Several candidates for midseason story of year

By Ryan LavnerApril 23, 2014, 9:27 pm

AVONDALE, La. – We’ve already motored past the midway point of the PGA Tour season – this is No. 24 in the 41-event slate – and no one is really quite sure what to make of it.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s midway,” Rickie Fowler said Wednesday at the Zurich Classic. “It feels like we’re just getting into it.”

Maybe so, but we’ve already experienced a year’s worth of oddities in this 2013-14 wraparound season:

• The FedEx Cup leader is a player who went eight years on Tour without a victory, then rattled off three wins in four months.

• There have been as many top-10 winners (two) as those outside the top 125.

• Players who trailed entering the final round have enjoyed more success than those who led (10 of 22).

• Only two countries have been represented in the winner’s circle: the U.S. and Australia.

• The most discussed player at the Masters was a guy who wasn’t even there.

• Matt Kuchar has earned more money in the past four weeks ($2.35 million) than Arnold Palmer did during his entire playing career.

At this juncture, drawing conclusions is as difficult – and as foolish – as trying to pick a winner.

Maybe this is just one of those wacky, unpredictable years.

It’s possible, too, that the newfound parity is the result of the wraparound schedule, with the Tour’s middle class duking it out, for real, in the fall. Superstars Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia have combined to make only 16 starts this season. To Fowler’s point, some players really are just getting into it.

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So far we’ve seen winners of all kinds – young and old, in-form and slumping, blowouts and white-knucklers. It’s the Tour’s new normal.

“With Tiger being hurt and not winning every other tournament, and Phil hasn’t played as well as he would like, it’s giving opportunities to the other guys to win,” Brendan Steele said. “That’s the difference between the top players and the next level. It’s so small that if they’re not on top of their game, you’re going to have new guys come in and win events.”

Said Patrick Reed, the 23-year-old who has won three times since August: “Whoever is playing the best that week has a chance of winning. It just seems like it brings everyone into play.”

Well, maybe not everyone. The usual suspects – Tiger, Phil, Rory and Adam – all have been shut out so far in 2014. An odd year, indeed.

Because we’re already halfway through the season, we asked a few players Wednesday for their Midseason Story of the Year.

For dimpleheads, there were plenty of reasonable options: Jimmy Walker winning three times, leading the FedEx Cup race and becoming a virtual lock for his first Ryder Cup team; Jordan Spieth backing up his incredible rookie season with a strong sophomore campaign; Bubba Watson slipping on a second green jacket.

Billy Horschel, though, as is his wont, offered a different answer.

“I know that we’ve had a lot of young guys win, so that’s a cool thing, but I just am always shocked when someone is injured because we do such a great job of taking care of our bodies,” he said.

“Some of these guys that are injured, they drive our sport, and we need them back out here soon because as much as we have the young guys and all these up-and-coming golfers playing so well, there’s a couple certain guys that we need to play well to help drive it a little bit more.”

Horschel needn’t identify the players by name. Woods is on the shelf indefinitely because of back surgery. Mickelson has had more injuries (two) than top 10s (zero). Reigning U.S. Open champion Justin Rose has battled shoulder tendinitis. Day, the world No. 5, won the Match Play and has made only one start since because of an achy thumb.

“Injuries,” Steele agreed, when asked his Midseason Story of the Year. “Sad as that is, because there’s been a lot of great golf and great stories, but that’s really the biggest thing. It’s too bad it can’t be a story that’s on the course.”

Of course, there’s still plenty of time – 17 events – for that storyline to change. This wild and unpredictable season will take shape, eventually.

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.