Player of the Year still up for grabs

By Rex HoggardJuly 30, 2014, 4:05 pm

Beginning with this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational the languid pace of the PGA Tour’s new wrap-around schedule – a lineup that began last October in California – transitions to professional golf’s version of the 2-minute drill.

Across the competitive spectrum players are quickly finding themselves on the clock, whether they are trying to secure a spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs, which begins in three weeks at The Barclays, or a place on what is already shaping up to be a crowded Player of the Year ballot.

With a World Golf Championship, the year’s final major and all four post-season events still remaining much can change in the PoY picture, but history suggests the main characters have likely already been identified.

While Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., tends to cede such arguments to its FedEx Cup champion, more times than not in the playoff era – four out of the last seven Player of the Year Awards didn’t go to the FedEx Cup champion – the Jack Nicklaus Award hasn’t dovetailed with that reality.

In fact, for the last three seasons the Player of the Year was not the FedEx Cup champion, with last year’s vote proving to be particularly close between Tiger Woods (a five-time winner in 2013), Adam Scott (the Masters champion), Phil Mickelson (the Open champion) and Henrik Stenson (the FedEx Cup winner).

Woods won last year’s POY hardware in what many players considered a polarizing vote, and this year’s race is shaping up to be an even more crowded field.

With seven big weeks remaining in the season, here’s your Player of the Year primer (players listed alphabetically):

Martin Kaymer
However you want to slice this, the German has two “major” titles on his resume this year (the U.S. Open and The Players) and one of those was an eight-stroke masterpiece at Pinehurst.

While Kaymer hasn’t exactly been the model of consistency away from TPC Sawgrass and the No. 2 course, he would likely be the leader in the clubhouse heading into the year’s final major for the POY award.

Rory McIlroy
The 2012 Player of the Year still has some work to do if he is going to complete the front end of the even-year POY slam. As impressive as his victory was at Royal Liverpool it is his only Tour title in 2014 and overseas victories (even the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, which the Northern Irishman won) don’t seem to hold much weight with the circuit’s rank-and-file come voting time.

Patrick Reed
To be accurate, “Mr. Top 5” would be considered a dark horse for the POY award, but he is the only other player with multiple victories in 2014 (two), and his triumph at the WGC-Cadillac Championship was impressive.

Still, he has more than three times as many missed cuts as victories and would need a big finish to secure his status as a true contender.

Adam Scott
While the Australian would also be considered a long-shot for the season-ending honor, he did ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking this year, and he punctuated that honor with a playoff victory at the Crowne Plaza Invitational.

Scott also has seven top-10 finishes in 11 Tour starts this season, a run that includes the last two majors (T-9 at the U.S. Open and T-5 at the Open Championship).

Jimmy Walker
He was the hottest player in golf through the first four months of the season, winning three times before March, and he has continued to be consistent through the dog days of summer with top-25 finishes in all but four of his last 14 events.

He’s also posted top-10 finishes in two of his three major starts in 2014, but his understated demeanor may prompt some to overlook him when it comes time to vote.

Bubba Watson
He's No. 2 on the FedEx Cup points list and No. 1 in many fans’ hearts following his second victory in April at the Masters.

His victory at the Northern Trust Open will also give him some street cred among those who say he is a one-trick player (Augusta National), but he missed the cut in the next two majors and hasn’t posted a top 10 since early June.

Rickie Fowler, the only player with top-5 finishes in the year’s first three majors, and Matt Kuchar, who has pieced together another stellar season, could also join the conversation with a few solid starts the next few weeks.

There is still plenty of time on the clock for someone to separate themselves from the Player of the Year pack, but if history, and the currently crowded field, holds the Tour electorate will face another tough decision this fall.

Getty Images

Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

Getty Images

Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

Getty Images

Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – 

Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.

Getty Images

Mickelson 'displeased' with iron play; 10 back

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:18 am

All of Phil Mickelson’s offseason work on his driver has paid off through two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

His iron play? Not as sharp, and it’s the reason why he heads into the weekend 10 shots off the lead.

“I’ve been pretty pleased, overall, with the way I’ve been driving the ball, and very displeased with the way my iron game has been,” said Mickelson, who shot 68 Friday on PGA West’s Nicklaus course. He has hit only 21 of 36 greens so far this week. “Usually my iron play is a lot better than what it’s been. So I’ll go work on it and hopefully improve each round in this tournament and build a solid foundation for the upcoming West Coast events.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

“I feel like if I continue to drive the ball the way I am, and if I got my iron play back to my normal standard, I should have the results that I’ve been expecting.”

Mickelson, of course, is always bullish this time of year, but he has been able to find 10 of 14 fairways each of the past two rounds, including at narrower La Quinta Country Club, which doesn’t always fit his eye.

“This is actually the best I’ve driven it in a lot of years,” he said.

Currently in a tie for 67th, Mickelson will need a solid round on the more difficult Stadium course Saturday to ensure that he makes the 54-hole cut. He hasn’t missed a cut in his first West Coast event of the new year since 2009.