Sergio's win popular among peers, catalyst for Westy?

By Rex HoggardApril 11, 2017, 6:17 pm

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Sergio Garcia’s story has always been etched into his expressive face, be it in good times or bad.

When the Spaniard is playing well he exudes an air of confidence that one would expect from arguably the game’s best ball-striker. And when things aren’t going to plan, be it as a result of his own game or the unflinching hand of fortune, the story is there for the world to see in the form of slumped shoulders or a petulant gaze.

Those who know Garcia the best have seen it all, which is what made Sunday’s final round at the Masters so compelling.

“We’ve seen it in the past, he has his head down when something hasn’t gone his way or hit a bad shot and he wasn’t able to recover and get past that,” said Luke Donald of the resilience that finally pushed Garcia over the Grand Slam hurdle. “It just seemed like nothing was going to phase him this time.”

For Donald, the man who overcame a two-stroke deficit early on the back nine to force a playoff against Justin Rose was the best of Garcia. The Englishman should know - he’s had a front-row seat to this show for years as Garcia’s regular partner at the Ryder Cup.

In 2006, the two Europeans paired together to take down American giants Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, 2 up, in the first foursomes session; and Phil Mickelson and David Toms, 2 and 1, during Saturday’s alternate-shot frame. All total, Garcia and Donald are 5-1-0 as partners at the biennial matches, which made Garcia’s pedestrian record in the majors that much more baffling.

“There’s not too many golfers that I play with that have as much talent as Sergio,” Donald said on Tuesday at the RBC Heritage. “He’s just naturally born and gifted. I was a little surprised it hadn’t happened sooner, but it just shows how tough and fickle this game is.”

But then Donald, who once ascended to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking but has never won a major, understands as well as anyone how difficult it is to win one of the game’s most coveted titles, even for a player as talented as Garcia.

They may be competitors, but on occasions like Sunday at Augusta National the likes of Donald become fans who understand what it means to a player like Garcia to finally win a major after all these years.

“The game perhaps owed him one, but this game doesn’t pay its debts hardly ever,” Graeme McDowell said. “It was hard not to root for Sergio.”

McDowell listened to Sunday’s round on the radio on his way to this week’s event in South Carolina with a mix of enjoyment and curiosity. Having won his major at the 2010 U.S. Open, McDowell wondered what emotions go through a player’s mind in situations like this when he’d come up short on so many occasions.

“I don’t know how he felt about it having come so close so many times. What does that do to a guy?” McDowell asked. “At what point do you say, this isn’t meant to be for me? It becomes difficult. I guess the monkey becomes bigger and bigger.”

The Masters was Garcia’s 74th major start and he’d finished inside the top 10 on 22 occasions, including runner-up showings at the 2007 and ’14 Opens and ’99 and ’08 PGA Championships. Hard luck doesn’t begin to describe Garcia’s Grand Slam resume, which certainly wouldn’t have gotten any easier had he not delivered on Sunday.

“If he didn’t get it done it would have been really tough, this one,” Carl Pettersson said. “At that age, the door isn’t closed but it’s close when you get toward 40.”

While players like Pettersson and McDowell watched Sunday’s action with the interest of a fan, others probably took a more personal interest in Garcia’s accomplishment. Players like Lee Westwood, who at 43 is still looking to win his first major championship after a similar career in the majors defined by painful near misses.

“I was thinking about Westwood as a I watched and was thinking what this could do to his mentality?” McDowell said. “You see another guy do something, I wouldn’t be surprised if he won at Royal Birkdale [site of the Open] this year. Just that little something that kicks off in the back of your brain – maybe we can do it.”

But most of all, Garcia’s colleagues enjoyed an accomplishment that was nearly two decades in the making. “It meant so much to him, you could see it in his face,” Donald smiled.

You always can.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x