#AskLav: Handing out season-ending awards

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2014, 1:30 pm

With only 21 days before the start of the PGA Tour’s new wraparound season, there isn’t enough time for any of those long-winded, cringe-worthy speeches. No, sir. This will be the most frenetic awards ceremony in history, so cue the get-the-heck-off-the-stage music.

BEST PLAYER IN A LEADING ROLE

Nominees: Rory McIlroy, Billy Horschel, Bubba Watson 

Winner: Rory McIlroy 

It wasn’t just the three wins in a row, though hose back-to-back major titles certainly were memorable. For the first time, at age 25, McIlroy finally embraced the title of golf’s leading man.


BEST PLAYER IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Nominees: Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk

Winner: Rickie Fowler

The 25-year-old became the third player in history to post top-5s in all four majors. Unlike Jack and Tiger, though, Rickie walked away empty-handed.


BEST TOURNAMENT

Nominees: The Players, Colonial, PGA Championship

Winner: PGA Championship

On the final day, Rory, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson and Rickie were all in the mix for the title, with Furyk, Ernie Els, Jimmy Walker and Hunter Mahan among those cracking the top 10. It truly was Glory’s Last Sh … ah, forget it. 


BEST DRAMA 

Nominees: Adam Scott-Jason Dufner playoff at Colonial, WGC-Match Play final, PGA Championship Sunday

Winner: WGC-Match Play final 

Victor Dubuisson, at the time a little-known Frenchman, channeled Seve’s short-game magic to not once but twice get up-and-down from the cacti before finally succumbing to Jason Day.


BEST CLUTCH PUTT 

Nominees: Martin Kaymer’s par on 17 Sunday at The Players, Rory McIlroy’s two eagles in the last three holes Saturday at the Open, Billy Horschel’s par on 16 Sunday at the Tour Championship 

Winner: Martin Kaymer 

Kaymer’s lead had been trimmed from three shots to one by the time he stood on the famed 17th. His tee shot spun back down the slope and came to rest about a foot from the bulkhead, leading to an awkward chip that came up 30 feet short. The left-to-right-breaking putt went up and over a hill and slammed into the back of the cup – the par that preserved the win and gave Kaymer his first victory in the States since the 2010 PGA.  


BEST MOMENT

Nominees: Erik Compton finishes runner-up at U.S. Open, Jarrod Lyle returns to competition, Billy Horschel gets last laugh at critics 

Winner: Erik Compton

How fitting that a two-time heart-transplant recipient recorded his best-ever finish (and told his incredible story nationally) at the more grueling test in golf.


BEST BREAKOUT STAR

Nominees: Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Billy Horschel 

Winner: Patrick Reed 

Love him or loathe him, fans now certainly know him. After a victory at the Wyndham last August, P-Reed set the 54-hole scoring record en route to a win at the Humana, then topped an elite field at Doral, where he made even bigger news by declaring himself a “top-5” player. Alas, he has been very cautious with the media ever since.


BIGGEST FLOP 

Nominees: Phil Mickelson’s season, Tiger Woods’ return from injury, Dustin Johnson’s self-imposed leave of absense, Bubba Watson’s petulance at the PGA 

Winner: Tiger Woods 

After going under the knife in late March, the former world No. 1 missed two majors before surprising everyone, even himself, with a return at his own event in late June. He missed the cut in D.C., wasn’t competitive at the Open, reinjured himself at Firestone, labored through two rounds at the PGA, parted ways with his swing coach and now has shut it down until December. Yep, just another ho-hum year for golfs most fascinating player.

OK, enough awards. Everybody out. The after-party is at Rory’s waterfront crib. 


 

 

First rookie: Justin Thomas. He’s the same age (21) as Jordan Spieth, whom he beat out for college player of the year in 2012. Spieth has gone on to enjoy tremendous success in the big leagues, and there’s no reason why Thomas won’t do the same. During his one-year apprenticeship on the Web.com circuit, he won once and finished in the top 10 in six other events. The preeminent ball-striker will be on ’boards early and often in this new season.  

First-time major winner: Sergio’s time is coming, whether the golf gods want it to or not, but Jason Day is the most likely to break through next year – assuming, of course, that he returns to full health. Yes, the Aussie seemed poised for a monster year after winning the WGC-Match Play in February, but injuries to his thumb and back stalled his momentum. This is a guy with seven top 10s in majors since 2010, including a T-4 at this year’s U.S. Open, and he’s too solid from tee-to-green not to nab one soon.  


 

 

Don’t like it at all, to be honest, and in many ways it’s related to my main beef with the FedEx Cup. The premise is flawed. All along, the Cup has been billed as the race to determine a season-long champion, except that’s not what the FedEx Cup does at all. With its current points structure, the Cup identifies two very different things: 1.) the playoff field, or the 125 players who keep their card for next season; and 2.) the player who gets hot at the right time in the playoffs. Rory McIlroy was the best during the regular season. Billy Horschel won the postseason component. Just call it like it is. These Web.com Tour Finals, and specifically the priority rankings, also attempt to equate season-long performance and “playoff” results but they, too, should be viewed separately.

Let’s use Blayne Barber and Tom Hoge as examples. Barber won a tournament and finished sixth on the Web.com regular-season money list. Hoge had two top 10s and finished 65th in earnings. Barber has one top 10 in the Finals, a T-6 at last week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship. Hoge also has one top 10, a solo third at the Chiquita Classic. Barber (with a win, five other top 10s and nearly $270,000 in earnings) is No. 10 on the priority rankings. Hoge (with no wins, three top 10s and $72,000 in earnings) is No. 11.

How is that bottom-heavy system possibly fair to guys who traveled the country for 20-plus events and battled for $33,000 paychecks? The 50 players who earn the most money during the entire year (including both the regular season and the Finals) should get their cards. Simple.


 

 

Despite Paul McGinley’s insistence that there will be no hard feelings between Rory and G-Mac – whose lawyers are currently brawling in court – it’s hard to envision them together for more than a session at Gleneagles, if at all. Instead, the team we’d most like to see is Rory-Sergio. They are pals, both are in form, and Sergio thrives in this competition (16-8-4). On the U.S. side, a Rickie-Phil tag team has the potential for some fireworks, especially if Lefty and Keegan misfire early. Then again, it’s entirely possible that Tom Watson will ignore all outside advice and match players with dissimilar games and combustible personalities. As a writer, I’ll be rooting for that disastrous scenario.


 

 

Expecting about a four-point loss for the U.S. – somewhere in between the Medinah nail-biter (14.5 to 13.5) and the K Club massacre (18.5 to 9.5). The Europeans have better players at the top, better vibes in the event (won five of last six) and better support with the home crowd. Anything can happen during a three-day match-play competition with 24 of the world’s best players, of course, but if the home squad jumps out to a comfortable lead after Day 1, this thing is ovah. Predicted final score: Europe 16.5, U.S. 11.5.


 

 

Breakout star: Hideki Matsuyama. Surprised that he was unable to capitalize on his Memorial victory (no top 10s since), but this is a big-time talent with all of the necessary tools to be a multiple winner every season on Tour.

Fading star: Jason Dufner. Reportedly scheduled to return to competition next month, but the neck injury that forced Duf out of the PGA will linger for the rest of his playing career. When talking to him at Valhalla, he wasnt just disappointed and frustrated. He was also scared – two bulging disks is a career-threatening ailment. It’s a shame too, because his popularity has surged in recent years, but already 37 he likely has one eye on the endgame.  


 

 

Let’s not forget where Rickie was a year ago – lost with his swing, at home during the Tour Championship, an afterthought for the Presidents Cup. He hooked up with Butch Harmon during the offseason, shelved the Crayola outfits and cut his hair, and after a few lean months transformed into a player who recorded a top 5 in all four majors, who closed out the year with eight top 15s in nine starts and who will play in his second Ryder Cup next week. The only thing he needs now: more titles. 


 

 

This is one man’s list of the 25-and-under crop as it currently stands, not a projection of future success:

1. Rory McIlroy, age 25

2. Rickie Fowler, 25

3. Patrick Reed, 24

4. Jordan Spieth, 21

5. Hideki Matsuyama, 22

6. Victor Dubuisson, 24

7. Russell Henley, 25

8. Brooks Koepka, 23

9. Harris English, 25

10. Matteo Manassero, 21


 

 

Seems like forever ago that Spieth had a two-shot lead with 11 holes to play at the Masters. The 21-year-old told the AP’s Doug Ferguson last week that he cracked his driver head at The Players (where he had a share of the 54-hole lead) and hasn’t been able to find the right combination since. He lost some distance off the tee, and it’s a big reason why he has recorded but one top 10 in a full-field event since May. Obviously he’ll be fine once he gets his equipment squared away, but his oh-fer in 2014 serves as yet another reminder that there’s a wide gulf between every-week contender and prolific winner. 

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

Getty Images

Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

Getty Images

McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

Getty Images

Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''