In this week's Rosaforte Report: Dustin Johnson's mini-vacation is about to end with his favorite part of the schedule coming up, Gary Woodland's gets a victory in Phoenix thanks to his "team" of coaches, Rickie Fowler blows another 54-hole lead and Hale Irwin is making a start on the PGA Tour Champions this week at 72 years old.
Unless you’ve been skiing in Aspen, or following Dustin Johnson and his fiancée Paulina Gretzky on social media, you’re probably wondering what the world’s No. 1 golfer has been doing for the past two weeks, since playing in Abu Dhabi.
The answer is - DJ has been getting ready, hoping to peak for his favorite part of the PGA Tour schedule. Over his next four starts, Johnson will be defending titles three times (Genesis Open, WGC-Mexico and WGC-Match Play) and playing a spot (Pebble Beach Golf Links) in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-am where he has won twice, and where he gets to play with father-in-law Wayne Gretzky and Jordan Spieth.
The only tournament DJ will miss over the next month is technically a hometown event, the Honda Classic, but manager David Winkle knows better by now to intercede on Johnson’s favorite part of the schedule, especially the stop at Riviera for the Genesis, where he became No. 1 last year.
The Baller in Gary Woodland
As a high school and college basketball player, Gary Woodland is the type of golfer that is comfortable being coached in a team environment. His head coach is Butch Harmon. His assistant coaches are Pete Cowen (short game) and Brad Faxon (putting). That’s like having Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari and Tom Izzo on your bench.
All of the elements for Team Woodland were at work in his playoff victory over Chez Reavie at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He was second in ball-striking, which is Harmon’s department, and 16th in strokes gained-putting after listening to Faxon’s advice last winter at Old Palm. For the week, he made almost 359 feet of putts.
Under pressure, Woodland was also adept at the short-game advice passed along by Cowen, who first worked with Woodland at the QBE Shootout in December. He chipped in for par at No. 6 and Cowen noted the delicate chip he made on No. 17, facing the water on a green that ran away from him, to set up his third straight birdie.
Cowen compared it to the work he did with Brooks Koepka - who works with Butch’s son, Claude III - that led to his victory in the 2017 U.S. Open. “Sometimes, two heads are better than one,” Cowen said.
In the case of Woodland, it was actually three heads.
Another close call for Fowler
At his home in Las Vegas, Butch Harmon watched the final round of the Waste Management Open with a vested interest in both Woodland and 54-hole leader Rickie Fowler.
“It’s an interesting day having two of your players on top of the leaderboard for most of the day,” Harmon said on Monday. “It’s what you want of your players.”
As was the case, Harmon came away with mixed emotions. While Woodland had the most important closing round of his career (64), Fowler experienced one of his most disappointing with a final-round 73 that left him 1-for-6 with a 54-hole lead and some mixed feelings about the spectators at TPC Scottsdale.
“Rickie didn’t have his best day on Sunday,” Harmon said of the 73 Fowler posted to finish T-11. “He talked about the putts not dropping, which his true. But the fact he missed fairways (at Nos. 15 and 17) is uncharacteristic, especially to the left. He got back into some of his old traits that we’ll have to clean up. It’s frustrating to go through that.”
The frustration showed on Thursday when Fowler said he was disappointed in some of the comments made at the 16th hole, but come Sunday there were no hard feelings. Just as there wasn’t after a tough loss to Hidecki Matsuyama in 2016.
“For sure I love this place,” Fowler said in his closing thoughts. “The course and I, most of the time we get along well.” He exited by saying he would “keep pushing.”
The Original Bernhard Langer
At 72 years young, Hale Irwin will be competing in this week’s first full-field tournament on the 2018 PGA Tour Champions schedule, the Boca Raton Championship. His last of a record 45 senior tour victories came 11 years ago, when he was the same age (61) as Bernhard Langer will turn in August. Coming off a seven-victory season that moved him up to 36 victories, Langer very much has the Irwin record in sight, and Irwin knows it.
“I’m very proud of it, and not necessarily with (Langer) getting closer to it,” Irwin said of the record. “I played as good as I could, had some great years, but my goal was not to win 45 (times).”
Irwin acknowledges that he started cutting back at this point in Langer’s career to spend time with his family and grandchildren. That’s when his focus started to wane and his body - specifically a hamstring in his late-60s -started to break down. That was his curtain call.
Noting that he has a long way to go, Irwin added that Langer “is about as focused as you can get,” but there will come a time - based on his professional experience - when Langer loses the focus. “Whenever it is,” Irwin said, “I don’t know."