Sunday challenge: Go for gold or lay up for bronze?

By Rex HoggardAugust 13, 2016, 8:36 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – Pop quiz: Who finished third at the 2008 U.S. Open? How about the 2009 Open?


Unless you’re a golf historian or have too much free time, you likely have no idea who “showed” in ’08 at Torrey Pines when Tiger Woods won on a broken leg or in ’09 at Turnberry when Stewart Cink broke Tom Watson’s heart.

The answer to both questions is Lee Westwood. This is by no means a slight against the perennial Grand Slam also-ran, but the Englishman won’t be asked to recount his Sunday at either tournament by his grandchildren.

The hierarchy of history on this is rather clear, winners are remembered, and on rare occasions a hard-luck bridesmaid may rate a mention, but third place is normally an afterthought quickly lost to the fog of time.

That’s not an indictment of those who fall short, just a competitive reality. But on Sunday in Rio those subtleties will give way to the Olympic dream.

The winner of the men’s golf competition will stand atop the podium, accept his gold medal and probably get a little weepy when his national anthem begins to echo off the nearby hills; and he will also have company on that platform.

For the first time in 112 years the runner-up and third-place finishers will leave Rio with something more to show for their efforts than a bloated bank account and a handful of World Golf Ranking points.

For most players, not since Q-School has a score other than the week’s lowest held much interest, but Olympic golf brings new meaning to the concept of a golf trifecta.

“There's no protecting top 10, no protecting a top 5,” American Matt Kuchar said. “You've got to strive to be on the podium, strive to win the gold medal, and hope that if it's not gold, it's silver; and if it's not silver, it's bronze. After that it really doesn’t matter that much.”

Olympic golf coverage: Articles, photos and videos

How that may change a player’s perspective coming down the stretch will be the topic of much debate on Sunday, but already on Saturday those who would normally not be holding out much hope for a competitively productive week were eyeing the new reality from a different perspective.

Consider Rickie Fowler who seemed to shoot his way out of the tournament with rounds of 75-71 to start the week, but an opening nine of 29 on Day 3 vaulted him up the leaderboard and the American finished the day tied for 14th place, nine strokes out of first but just a touchdown shy of a bronze medal.

“I'm at least giving myself a chance now with the way it looks,” Fowler said. “If I go out and play well tomorrow, I could sneak up there. Normally you don't get rewarded much for second and third, but here, you can walk away with some hardware. Getting the gold may be a little bit of a far stretch right now, but you never know.”

If Fowler sounded a tad too optimistic for some considering his play this week, consider his current position in context.

Daniel Summerhays began the final round of last month’s PGA Championship five strokes out of the lead, which given Jimmy Walker’s play may as well have been 50 strokes, but closed with a 66 and finished alone in third place.

Perhaps even more enticing for those who were harboring thoughts of a medal-winning rally was Jim Furyk at the U.S. Open. The veteran started the last turn 10 strokes out of the lead, posted a best-of-the-day 66 on Sunday and tied for second place.

Both Summerhays and Furyk went home with bigger paychecks than their Saturday fortunes suggested they would, but were otherwise footnotes to the larger narrative.

A similar rally on Sunday in Rio would hardly be a surprise and would certainly qualify as historic.

Earlier this week Bubba Watson joked he would, “lay up and go for the bronze,” at the 18th hole on Sunday if need be, but all one-liners aside there is always a chance a player will reach the Olympic Golf Course’s closing stretch – a scoring buffet which includes a drive-able par 4 (No. 15), short par 3 (No. 16) and a par 5 that’s reachable in two shots for most players in the field (No. 18) – with a choice to make, play bold and try to win gold or conservative to assure a bronze medal.

Added to the equation is the possibility of a tie, which could force multiple playoffs, although recent history suggests there could be a clean sweep with 15 of 39 non-match play events this season on the PGA Tour finishing with solo first-, second- and third-place finishers.

Lost in this medal dynamic, however, is each player’s competitive DNA. Professional golfers are conditioned to post the best possible score regardless of outcome, and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson was rather clear when asked if the prospect of playing for three different places would influence his game plan for Sunday.

“I’ll still be going for first there, even though the consolation prizes might be a little better than what we’re used to,” said Stenson, who is alone in second place one stroke behind front-runner Justin Rose.

Still, there will be worthy consolation prizes that could ease the sting of losing, or at the least make those who come up short part of the historical conversation. Just ask Westwood.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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?

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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