Mickelson, McIlroy off to promising start in 2014

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2014, 3:10 pm

As far as season openers go, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy gave fans plenty of reasons for optimism in Abu Dhabi.

Sure, a case could be made that they both left the desert lamenting their mental mistakes – Phil the double-hit in the final round that led to a triple bogey, Rory the two-shot penalty Saturday for taking an improper drop. But even though they finished a shot behind surprise winner Pablo Larrazabal, the biggest takeaway from Abu Dhabi was the play of two of golf’s biggest stars. Considering their 2014 objectives, it was an auspicious start.

Of course, Mickelson enters every year bubbling with enthusiasm, effusing about his new equipment, believing that, yes, this will be his best year yet. And who knows? At age 44, with the prospect of the career grand slam looming, it just might.

But even more encouraging than Lefty’s runner-up finish or his new driver was the fact that he traveled nearly 8,500 miles, showed relatively little rust and gave himself a chance to win in the first start of arguably his most important year ever.

Supposedly, his 2014 season begins and ends at Pinehurst, where all of his U.S. Open heartache began 15 years ago. The thinking goes that it would then leave his other starts to serve as measuring sticks for his game, with one very green-jacketed exception.

If that’s true, if Mickelson’s first few months are just one big preview for the U.S. Open, it sure didn’t seem like it in Abu Dhabi. 

He could have collected the fat appearance check, mailed it in for 72 holes, and headed back to San Diego for next week’s domestic debut at home. Instead, he showed his trademark resiliency, erasing a no-birdie opener to shoot 63 on Day 3, rebounding from a double-hit on 13 to post three birdies in his last five holes, showing more than enough over four days to make you believe that he’ll soon pick up a victory on the West Coast swing.

“We’re all along for the ride,” a laughing Mickelson told The National. “We’re up, we’re down. We see where it goes.”

Over the past year McIlroy’s ride has been even bumpier, which made his week even more promising. Indeed, his T-2 stands in stark contrast to a year ago, when he arrived with much fanfare, looked utterly lost with his new sticks and missed the cut in a fitting opener for the lost year.

These days, Rory is smiling again. (Well, except when he’s penalized.) The saunter has returned, as has the confidence and aggressiveness on the course.  

Of course, he may have been too easygoing, which led to a crippling penalty for an improper drop on Saturday. He groused about the “stupid rules” in golf, but really he can chalk this up to a brain-dead moment. It was an obvious violation that could have been avoided.

Even after a final-round 68 he still seemed miffed by the penalty.

“I can’t describe how frustrating it is, and I feel like I’m standing here and I should be 15 under par for the tournament and winning by one. But that’s the way it goes,” he said. “I played the least shots of anyone this week. I can count it as a moral victory more than anything else.”

Now, perhaps, he has a little extra fire, but at least he doesn’t feel as though he squandered his last opportunity for a while. Dating to last October, the world No. 7 has finished 11th or better in seven of his last eight starts, including his drought-busting victory at the Australian Open.

“I feel good about my game,” he said. “I feel like I’m back to the place that I want to be.”

Rest assured, he’s not the only one who left Abu Dhabi feeling that way.

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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.