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New look for the new year: What to watch for in 2018

By Rex HoggardJanuary 3, 2018, 2:30 pm

A few years back Rory McIlroy revealed that each year, on his way to his first event of the new calendar he would scribble his annual goals onto his boarding pass.

Justin Thomas went 2.0 with the notion last year, thumbing his goals into his cell phone, a detailed and impressive list he unveiled following his FedExCup-winning performance at the Tour Championship.

As the PGA Tour readies for the start of a new year this Thursday at the Sentry Tournament of Champions it seems an apropos time to revisit the practice for some of the game’s most high-profile goal-setters.

Tiger Woods. It’s an easy enough place to start considering the newly minted 42-year-old’s imminent return to competition following nearly a year on the disabled list.

While Woods’ own list likely includes any number of relevant goals – win an event, play 15 tournaments, qualify for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, et al – when it comes to the often-injured 14-time major champion, it’s best to keep this simple – remain upright. If Tiger can stay healthy, and off the surgeon’s table, his competitive ceiling is high, at least according to his Tour frat brothers, but the key is a clean bill of health.

Along those lines, it’s probably best if Woods forgoes one of those globe-jumping flights from say Southern California to Dubai. First-class seats may be comfortable, but nothing good comes from 15 hours of inactivity and binge watching Netflix.

Jay Monahan. By many accounts, the Tour commissioner is a detail-oriented kind of guy so his list is probably peppered with all sorts of circuit minutia, but from 30,000 feet, the new year will be defined by a dramatic schedule overhaul that will begin with the 2018-19 season.

There’s all manner of competing interests when it comes to the new Tour schedule and the overall theme, ending the season before Labor Day, will be good for golf; but along the way Monahan will need to find a way to limit any potential collateral damage the new line up may cause.

Change is natural in every business - but in golf, tradition has its own, unique value.



Justin Thomas. When Thomas revealed his list of 2017 goals at East Lake it prompted a moment of reflection. How would he follow his groundbreaking season?

The Tour’s Player of the Year said he’d consult with Woods and Jack Nicklaus and Jordan Spieth, players who had followed historic years with even better campaigns, but the answer may have been etched onto his 2016-17 list.

Although there were specific goals, like qualifying for the Tour Championship and winning a major, Thomas’ list of goals included many more esoteric objectives, like ranking inside the top 30 on Tour in scrambling and a strokes gained-tee to green average above one shot.

If Thomas learned anything from 2017, understanding the big picture (winning) is easy; but it’s drilling down to the specifics that makes for a great year.

Jim Furyk. The last time the U.S. Ryder Cup team won an “away” match, Spieth was two months old, so the American captain’s natural tendency may be to create something new.

The hardest thing for Furyk in the build-up to the ’18 matches in France will be to trust the process that was put in place following the U.S. loss four years ago in Scotland and led to team victories in ’16 at Hazeltine and last year at the Presidents Cup.

Dustin Johnson. Heavily favored to win the Masters, DJ’s ’17 season took a detour when he slipped and injured himself before the year’s first major, so the world No. 1’s goals should be rather straightforward.

Don’t run with scissors, don’t roughhouse with the little ones on the eve of a major championship and don’t, under any circumstances, go bouncing down a set of stairs wearing socks and no shoes.

Mike Davis. The USGA’s executive director appears destined for a busy year with a new set of modernized rules poised for public consumption, but Davis’ primary goal should be to resist the urge to push back.

After record scoring last year at Erin Hills, it would be natural for Davis and the USGA to make this year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills something closer to golf’s toughest test. But Davis’ plan should be to take a breath and let the storied New York layout prove why it’s a classic without the need of tricked up fairways or ridiculously fast greens.

Paul Casey. It’s been nearly a decade since the Englishman won on the PGA Tour, a footnote Casey was reminded each time he played his way into contention and failed in ’17.

Players like Thomas succeed by focusing on the process, but after so much time away from the winner’s circle, Casey may want to try a more pointed approach. As the late Al Davis famously said, just win, baby.

Bryson DeChambeau. The week after winning his first Tour title at the John Deere Classic, the game’s most intense mad scientist was spotted testing new putters. DeChambeau’s endless quest to improve is admirable, and it's why he’s emerged as one of the game’s most dynamic players, but golf is as much art as it is science.

For such a complex and calculating player, the goal for ’17 should be surprisingly simple – futz less, freewheel more.

Grayson Murray. Following an eventful year that included his first Tour victory and some high-profile social media faux pas, the 24-year-old should also keep his ’18 goals basic.

Continue to improve, make the most of his new opportunities (like this week’s start in Maui), and stay off Twitter; in fact, stay off social media of any kind. It’s best for everyone involved.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.