Player of the Year? Peers say it's McIlroy

By Rex HoggardSeptember 10, 2014, 8:44 pm

ATLANTA – Normally the master of self-deprecation, even Rory McIlroy had a hard time playing this one straight.

“Hopefully by the end of this week there shouldn’t be any doubt about the Player of the Year Award . . . but depending on who wins this, you never know,” the world No. 1 allowed with only the beginnings of a smirk etched into his face.

The ballots for the PGA Tour Player of the Year Award will be sent out on Sunday night but if an informal poll of players on Wednesday at the Tour Championship is any indication the circuit may as well forgo the formality and ship the hardware to McIlroy’s South Florida digs right now.

While the world No. 1 successfully choked back a laugh when asked about the year-end award, his frat brothers couldn’t muster the same detached discipline.

“It’s a no-brainer. It’s about as easy a decision as they come,” Hunter Mahan said.

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There are 10 million reasons to respect the FedEx Cup and what it means to the players, but many players, including Mahan, figured the Tour could already start engraving McIlroy’s name into the Jack Nicklaus Award regardless of what transpires this week at East Lake after the year he’s had.

“I think everyone knows who it’s going to be,” Jason Day said. “Everyone is 99.9 percent sure it will be Rory.”

Considering the Northern Irishman’s resume this year it’s hard to argue with Day and Mahan. McIlroy won the Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship in consecutive weeks.

McIlroy – who won the Player of the Year Award in 2012 – wrested the top ranking from Adam Scott in July, hasn’t missed a cut, has finished in the top 10 in 11 of his 16 starts and moved to within a green jacket of the career Grand Slam with his victory at Royal Liverpool.

Yet while the Player of the Year voting seems like a forgone conclusion, an argument – however farfetched – could be made for Martin Kaymer or Jimmy Walker.

Kaymer won The Players and U.S. Open by eight strokes and in theory could claim the FedEx Cup with a victory this week at East Lake; while Walker would be the season’s only four-time winner if he were to win the Tour Championship and would also likely cash the $10 million bonus.

“It would be Rory, but I’d probably wait until after this week to make my decision,” Ryan Palmer said.

Chris Kirk, who also would become a three-time Tour winner with a victory this week, conceded that this week’s big finish could make the vote for Player of the Year a little more interesting, but it probably wouldn’t change his mind.

“Possibly, I guess. But still, unlikely. To win three of the biggest tournaments of the year and to win all of them pretty comfortably, 11 top 10s, his whole body of work is still going to be better than whoever wins this week,” Kirk said.

It’s more a testament to McIroy’s dominance than the current relevance of the FedEx Cup, but to most players this week’s scramble for $10 million will not factor into the Player of the Year balloting.

“I appreciate the FedEx Cup and the importance to win this. Jimmy Walker winning four times and a FedEx Cup is a big deal, but two majors and a World Golf Championship, especially in the time he did it means a lot,” Mahan said.

It’s a much different scenario than what occurred last year, when Tiger Woods (who won the award), Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott all had legitimate chances to win the Nicklaus hardware depending on how things played out in Atlanta. In fact, this may be one of the most straightforward POY votes in recent years.

“The way (McIlroy) played during the summer is pretty spectacular. To do that at such a young age, you don’t like to compare but it’s Tiger-like,” Day said. “Since Tiger hasn’t been playing his best, this is pretty convincing.”

As for McIlroy, he had more immediate concerns this week with the FedEx Cup hanging in the balance, which along with a Masters title is the only thing he hasn’t accomplished in his young career.

“It’s been a good season for me,” he said. “It’s been consistent. I’ve had big wins. Like I said, I’d love to finish it off.”

Of course, “finish it off” is a reference to winning this week’s Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, because it seems the Player of the Year race has already been decided.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.