Young stars take PGA Tour to new heights in 2015

By Rex HoggardSeptember 29, 2015, 12:20 pm

The cynic would see through this as a marketing ploy. You know the drill, stay on topic, hammer home the talking points and lean into the positive.

“Golf is in a really good spot,” Rory McIlroy said at East Lake last week when asked his lasting impression of the 2014-15 season.

Jason Day followed with, “I think golf is in a good spot.”

And Jordan Spieth deviated from the format ever so slightly, “[Golf] is in as great a state as it's been in a while.”

But if the PGA Tour cast and crew appeared to be pulling their thoughts straight off of Madison Avenue-produced cue cards – think “These Guys are Good” 2.0 – there was something honestly organic about all of the gushing.

Even when Tour commissioner Tim Finchem talked of being “bullish” about the game’s future it sounded less like an attempt to make lemonade out of lemons than it did a straightforward forecast.

“I can categorically say that we have never been more excited about the future because of the youth movement and the quality of youth right now,” Finchen said.

However one dissects success off the golf course, it’s the collision of young, capable and charismatic talent on the pitch that made the 2014-15 season – a year, for what it’s worth, during which perennial standard bearers Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson combined to post just four top-10 finishes and no victories – something special.

The numbers are astounding starting with Spieth, whose victory on Sunday at the Tour Championship lifted him to the FedEx Cup title and a single-season earnings record of $12 million, eclipsing the old mark by $1 million. With his FedEx Cup bonus, the 22-year-old grossed a cool $22 million with his five-win season, but it was his performance in the majors that was truly historic.

Spieth’s 18 under total in April at Augusta National tied the 72-hole Masters scoring record and he never let anyone closer than three shots all week on his way to the green jacket.

While his victory at June’s U.S. Open wasn’t nearly as dominant, and Dustin Johnson’s play on the 72nd hole certainly factored into the final outcome, it was no less impressive and it did set the stage for his dramatic chase of the single-season Grand Slam after becoming just the sixth player to win the first two legs.

“We took our game on course and off course to a level that I didn't think would be possible at different times in my life,” said Spieth, who finished a stroke out of the playoff at St. Andrews and a distant runner-up to Day at the PGA.

“I believed that we could get to this position where we're at right now. But there's plenty of times where you feel so poorly with the putter or you're not hitting any fairways with the driver, or you sit back and think how in the world does somebody do this?”

Spieth became the youngest player with five Tour victories in a single season since 1929, and along with Day’s five wins it was the first time in the modern era multiple players 27 or younger won at least five times.

McIlroy, sidelined for much of the late summer with an ankle injury, added two titles (Wells Fargo Championship and WGC-Match Play), Rickie Fowler secured a signature victory in May at The Players in a dramatic playoff, and fellow twenty-something Brooks Koepka also got on the board (Waste Management Phoenix Open), bringing the season total to 24 wins by players in their 20s.

But the most compelling statistic for those who contend the 2014-15 season was so much more than the sum of its parts was the revolving door atop the World Golf Ranking that has featured a different No. 1 for six consecutive weeks.

On Monday, it was Spieth’s turn, again, but the musical chairs atop the World Ranking doesn’t appear ready to end any time soon.

“That's kind of the neat thing. Usually when someone had it, they held it for a long time, more so back when Tiger had it,” Day said. “But right now, there's just so much chop and change between the three of us it's not losing, it's like, wow, you're the No. 1 player in the world. It just goes to show the level of competitiveness at the top of the world rankings for that No. 1 spot right now.”

During Woods’ era of dominance there was a theory that golf was at its best when Phil Mickelson, Tiger’s primary rival, was at his best. It’s an encouraging prognostication for the game that the modern version of the most compelling rivalries has so much more depth.

Combined, the current “Big Four” of Spieth, Day, McIlroy and Fowler won 14 of 47 events this season on Tour and had 40 top-10 finishes, which means one of the Fab Four was in contention more times than not in 2014-15.

That’s not to say it was all rainbows and unicorns at the game’s highest level.

In July, Scott Stallings became the third player suspended under the Tour’s anti-doping program for taking DHEA, a precursor to testosterone production that is sold over-the-counter at health food stores and, according to numerous medical experts, provides little if any performance benefit when taken orally.

Dustin Johnson also returned from a surreal six-month hiatus “to seek professional help for personal challenges,” and won his fifth event back (WGC-Cadillac Championship) to extend his winning streak to eight seasons.

While Woods again made headlines for largely the wrong reasons, putting his game on the shelf after a nightmare trip to the West Coast that included a second-round 82 in Phoenix and failing to reach the winner’s circle for the second consecutive year.

And things only got worse for Woods after an encouraging late-season run to make the playoffs (where he finished tied for 10th at the Wyndham Championship) with news he’d undergone his second back surgery earlier this month and would likely not return to the Tour until early next year.

Nor was it the best year to watch live golf, at least at the major championships with the addition of Chambers Bay (which included holes that couldn’t accommodate any spectators because of the severe terrain) to the Grand Slam rotation and the PGA Championship’s return to Whistling Straits.

But logistic and litigious concerns aside, the “bullishness” Finchem spoke of in his State of the Tour address last week was much more than a marketing shell game.

“It has been a year of some of the younger guys really breaking through. Whether it's Jordan, Jason, Rickie at The Players,” McIlroy recapped. “It's been a great season and if this is the sign of things to come, then obviously golf is in a really good spot.”

It may not have the punch of “These Guys are Good,” but as slogans go, “Golf is in a really good spot” is as accurate an assessment as any when it comes to the PGA Tour.

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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