Nice guy Merritt finishes first at Quicken Loans

By Rex HoggardAugust 3, 2015, 12:11 am

GAINESVILLE, Va. – We’ve seen this before, a salt-of-the-earth Iowan wielding a lethal putter on his way to a career defining victory.

The only thing missing was the modest monologue: “I’m Troy Merritt and I’m from Osage, Iowa.” But even that wouldn’t be Merritt’s style.

If Zach Johnson is the most understated two-time major champion, then Merritt is nothing short of the most unassuming Tour winner in recent memory.

A wisp of a player who is generously listed at 6 feet, 160 pounds, Merritt has never played in a major, never finished better than 100th on the FedEx Cup point list and would never be confused for one of his high-profile PGA Tour frat brothers.

Someone like, say Rickie Fowler, who seemed to be the consensus and crowd favorite on Sunday at the Quicken Loans National.

But Merritt never gave Fowler or anyone else much of a chance on his way to a three-stroke victory and maiden Tour title.

“It's been a long journey the last five, six years,” said Merritt, who closed with a 67 that included a winding 34-footer for birdie at the last that prompted an almost apologetic shrug from the 29-year-old.

“Several life changes, couple moves, two boys but I wouldn't have done it any other way. I separate my life pretty well and, as a result, it really hasn't paid off in success on the golf course but it's the way I'm doing it. I'm a family man first and foremost.”

The timing couldn’t have been better for Merritt, who began this week on the inward loop of a grueling run that has included five events in six weeks.

During that stretch he missed five consecutive cuts, broke par just once in his last 10 Tour rounds and watched hopelessly as he tumbled down the FedEx Cup point list all the way to 123rd.

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It was a familiar feeling for Merritt, who has struggled since joining the Tour in 2010 after a stellar college career. Not that anyone around him could see the pressure building.

“Troy is one of the nicest guys to be around, period,” said his caddie Scott Sajtinac. “If you don’t get along with Troy, it’s probably you.” 

The only thing that seemed different on Sunday at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club was the outcome, a victory that earned him a spot next week in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship and secured his Tour card for the next two seasons.

From the pavement to the penthouse just like that thanks in large part to a swing tip from Sajtinac during Tuesday’s practice round. After struggling with his driver the last few months Sajtinac suggested he square his shoulders more to his target and move away from the golf ball at address.

“Off the tee it has been tough,” Sajtinac said. “We’ve been playing out of the rough for two months and that’s hard to do.”

Just ask Tiger Woods how hard that can be.

The technical term for it is “transference,” that’s swing speak for having the ability to take what a player is doing on the range and in practice and apply it during a round of tournament golf.

Throughout Woods’ steady competitive swoon the last few months he referred to the phenomenon as “old patterns,” but in the simplest terms it has been an inability to carry what he has on the range to the first tee.

What else would explain his third-round 74 after playing his first 36 holes in 8 under?

The tournament host would rebound on Sunday, playing his opening nine in 4 under on his way to a closing 68; and while his tie for 18th did little for his FedEx Cup fortunes, he moved up just 12 spots to 185th, the psychological impact was evident.

“This is much better, much, much, much better to have a round like today,” smiled Woods, who moved to within five strokes of the lead with a birdie at the 10th hole before playing his final eight holes in even par.

Woods’ optimism seems to go well beyond his best Tour finish since the spring when he tied for 17th at the Masters. While the short term – the PGA Championship could be his final event of the 2015-16 season – remains shrouded in uncertainty, after a few trying months he is starting to see well beyond the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I've got years ahead of me, that's how I look at it, not just this season,” he said. “I've got years and if you would have asked me that back when I had my back surgery I would have probably . . . I didn't really know. That was a rough period in my career and my life. But now I'm on the good side of it.”

The same could be said for Merritt, who began the day tied with Kevin Chappell and quickly separated himself from the field with a birdie at the first.

The event quickly descended into a two-player race, with Bill Haas moving into a share of the lead at 17 under with six birdies through his first 10 holes but he unraveled just as quickly, playing Nos. 12 through 16in 4 over par and tying for fourth.

Fowler made a late run with birdies at three of his last five holes, but Merritt nearly made a hole-in-one at the 16th hole for a tap-in birdie and he added his walk-off at No. 18 to complete his breakthrough.

In fact, Merritt’s biggest obstacle as he made his way down the 18th hole was the emotion of the moment.

As Merritt – who set up his Sunday charge with a tournament-record 61 on Day 3 – approached the 18th green, the crowd broke into a large cheer. When the fans quieted he told Sajtinac, “That was nice.”

It was another nice finish for another nice guy from Iowa.

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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.