Day himself, not Spieth, biggest obstacle on Sunday

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2015, 2:50 am

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – There’s never been a better opportunity for Jason Day to shed the label of golf’s nearly man in the majors.

Yet to hear Day here at Whistling Straits, it’s clear that his biggest opponent Sunday isn’t the birdie-making phenom who seems hell-bent on capping an already historic season.

It is Day himself.

With a two-shot cushion over Jordan Spieth and his first solo 54-hole lead in a major, Day sounds as though he’s trying to talk himself into winning this PGA Championship, preaching “patience” and “discipline” and “focus.”

“It’s all the boring stuff, really, that you guys don’t want to hear,” he said, “but it’s really the honest truth that I’m trying to get out, because I can’t get in my own way.

“The moment I start seeing what Jordan is doing or what (Justin) Rose is doing or the guys behind me are doing, the moment I see I’ve made a mistake here, I should have done this, I get in my own way. And I can’t let that happen.”

If heartbreak is a prerequisite to major glory, consider Day fully qualified to break through.

Dustin Johnson often gets labeled as golf’s hard-luck loser, but no one has thrown himself into the fire more often than Day. This is the eighth time in his career that he’s been inside the top-5 in a major heading into the final round. All he has to show for it so far are learning experiences.

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Though Day has earned his first multiple-win season on Tour, this year has been defined by his close calls in the majors.

First came the U.S. Open, where he shared the third-round lead despite a scary bout with vertigo.

Then, last month at St. Andrews, he soared into the lead but made 12 consecutive pars coming home – including a birdie putt on the last that he left short – to finish one shot out of a playoff. It was his ninth top-10 in a major since 2010.

“I’ve done all the hard work, especially over the last four or five years, to get to the point where I actually believe in myself,” he said, “to know that I’m one of the best players in the world and can beat anyone on my day.”

Day, 27, possesses a rare combination of power, finesse and moxie, and he sure looked ready to assume a leading role Saturday at Whistling Straits, recording six consecutive 3s on his card to stake himself to a two-shot lead.

Even Spieth, playing a few groups ahead, stopped to take notice of Day’s torrid run.

“I saw Jason was at 16 under,” Spieth said, “and I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. When is he going to slow down?’”

Soon, it turned out.

Day’s rally came to an end on 15, when he pulled his approach into a greenside bunker and needed two shots to escape, leading to a double bogey. He appeared poised to immediately bounce back from that mistake, smoking an into-the-wind, 260-yard 3-wood on the par-5 16th, but his ball trickled over the back of the green and into a gnarly lie near the collar.

“Looked like someone stood on the bloody ball,” he said.

Day made par on the easy hole, but showed some grit by running in a 27-footer on 17 to regain a two-shot lead.

Now comes the hard part.

He is the sixth player in history to hold at least a share of the 54-hole lead in three consecutive majors.

The other five guys won at least one major in that span – even the most tormented Australian of them all, Greg Norman.

“I think the hardest thing for a player is when they’re trying to close, they kind of get in their own way, start thinking to themselves if they can do it, if they can’t do it, is the shot too hard, is the shot too easy,” Day said. “A number of things can happen, especially on the final round of a major championship. I’ve done all the hard work right now to get into contention, to have this lead. So tomorrow I just need to be patient with myself, and I need to make sure that I stay disciplined with my targets.”

Trouble is, Day might already be overthinking his position.

Only a few minutes after Spieth ambled into media tent and talked about relishing another chance to win a major, it was announced that Day was postponing his media obligations so that he could sneak in a range session before dark.

As Day striped long irons in the fading daylight, his caddie/swing coach, Colin Swatton, crouched behind him and recorded cellphone video of each swing.

Day had just shot 66, with eight birdies and an eagle. Seriously, what else was there to work on?

“I’m really excited just to get to it tomorrow,” he said.

Denying Spieth in the final group Sunday would be a huge boost for a player still looking to realize his awesome potential.

No player in the game is as comfortable in his own skin as Spieth, a player who is keenly aware of his strengths and weaknesses, of how his body reacts in the most critical moments. Day is still learning, sometimes painfully, what it takes to close out tournaments. Seven times in his career he has held a 54-hole lead. Only once has he gone on to win, back in 2010.

“Sometimes it takes a while before you finally see how you’re supposed to do it,” he said. “It would be very gratifying. It’s delayed gratification, rather than just instant gratification, which most of us tend to want. But it’s the work and the process that we’ve put into our game to really build us up to the points or possible wins.”

For golf’s nearly man, the possibility of a breakthrough has never been greater.

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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1