Stenson lurking near 36-hole lead

By Rex HoggardAugust 12, 2016, 7:42 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – Henrik Stenson didn’t play handball growing up, instead focusing his youthful attention on the likes of soccer, golf, badminton and bandy, which the Swede described as “like soccer with skates;” but he certainly appreciates the athletic poetry of the sport.

“My dad played a lot of handball, so that's why I'm very familiar with that game,” he said.

All of which also made him appreciate when the Swedish men’s handball team showed up for Round 2 at the Olympic Golf Course fresh off their loss to Slovenia on Thursday night in group play.

Stenson arrived early in Rio to walk in the Opening Ceremony and watch his beloved Swedish handball team before getting back to the day job of winning a golf tournament.

“I’ve been watching them, it’s only fair they repay the favor,” Stenson smiled.

In retrospect, the Swedish handball players might have been in the gallery for more than just moral support considering Stenson’s play for two days at the Olympics.

The favorite for this week’s gold medal has lived up to that billing in Rio, opening his week with a 66 and enduring the worst of Friday’s weather for a 3-under 68 that left him two strokes off the lead held by Australia's Marcus Fraser.

For a player who had a reputation for being his own worst enemy at times on the golf course, Stenson has emerged over the last few weeks as a bona fide closer.

Flawless and fierce last month at Royal Troon, he answered every challenge Phil Mickelson could muster when he closed with a 63 for a three-stroke margin and his first major victory.

Olympic golf coverage: Articles, photos and videos

But if you’re counting style points, a gold medal this week for Stenson may be even more impressive than what he accomplished at The Open.

On Wednesday in Rio the normally personable Stenson had a rare edge to him, snapping at reporters after a barrage of questions about the new Olympic golf course and the collection of high-profile players who didn’t make the trip to Brazil. “Is anyone going to ask about my game?”

But if Stenson’s temperament seemed sharper than normal he’d come by it honestly considering he essentially went straight from The Open to the PGA Championship, where he tied for seventh, before making the trip to Rio.

On Wednesday he admitted to being worn down by the intensity of the last few weeks and employing an economy of energy to prepare for this week’s event.

Although Stenson has a history of making the most of a hot hand like he did in 2013 when he won two playoff events to claim the FedEx Cup and then the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, this time feels different. This time somehow feels more sustainable, more substantial.

There is a calm to Stenson this week that belies the importance of winning a gold medal that in no way is a reflection of how the 40-year-old feels about golf’s return to the Olympics.

Unlike many of the game’s other top players Stenson never wavered in his support of playing the Olympics, telling anyone who would ask he would value a gold medal just behind a major in importance. Yet he set out this week with a conviction that justified his status as the favorite.

“I saw the remarks that some guys were more nervous walking here. I actually felt kind of opposite,” he said following Round 2. “I don't know if it was because I was pretty clear on my game and what I was going to do. I felt less butterflies walking to the tee box than at some other events.”

That calm was tested early on Friday when a cold rain and heavy wind greeted the early starters. Stenson estimated he played the course’s toughest holes in the worst conditions and after birdies at Nos. 1 and 2, he made a mess of the 18th hole and faced a 108-foot putt for par.

“You're just standing there praying for a two-putt bogey,” said Stenson, who converted the par attempt. “Before I know it, I think it found the bottom of the cup. That's the longest putt I've made in my career.”

Stenson’s closing stretch was even more eventful when he played his last five holes without a par, a run that included two bogeys and three birdies.

However he got there, Stenson’s position near the top of an eclectic leaderboard was an ominous sign. It’s not exactly Michael Phelps at the turn of the 200-meter butterfly, but there is an air of intimidation to the Swede’s play this week that wasn’t there just six weeks ago.

“He's the man to beat, I reckon,” said Justin Rose, who is tied for fourth, two strokes behind Stenson. “He's obviously ice cold and we all know when he gets into a rhythm as we saw at Royal Troon, he's a pretty special player.”

Stenson’s nickname has never fit him perfectly. The Iceman can certainly look the part at times as he makes his way from shot to shot, but he’s certainly proven that he’s not above the occasional meltdown.

Just as it was starting to look like Stenson was poised to force his will on the Rio field, he acknowledged the 600-pound capybara in the room. For Stenson, just as it is for most players in this week’s field, the Olympics have proven to be much more than a curious experiment or exhibition.

“I'm sure that there will be butterflies if you've got a gold medal on the line on Sunday afternoon," he smiled. "I'm sure there might be one little one." 

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry