Fellow Tour pros excited for return of Woods 'circus'

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 7, 2016, 7:25 pm

CARMEL, Ind. – After Rory McIlroy finished his pro-am round at Crooked Stick, he rummaged through his golf bag and saw a notification on his cellphone from the PGA Tour.

Tiger Woods is hopeful to return at the Safeway Open.

“I’m sort of glad I’m not there that week,” McIlroy said with a smile. “It’s going to be a bit of a circus.”

Yes, it always is with Woods, who showed yet again Wednesday that he is the only player on Tour capable of hijacking a tournament – even when he’s not in the field.  

Most players who finished their day’s work at the BMW Championship were greeted behind the final green by their manager, who gleefully shared the news of the day – that Woods hopes to play as many as three events before the end of the year, beginning with the season opener next month in Napa, Calif.

Justin Thomas apparently didn’t get the memo until he was informed by a reporter, but he was no less enthused.

“Really?!” he said. “Wow, that’s awesome. I’m so pumped.”

It has been more than a year since Woods played a competitive round. Since last August, Jason Day has risen to No. 1 in the world, first-timers captured all four majors and Nike exited the golf-equipment business. These days, the only guy who wins in a red shirt and black slacks is Patrick Reed.

“At a time when your Nikes of the world and your TaylorMades and the world of golf is in decline, and you get Tiger Woods coming back,” Graeme McDowell said, “it can only say positive things about the sport. It’s great.”

Especially for the Tour. Woods helped spawn the most lucrative era in professional golf history; the winner this week will receive $1.53 million, with the potential for an $11.44 million haul next week in Atlanta. But more than the influx of cash, Woods transformed golf’s image from a stodgy game played by the elite into a physical pursuit for athletes. The proof each week is on the range, which is now overflowing with muscle-bound 20-somethings who could have thrived as a safety or small forward.

Fans continue to flock to Woods’ group, even if he is playing poorly, just to catch a glimpse. Last year’s Wyndham set attendance records on the weekend; it helped, of course, that Woods began the final round two shots off the lead before settling for a tie for 10th, his best result in a miserable season.  

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“He brings an aura and an atmosphere that no one else in golf can bring,” McIlroy said.

Added McDowell: “No disrespect to Rory, Jordan (Spieth), Jason (Day) or Dustin (Johnson), because I think we’ve got an unbelievable crop of young talent that are incredible role models for the sport and give the game a real appeal, but no one moves the needle like Tiger Woods. He’s the only one who transcended the sport.”

McDowell is a major champion who holed the clinching putt at a Ryder Cup, but he said one of the highlights of his career was when he stared down Woods at Sherwood in 2010. Keep in mind that the World Challenge is an 18-man exhibition in December, when players are mostly interested in collecting cheap world-ranking points and cash for the holidays.

“I’ve always found him great to play with – it brings weekend focus right away,” McDowell said. “The show that goes with him is incredible.”

Among the players, at least, expectations for Woods’ return remain low. (The same likely can’t be said for the sports public at large.) He hasn’t struck a meaningful shot in more than a year. It’s reasonable to assume that Woods wouldn’t come back if he was at risk of embarrassing himself, but it’ll take time – days, weeks, months – to hone his scoring skills once again.

“The game is so tight with how competitive it is and how hard it is to win,” Day said. “I don’t think winning is going to come as easily as it was for him back in the past. But I think if he’s willing to do the work, and he’s willing to climb that mountain again and get back to where he was, then the possibilities are endless for him.”

At least one thing is certain: When Woods returns next month, the rest of the Tour will be watching.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.