Bask in the glow of the Big Whatever era

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2017, 3:55 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – Remember these headlines?

Golf’s Future in Capable Hands with Big 3 Taking Charge.

The Big 3 is Becoming the Big 4.

Golf’s Era of the Big 4 Has Officially Begun.

They all seem ridiculous now, one year later.

Last month, Brooks Koepka became the seventh consecutive first-time major winner, the second longest streak since the mid-1930s, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if that run continued here at The Open with Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas or any of the other 14 majorless players currently ranked inside the top 25 in the world.

Golf is stronger and deeper than ever before, and so Jordan Spieth made a smart observation Tuesday when he considered that ill-fated idea of a Big 4 in golf.

“I’m not sure who it would even be,” he said. “It would be difficult to put anybody in that role right now.”

Close observers of the game saw this coming, of course.

The original members of the so-called Big 3 – Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day – were always reluctant to discuss their emerging supergroup. Part of that hesitation was because top form is fleeting and there’s a distinct what-have-you-done-for-me-lately vibe in 24/7 sports media. But it’s mostly because there has always been an underlying sense that any of the game’s bright, young stars could elbow their way into the limelight, too; that this wasn’t some exclusive club.

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That McIlroy and Day haven’t played to their potential this year has opened the door for breakthroughs large and small. At the top of the world order is Dustin Johnson, who owns a massive lead in the rankings – 4.3 points, or the difference between the second and 28th-ranked players. But he readily admits that he hasn’t been the same since his freak back injury before the Masters. Coming off consecutive missed cuts, and with only 16 competitive rounds since March 26, not even the clear world No. 1 knows what kind of form he’ll bring into Royal Birkdale.

By almost any measure this is one of the most wide-open majors in recent memory. At 12-1, DJ might be the top draw with bookmakers, but locals can’t recall the last time there wasn’t a single-digit favorite.

Indeed, the sport has changed in myriad ways since Spieth, McIlroy and Day combined to win five of six majors in 2014-15.

“It shows the quality of golf that everybody plays at right now,” Sergio Garcia said.

Only DJ has gained more world-ranking points this year than Jon Rahm, who two weeks ago blitzed the field at the Irish Open. In terms of average points, Rahm would actually be ranked second in the world. Instead, he is No. 7, because of his minimum divisor of 40 tournaments (despite playing only 27 events).

“How does he not deserve to be in a conversation like that?” Spieth said of the former Big 4 talk. “I don’t think he would have been someone that you would put there if you were about to name four guys. It really could be anybody at this point.”

There is no clear answer to the dominance-vs.-parity debate, and which scenario is healthier for the sport. Nor does there need to be, for these types of things are cyclical. Golf can thrive with a dominant player, just as a crop of exciting, telegenic stars can propel the game to new heights.

One thing is certain: The Big 4 era is over. For now.

“It’s going to be a very exciting time going forward with guys that are going to be playing and battling against each other, a group of 10 to 12 guys over the next 15 or 20 years," Spieth said. "It’s different than one person being the guy to beat. It’s exciting for us as players.”

Even if it doesn’t make for catchy headlines.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry