Tour journeymen shine in the rain at Zurich

By Ryan LavnerApril 28, 2016, 8:03 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Every PGA Tour player is looking for a spark.

It’s why some change putters.

And why others change perspective.

And why a few even change caddies.

That’s the common thread among a few of the early contenders here at the weather-delayed Zurich Classic. Brian Stuard, Derek Ernst and J.J. Henry haven’t played well this season, but they all made a slight tweak entering this week, hoping it would change their fortunes.

And they all shot 67 or better Thursday.

Start with Stuard, who leads after a bogey-free 64 at TPC Louisiana. With only conditional status on Tour, he’s played just six events this calendar year. It hasn’t gone well – he had five consecutive missed cuts before a tie for 55th last week in San Antonio.

But Tuesday of Texas Open week, he grabbed a different Odyssey putter next to the practice green, stroked a few putts and put it in his bag. In the opening round here, he took a career-best 21 putts and holed 176 feet worth of putts, with six makes over 10 feet.

When asked how his putter heated up, Stuard shrugged.

“I wish I knew,” he said.

After finishing last season at No. 128 in FedEx Cup points, Stuard’s schedule has been unpredictable. That he’s played poorly when he actually did get a chance has only hurt his priority ranking.

“It’s definitely tough, not sure what your schedule is going to be even next week,” he said. “But you’ve just got to deal with it.”

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Ernst hasn’t been getting many reps, either – the Zurich is just his sixth start this season, after graduating from the Tour Finals last fall.

Next week is the three-year anniversary of his victory at Quail Hollow, which remains one of the most surprising wins in recent memory. Then a 22-year-old rookie, Ernst was the fourth alternate that week who prevailed in a playoff.

Since then, he has recorded only four top-25s with 46 missed cuts.

“I’ve learned,” said Ernst, who opened with 67. “It’s not frustrating if you’re learning. I’ve got a free ride. I won a golf tournament. Instead of being in mini-tour stuff, I’m on the PGA Tour. I haven’t played any other Tour than the PGA Tour. I’ve gotten a free ticket to learn from all the best guys in the world.”

That includes time management and how to “be smart about everything.” Soon, the 25-year-old can pick his peers’ brains about being a father, as his wife is expecting the couple’s first child, a girl, in July.

“It puts golf in perspective,” he said, “where golf isn’t really anything at all. Who cares about golf? My wife and my new baby are going to be the most important thing to me.”

Henry, in his 16th season on Tour, has been through that phase and knows all about weathering the inevitable peaks and valleys of a pro career.

Since winning the opposite-field Barracuda Championship last August, he has gone 16 events without a top-30. For Henry, 41, his spark perhaps came from bringing in longtime friend and coach Justin Poynter as his caddie this week.

“It’s nice to have another set of eyes on you as opposed to just talking to him about what’s going on,” Henry said. “He can actually see it.”

And it all looked good Thursday, with Henry matching his best round of the season (67).

Though he’s still cashing a check most weeks, he hasn’t finished better than 63rd in his last seven appearances.

“It can wear on you,” he said. “You feel like you’re doing something right, but for whatever reason it doesn’t go as planned on the weekend. And I always say, it’s not how you start, but it’s how you finish out here. Every week a guy scrapes along, barely makes the cut, gets hot on the weekend and posts a top-five or a top-10. I just haven’t been able to do that.”

Which is why, for this trio at least, the excitement of seeing an improved score is tempered by the reality that this form could be fleeting; that on Friday, or this weekend, they could revert to their season-long norm. This season, after all, they have accounted for zero top-40 finishes in 20 combined starts.

“I know what to expect with all of the time I’ve been out here,” Henry said, “and it’s just that one round or that one week to get the momentum and you ride it for a long time.”

That’s the hope, anyway.

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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.