Woods faces greatest group of challengers in career

By Ryan LavnerDecember 8, 2014, 7:30 pm

WINDERMERE, Fla. – Jordan Spieth glanced to his right, at the gaudy trophy that features a plastic tiger with his right paw on a golf-ball globe, and reminisced about his unique and meteoric rise from college All-American to PGA Tour champion to Masters contender to top-10 player.

He discussed the sacrifice of his parents. The inspiration of watching his peers succeed. The satisfaction of a job well done. And the long journey still ahead.

“I can’t think of a better way to end the year,” said Spieth, who might as well have also been talking about the 2014 golf season.

Because after smashing tournament records at the Hero World Challenge, dusting a world-class field by double digits and authoring the perfect coda to this year, it was clear that Spieth had officially ushered in a new era.

For years the most-asked question in golf was who would pose the greatest challenge to Tiger Woods. It took nearly two decades, but it appears that we finally have our answer: dozens of extravagantly talented, ultra-motivated players who carry none of the baggage that stunted the careers of the past generation.

In this new environment there are no forced rivalries, no manufactured drama, no marketing creations. The headliners for 2015 need no extra hype, because their worldwide résumés speak for themselves:

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There is Rory McIlroy, the undisputed world No. 1, the 25-year-old global superstar who will head to Augusta aiming for both his third major in a row and the career Grand Slam.

There is Spieth, the telegenic, mature-beyond-his-years phenom who at 21 years, 4 months and 11 days has already earned three pro titles.

There are the other young stars (Rickie Fowler and Jason Day), and the elite talents who won’t fade (Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson), and the aging warriors desperate for one last shot (Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk). All of the aforementioned are currently ranked inside the top 12 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

And then, of course, there is Woods, who returned to golf last week following a four-month absence.

Showing off newfound flexibility, power and speed, Woods impressed spectators, media types and even some of his sharpest critics with his revamped long game. Hank Haney, who worked with Woods from 2004-10, wrote on Twitter that the new-look Tiger had made a “great” change by making his grip weaker and that he was swinging better than he had in five years, a not-so-subtle dig at his former coach Sean Foley.

Yes, Woods’ short game was unfathomably poor – he had nearly as many chunked chips (nine) as birdies (14) – but he was far from the only player to struggle around Isleworth’s notoriously difficult greens. It’d be more concerning if his short-game woes weren’t fixed by April.

While Woods may have boosted hopes with his new action, the game’s biggest draw still got whooped head-to-head by Patrick Reed in the second round (63-70) and ultimately finished a whopping 26 shots behind Spieth.

Not too long ago that scenario would have seemed impossible, but these are changing times; this year alone three under-25 players shot 63 while walking alongside Woods. Spieth accomplished the feat at Torrey Pines, Woods’ personal playground, and woofed afterward that he “wasn’t intimidated by any means.”

Nor should he have been, not after Woods has spent much of the past few years fighting his swing and rehabbing various injuries. In that void has emerged a crop of young, talented, fearless players who learned how to win on the biggest stages without the presence of a dominant No. 1 or the crippling weight of expectation.

“Young guys not being afraid to win, I think that was really, really big for me when I first turned professional and seeing that,” Spieth said. “These were guys that I played with in amateur golf and briefly in junior golf. I felt like I could compete with those guys. It gave me a lot of confidence when I first came out.”

Now that Woods has returned to full health, he faces not just a compelling battle against Father Time, but also a bevy of players who are bigger, longer, stronger, faster, feistier, smarter and, most of all, better than the previous generation.

To return to his winning ways in the majors, Woods must overcome both his own history – the six-year drought, the injuries, the career ambitions – and the likes of McIlroy and Spieth, of Fowler and Day, of Scott and Stenson.

What delicious fun 2015 could be.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry