Who will step up with no Tiger, Phil on Sunday?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 26, 2014, 1:39 am

SAN DIEGO – Well, if nothing else, the stage is clear.

Tiger Woods, world’s best player, hightailed it home after matching his second-worst score as a pro.

Phil Mickelson, hometown hero, is probably face down in a physiotherapy trailer somewhere.

So what remains here at Torrey Pines is a largely unproven leaderboard, with two very notable exceptions: the uber-talented Gary Woodland, who after two injury-plagued seasons seems poised to cash in on his considerable potential; and American wunderkind Jordan Spieth, vying to become the youngest two-time PGA Tour winner in more than 80 years.

Hey, what the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open lacks in star power, it makes up for in game-changing potential.

So now that the stage is clear, now that the event’s two headliners are no longer on the marquee, who will step forward?

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If Saturday was any indication, the big winner might be Torrey Pines’ South Course, which more closely resembles a U.S. Open venue than a regular Tour stop.

The municipal course checks in just shy of 7,700 yards.

The rough is long, patchy and thick, and it’s more brutal the closer you get to the fairway.

The greens are firm and fast, baking out quickly under a warm sun.  

Bogey-free rounds here are a rarity; in Round 3, in fact, there were none.

So it would seem that Woodland, 29 and a two-time winner, has an advantage – if only because, for now, he’s perched perilously atop the leaderboard.

“I played beautifully today,” said Woodland, who squandered a three-shot advantage late by three-putting each of the last two greens. He settled for a 70 and 8-under 208 total, one clear of Marc Leishman (72) and Spieth (75).  

In control off the tee, Woodland says he’s playing more aggressively than he has in the past, which is a tantalizing proposition from a player who last year ranked fourth in driving distance (nearly 304 yards per pop).

Said Pat Perez, who played with Woodland on Saturday: “With his length and short game, he’s going to be hard to beat tomorrow just because the spots he hits it in.”

So far this week Woodland has put himself in the fairway and leads the field in greens in regulation, hitting no fewer than 13 greens per day. “If I drive the ball in play,” he said, “I’m playing a little different golf course than most guys are playing.”

Spieth is no short-knocker himself, but his big stick put him in a few big predicaments Saturday at Torrey Pines.

Staked to his first outright lead on Tour through 36 holes, the 20-year-old denied being nervous on the first tee despite his relative inexperience in that position. Of course, his play told a different story: He snap-hooked his first tee ball miles left, then didn’t even hit the hole with his 2 1/2-foot par putt.

Yes, Spieth made more bogeys on Day 3 than he did during the first two rounds combined. But on a day for positioning, he did not shoot himself out of the tournament, which was no small feat considering where some of his shots came to rest. He hit just five fairways in all, but the good news, Spieth said, was that the issue was easily corrected.

“My clubface is a little shut at the top and a little upright,” he explained. “I know what my problem is; I just need to get to the range to fix it.”

Some players have criticized a largely unimaginative setup this week that has yielded few birdies and even fewer roars. But with 12 players within three shots of the lead, Sunday figures to be anything but dull.

If not Woodland or Spieth, then maybe Sunday will be Marc Leishman’s day. The International Presidents Cup member prefers big, tough venues, which helps explain why he posted a pair of top 15s in the majors last year.  

Or perhaps it’ll come down to Nicolas Colsaerts, nicknamed the “Belgian Bomber” for his titanium-denting length, who could reassert his dominance on the par 5s – he bogeyed three of the four on Saturday – and post a low number.

Or maybe the prize will go to Pat Perez, the San Diego native who has long considered this week as his fifth major. After all, he used to clean carts and drive the range picker here at Torrey Pines as a boy, and his father, Tony, is set to announce him on the first tee again Sunday.

Given his experience here, Perez was asked if there was any way to predict the final-round outcome. He wouldn’t budge.   

“If I could do that,” he said, “I wouldn’t have to play golf. I’d go play the lottery.”

Good point, but the one thing we know for sure: The winner won’t be Tiger or Phil. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.