Newsmaker of the Year: No. 7, Sunday at Troon

By Ryan LavnerDecember 9, 2016, 2:30 pm

(Editor's note: is counting down the top 10 newsmakers of 2016. Take a look at why each item made our list, along with a collection of their top stories from the year. Click here for the full list and release dates.)

For nearly four decades, “The Duel in the Sun” endured as golf’s greatest head-to-head major battle.

Now, it has competition.

Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus starred in the 1977 Open Championship at Turnberry. Watson birdied four of his last six holes to shoot 130 on the weekend (65-65). Nicklaus was one shot higher. The rest of the field was 10 shots behind. As legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins wrote that day: “Better than any golf – ever.”

But now even the protagonists that day admit that it is no longer true. A proper moniker surely will emerge in time – The Tussle at Troon! – but Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson put on a performance for the ages at The Open.

Mickelson had captivated fans long before the Sunday shootout at Royal Troon. In the opening round, the 46-year-old, rejuvenated after three years of mediocre results, made a spirited run at the single-round scoring record at a major. On the final green, his 18-footer tracked toward the hole but somehow caught the lip and spun out. The heartbreaking miss sent his longtime caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, tumbling to the ground.

Stenson was five shots worse that day, but he cut into the deficit with a Friday 65. Another 68 on Saturday gave him the outright lead, at 12 under par, one clear of Mickelson. It was already a two-man race; Bill Haas was a distant third, six shots behind.

Oddly enough, the most memorable final round in decades began with a bogey, as Stenson three-putted from the front edge. Mickelson brushed in a short birdie, and just like that, a two-shot swing.

Over the next four hours, they would combine for a dizzying 13 birdies, an eagle and a single bogey. They were tied with five holes to go, until Stenson, known more for clinical ball-striking than sublime putting, rolled in an 18-footer and a 50-footer on consecutive holes.

Mickelson’s last chance came on 16, when his eagle putt narrowly missed. Putting an exclamation point on his day, and his week, Stenson drained a 20-footer on 18 that gave him a 63, a three-shot victory and a 20-under 264 total, the lowest 72-hole score in major history.

The next closest competitor was J.B. Holmes, who was 11 shots back of Mickelson.

“Those guys are playing a different golf course than everyone else,” Holmes said afterward.

It was a deeply satisfying victory for Stenson, who twice has climbed out of the professional abyss to reach the top 5 in the world rankings. But for Mickelson, it was another crushing blow in a career full of them. It was his 11th runner-up in a major, but this one stung, perhaps more than any other, after he played near-flawless golf and still lost.

Even before the trophy presentation, there was a rush to place the epic final round in the proper historical context, to compare it to the legendary “Duel in the Sun.”

As usual, Nicklaus had the final word.

“Our final round was really good,” he said, “but theirs was even better. What a great match today.” 

July 16: Open coming down to Mickelson, Stenson

July 17: Duel for the ages: Stenson (63) beats Mickelson (65)

July 17: Stenson's epic Open win filled with emotion

July 17: Stenson claims maiden major

Iceman Stenson heats up in Open win

Video: Stenson believed 'it was my time'

July 17: Mickelson short of major glory again

Phil loses without doing anything wrong

Video: Phil 'threw as much at him as I could'

July 17: Chamblee: Henrik v. Phil was like 'Godfather II'

July 17: Duel debate: Jack vs. Tom or Phil vs. Henrik?

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”