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.

Getty Images

Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

Getty Images

Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

Getty Images

Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

Getty Images

Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.