PGA has lots of excitement to live up to

By Rex HoggardJuly 27, 2016, 5:03 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – There are few things in life that regularly live up to the hype – weddings, childbirth, the Masters, the occasional Game 7.

Perhaps this week’s PGA Championship has the goods. Maybe the year’s final major delivers a worthy bookend to what has been a truly memorable Grand Slam season.

The players are certainly all in place.

Depending on your math, all of the pieces are there – Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, even Henrik Stenson and his newfound major fame.

But even Day, this week’s defending champion and the world No. 1, seemed to suggest, at least with his actions if not his words, that it might be best to temper expectations for the year’s final major.

“I haven't played a practice round. I haven't seen the course. I don't know what it looks like,” Day said on Wednesday ... on Wednesday.

The Open probably set the bar a tad high with a finish for the ages, thanks to an inspired final-round duel between Stenson and Phil Mickelson.

“I don't think the score was really the most impressive part of that. It was more the resilience and how they fed off one another. It was a total match-play scenario,” McIlroy said of the Royal Troon title bout.

The U.S. Open delivered drama – albeit some of the unwanted variety thanks to a curious ruling – and a champion (Johnson) that had been in waiting for far too long. Even the Masters provided enough fireworks via Jordan Spieth’s Sunday meltdown and Willett’s unforgettable final round.

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There are plenty of scenarios that could make this week’s championship a worthy ending to the major season.

Johnson getting on the board again at an event that probably owes him one is not out of the question. Day going back-to-back to solidify his status atop the pack would also be compelling; as would another PGA for McIlroy given his status as the forgotten Beatle in some media circles.

After flirting with major golf’s magic number of 62 at Royal Troon, a softer Baltusrol is there for the taking and a record round would inject a measure of history into this week’s proceedings. Just don’t count on it.

“I don't see anybody shooting [62] here at Baltusrol,” said Mickelson, who came within a single rotation of setting the new major mark on Thursday at Royal Troon.

For those who read tea leaves, there’s a pattern to this major championship season. Each of the first three major winners – Willett, Johnson and Stenson – were all first-time Grand Slam champions and all three were ranked inside the top 12 of the world ranking when they cracked the game’s ultimate grass ceiling.

If that trend continues that leaves just three players – Rickie Fowler (No. 7 in the world), Sergio Garcia (No. 10) and Branden Grace (No. 12) – poised to join the club.

“I would love to make it four in a row. Obviously it would be very nice,” Garcia said. “But we'll see. It's a long week. And like I said before, my goal is to play well, to give myself another shot at winning a tournament, winning a major, and then see what I can come up with.”

It should also be noted that the last time a single season’s majors were swept by first-timers was in 2011, when Keegan Bradley completed the rookie slam with his victory at the PGA.

Part of what has been a somewhat subdued build up to the PGA can be attributed to a measure of championship fatigue. The engraver finished etching Stenson’s name into the claret jug just 10 days ago and in two weeks the Olympics will assume its position as golf’s ultimate test followed in short order by the Ryder Cup.

So if the game’s best and brightest aren’t exactly selling the 98th PGA as the “Blowout at Baltusrol” they’ve come by their measured optimism honestly.

Although any tee sheet that includes Jason, DJ, Rory and Jordan should be good enough to generate buzz, be it at a major or otherwise, and golf’s ongoing narrative of a Big 4 continues to be pinned to the need for a combination of the dominant foursome going head-to-head when it counts at a major.

But even that script is changing.

“It’s a Big 1, really,” said one Tour insider on Wednesday at Baltusrol. “When Dustin is on his game it’s hard to imagine anyone beating him.”

Others offhandedly dismiss the notion of a dominant quartet, either through the attrition of increasingly deeper fields or evolving attitudes.

“It is something that you guys have always done. You've always kind of gone with the Big 3 or the Big 4 or the Big 5 or whatever. It is fine,” Garcia said. “The only thing I can do is keep improving, keep getting better, keep doing what I know how to do.”

As compelling as a Big 4 may look on paper, there currently isn’t much by way of an established body of work to suggest the stars have aligned perfectly over south New Jersey.

Maybe Baltusrol will be the curtain call this major season deserves, an exclamation mark that includes all of the game’s elite; but history suggests that it might be best to keep expectations low.

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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.