When losing is normal, pros learn to move on quickly

By Rex HoggardMay 9, 2016, 12:16 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There’s always next week.

The defense mechanism employed by Chicago Cubs fans for the better part of a century is just as common in golf circles, particularly on a Sunday like the one that transpired at the Wells Fargo Championship.

A final round that featured more lead changes than a NBA playoff game has a tendency to produce a more measured assessment from those not involved in the trophy presentation.

Consider Rickie Fowler, the 54-hole leader and consensus favorite. He has four worldwide titles in the last 12 months, but Fowler stumbled early on Day 4 with bogeys at two of his first four holes, fell even further back when his “mud-ball” addled approach at the seventh sailed wide right for a double bogey, and yet he still finished just two strokes out of a playoff won by James Hahn.

But in the moments after signing for his closing 74 there was no lamenting his play or poor fortune, no endless second-guessing, just a shrug and an onward mentality.

“It's just learning from it and feeling good about being in the position and dealing with what I had today and not letting it get away from me,” said Fowler, who tied for fourth place at 7 under. “I was able to kind of fight through it, deal with some tough breaks, deal with not swinging it well off the tee and figuring out a way to still get it around and hang around.”

Rory McIlroy, a two-time winner at Quail Hollow, shouldn’t have started Sunday with any real title hopes after a pair of 73s left him eight strokes out of the lead, but the world No. 3 went out in 33 more than two hours before the front-runners and cut the lead to two strokes with a 3-foot birdie putt at the 16th hole.

He could have fixated on his closing bogey or the three missed birdie putts from inside 23 feet midway through his back nine, or his missed eagle attempt at the par-4 14th hole after driving the green. But the golf season, particularly this golf season, is far too short and compact to allow the luxury of self-pity.

“I feel like it's been a step in the right direction this week, and hopefully I'll continue to make some forward strides next week at The Players and onwards, hopefully the U.S. Open,” said McIlroy, who tied for fourth with Fowler.


Perhaps the most snake-bitten among the oh-so-close crowd was Phil Mickelson.

In a baker’s dozen trips to Quail Hollow, Lefty has finished second (2010), third (2007 and ’13) and has been outside the top 25 just twice. But he’s never won.

If Mickelson wanted to indulge in the “what if” game he’d likely start and finish at Quail Hollow’s 18th hole, where he made a quadruple bogey-8 to close his round on Saturday. It was a miscue that sent him tumbling to 1 under to start the final round.

In quintessential Mickelson style, however, he scorched the front-nine on Sunday with two birdies and an eagle and rattled off three straight birdies at Nos. 14-16 to get to 7 under, just two behind the eventual champion.

Yet there was no effort, at least externally, to examine what could have been. Instead, only an eye toward TPC Sawgrass and a game he feels is trending in the right direction.

“I hit a lot of good shots over the weekend,” said Mickelson, who also finished at 7 under after a final-round 66. “Unfortunately, one bad hole yesterday kind of cost me. But today's round gives me a little bit of momentum heading into The Players.”

Justin Rose may have been the only player among the contenders who showed signs of ruing a missed opportunity, and justifiably so.

Rose took a share of the lead with a birdie at No. 2 and the outright advantage at 9 under with another at the fifth, but he started to fade with a bogey at the 12th hole after airmailing the green with his approach shot and three-putted from 17 feet at No. 16 to drop a shot behind the leaders.

“Obviously today was an opportunity come and gone, but I know the way I'm playing,” said Rose, who finished with a 1-under 71 and was alone in third place at 8 under. “I'm looking forward to the major championships this year. We would love to have won this week and give me some confidence to finish one off. The rest is just, you know ...”

Get on with it, as the English are fond of saying.

Call it a defense mechanism, call it denial, but loss is a reality in a game where winning percentages are often measured to the right of the decimal point.

At this level trying to dissect a defeat like this can be maddening. How, for example, can one explain Hahn’s playoff victory over Roberto Castro?

The 34-year-old former women’s shoe salesman was fresh off eight consecutive missed cuts and hadn’t broken 70 on Tour since February, and he conceded he’s spent the last two months searching for answers.

Asked to explain his sudden turnaround, Hahn’s answer was priceless.

“I can’t,” smiled Hahn, who finished at 9 under and won on the first extra hole with a par. “The mind is a powerful thing and it was going bad for a while. Just didn't have the confidence, didn't believe in myself. You're playing bad and you're missing cuts and there's nothing funny about that.”

Certainly none of Sunday’s cast found humor in the outcome. The flights will be long to Jacksonville, Fla., and there will likely be moments of retrospection, maybe even regret, but just as it is in every sport you can only have painful association with the past.

“This golf course has played tough over the weekend, so proud of the way I hung in there,” Fowler offered when asked how long this loss will stay with him.

The silver lining for players not named Hahn, there’s always next week.

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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