a decade for those pining for a sentimental showdown – may be a tempting scenario, but this will be no Mulligan Open, certainly not for Tiger and probably not for Lefty.

It’s not so much the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Chambers Bay lunar-scape that stands between the two legends and a legendary week in the Pacific Northwest as much as it is a cast of consistent characters who yield to neither name recognition nor sentimentality.

That a new Big 3 has emerged with Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler trading titles and time in the spotlight with regularity leaves little room for veterans looking to turn back the clock, regardless of how compelling the script may be.

“When I look at the world rankings and I see my name up at the top, if you look back at the last four or five years, I guess I've won more majors than anyone else in that time period,” reasoned McIlroy on Tuesday when asked to compare his level of dominance to that enjoyed by LeBron James. “Do I feel like the best player in the world? Yes. And obviously I want to go out every week and try to back that up and show that.”

First-round tee times: 115th U.S. Open

The young champion was not being pretentious, just pragmatic.

All told, the up-and-coming combination of McIlroy, Fowler and Spieth has won 50 percent of the last eight Tour events, including the year’s first major (Spieth), the last World Golf Championship (McIlroy) and the debatable fifth major (Fowler).

That the trio also seems uniquely suited for one of the more crispy major championships in recent memory only furthers the narrative that the stars seem to be aligning for a next-generation showdown.

For Spieth, Chambers Bay and the Lag Putting Open is a perfect fit for the game’s most steady short stick. Third on Tour this season in three-putt avoidance with the added benefit of the week’s most experienced caddie on the links-like layout in Michael Greller, the Masters champion presents the most likely argument for early favorite and it’s an opportunity he’s embraced with fearless aplomb.

“I've now told myself, I have a chance to make history in many ways. But in order to do that, I have to really focus on this week, focus on the major championships and how I'm going to prepare for them,” Spieth said. “You can't win a Grand Slam unless you win the first [two].”

Fowler has been no less emboldened by his recent play and his position in an emerging world order.

His victory in May at The Players quieted concern that his play had not exactly lived up to his public persona as a singular star, and his performances at the Open Championship – which given Chambers Bay’s unique topography is a better gauge of potential success this week than what he’s done in America’s national championship – is reason to consider this week his best option to get on the Grand Slam scoreboard.

It’s also telling that when presented with an opportunity to consider a “best-case scenario” for this week it wasn’t a potential title bout with Woods or Mickelson that Fowler offered up.

“[McIlroy] is the guy out front. There's a lot of times where you see him up on the board and in a way expect him to be there,” said Fowler, who finished second to McIlroy the last time the world’s best played a brown-and-bouncy major championship at Royal Liverpool in 2014.

“We’re ready to go to battle and go toe to toe. Personally I want to see him play well and I want to go up against him when he is playing well, to go have some fun and see who comes out on top.”

Whether those stars align, however, will likely have as much to do with Mike Davis’ ideology as it does individual performances. Perhaps not since the USGA brought its championship to Southern California and Torrey Pines have so many eyes been on the executive director.

What little institutional knowledge that exists about Chambers Bay is not exactly encouraging for the field of 156, with opinions from the 2010 U.S. Amateur held at the course ranging from the incensed to the indifferent.

So far, the rank and file have remained cautiously hopeful Davis and the USGA will err on the side of reason for this week’s championship, but there was a particularly surreal moment on Tuesday when Jones asked Woods his thoughts on Chambers Bay.

While there was no easy way for the three-time U.S. Open champion to tell Jones his baby is ugly, metaphorically speaking, his thoughts were not exactly a ringing endorsement of the layout and echoed those of many in the field.

“We don't know what Mike is going to do and when he's going to do it. What tees he's going to move up, what tees he's going to leave back, and to what pin locations, where he's going to put them,” Woods said. “It's unlike any other major championship I've ever had to prepare for having to hit so many different tee shots.”

It’s also unlike any major that’s been played in the past decade, with Woods and Mickelson still drawing attention in the pre-championship din despite a discernible shift atop golf’s competitive landscape.

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.