Spieth-McIlroy rivalry lacks tension, drama

By Rex HoggardAugust 14, 2015, 1:01 am

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Ali vs. Frazier this was not, but then contrived rivalries rarely give way to instant classics.

To be fair, hype is seldom a precursor to history even when the stars are seemingly aligned in perfect order like they were heading into the opening act at the PGA Championship.

In one corner there was the top-ranked challenger fresh off two major championship victories this season and stewing over his near miss last month at St. Andrews. And in the pink trunks ... eh, golf pants ... was the reigning champion poised to prove five weeks of inactivity and an ailing ankle that has progressed through various shades of black and blue recently was nothing for the collective to be concerned with.

Rory McIlroy began Thursday’s opening round at Whistling Straits No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Jordan Spieth can unseat him atop the world this week with an assortment of mathematical scenarios, not to mention become the first player to win the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same season.

For good fun the PGA of America paired the two for the first 36 holes hard on the shores of Lake Michigan alongside Open champion Zach Johnson.

As the new PGA Championship logo suggests, “This is Major,” because “This has the potential to be something cool” makes for a clunky logo.

PGA Championship: Round 1 scores

The potential of something special was thick in the farmland air in the build-up to the year’s final major, except neither player was particularly sharp on Thursday, the byproduct of winds that gusted to 25 mph more so than the proverbial winds of change the media, both social and otherwise, have been predicting.

Jordan made nine consecutive pars to start his day, Rory was more erratic with two birdies and two bogeys; but they both arrived at the turn where they had started the day: at even par.

“I was pretty nervous on the first tee. It was just getting back out there, it was nice to get that opening tee shot out of the way,” McIlroy said. “Anything under par this afternoon was a decent score.”

Both players appeared to take a measured approach on an increasingly difficult golf course, playing their closing nine in 1 under par for matching 71s, which left the top of the marquee five strokes behind Day 1 leader Dustin Johnson.

But this goes well beyond numbers on a scorecard. Good play is a good start and ultimately necessary, but the new dynamic duo seems to also be lacking the required animosity that is such an important part of a good rivalry.

On the 11th green the two shared a good-natured laugh and earlier in the round Spieth regaled McIlroy with tales from the Open Championship, which Jordan didn’t win and Rory didn’t play.

Say what you will about the Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson rivalry – which was equally contrived for the most part and ultimately rare – there was always an undertone of acrimony that, although both players dismissed, fueled the dynamic and polarized fans.

There is no such dynamic between McIlroy and Spieth, two infinitely likeable young men who hold a monsoon of respect for each other, and therefore there was no awkward tension, no forced handshakes or cool glares. Instead, we got smiles and laughs and, well, largely uninspired golf.

“I didn't see any difference in his game,” Spieth said when asked about McIlroy’s ailing ankle. “He seems 100 percent ready. Everything seemed to be on point, and I expect him to move up the board.”

On Thursday, instead of Rory vs. Jordan it was the DJ era, as if that type of distinction has the shelf life of the newest tablet or reality TV star.

It explains, at least in part, McIlroy’s apparent frustration on Wednesday with the concept of the cause célèbre.

“We live in such a world that everything's so reactionary and everything happens so quickly that a year ago after I won this tournament it was the Rory era and then Jordan wins the Masters and it's the Jordan era,” McIlroy said. “Eras last about six months these days instead of 20 years.”

By design, golf is defined by the long view. Careers last decades, not days and this was just Thursday, after all.

Time may tell a different tale, but bona fide rivalries occur organically and all the featured pairings and wishing in the golf world can’t manufacture the genuine item.

Rory vs. Jordan may materialize. We may find ourselves captivated by a modern “Duel in the Sun” on a Grand Slam Sunday someday soon, but those moments are special because they are so rare, because we wait years for them to occur.

No, this was no “Showdown in Sheboygan,” at least not on Thursday. But when it comes to rivalries we’re all eternal optimists, and there are still three more days remaining in this major championship season.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

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

Former Web.com 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 Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com 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