Bridgestone crammed between majors, playoffs

By Will GrayJuly 30, 2013, 10:07 pm

AKRON, Ohio – When the World Golf Championships were devised in the late 1990s, the thought was clear: create a new tier of events with a global focus, a series of tournaments that would sit below the four majors in perception but above the weekly grind of the PGA Tour.

The three (and, ultimately, four) events did just that – with elite venues hosting no-cut events that offered both guaranteed money and world ranking points, the best players in the world gathered with predictable regularity. The advent of the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2007, though, added a new wrinkle to the PGA Tour schedule that suddenly placed this week’s event in the crosshairs of the busiest stretch of golf each calendar season.

While the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and the WGC-Cadillac Championship are both safely isolated in the early season run-up to the Masters, and the WGC-HSBC Champions serves as a rare high-profile event during the month of November, this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational does not harbor such security on the calendar. Contested within a short gap between the season’s final two majors, the event now also occurs with the season-ending playoffs looming just weeks away.

“This stretch is maybe a little more difficult,” explained Jim Furyk, who was runner-up at Firestone a year ago. “We do cram stuff in here a little bit.”

Furyk will be doing more cramming than most across this month, as he is one of several notable players whose relationship with last week’s title sponsor, RBC, led to an appearance at Glen Abbey immediately after the conclusion of play at Muirfield.

“Knowing that I’m going to have the British Open, the Canadian Open, Bridgestone and the PGA, it’s a tough run,” Furyk noted of his four-week stretch that will conclude next week at Oak Hill. “But it’s better than the alternative. This schedule is a lot better than what we had before the FedEx Cup.”

An even stronger example of scheduling gone awry can be seen with last week’s winner in Canada, Brandt Snedeker, who partners with both RBC and Wyndham. Should he advance to East Lake to defend his season-long FedEx Cup title, Snedeker will likely face a gauntlet of nine consecutive events, from the British Open to the Tour Championship, with just a single bye week in between the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship in September. In a sign that the schedule perhaps is becoming overly burdensome, last week 20-year-old Jordan Spieth withdrew from this week’s WGC event, forfeiting a guaranteed payday to instead rest in preparation for the upcoming stretch he now faces.

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For many players, though, the condensed schedule can be seen as a positive. A tie for fifth at this event last year helped to springboard Rory McIlroy to a torrid end-of-season stretch, highlighted by his PGA Championship title and a pair of FedEx Cup playoff victories.

“I love this tournament, I think it’s great preparation for the week before the PGA,” explained McIlroy, who is planning to play in six PGA Tour events across the next eight weeks, though at 58th in FedEx Cup points his spot at East Lake is far from a certainty. By comparison, he didn’t make his sixth PGA Tour start this season until the Masters.

“I think the practice facilities are great; you get four good rounds in, four competitive rounds,” he continued. “Obviously, people are looking towards next week, but it’s a huge tournament in its own right. It’s a WGC, and I’ve always really enjoyed it here.”

Still, with players able to meticulously plan their schedules leading up to each of the first three majors, the placement of such a high-profile event immediately before the season’s final major can have unintended consequences.

“It’s a little bit tough for me,” explained 2011 PGA Championship runner-up Jason Dufner. “I’ve had a routine where I go the week before, practice and prepare for these majors just because the courses rotate so much, so you’re trying to get as much knowledge and experience on the golf course.”

Now adjusting to life as a major champion, Justin Rose, like Dufner, admits to making some changes during arguably the busiest stretch of golf each year.

“I think scheduling-wise, it forces you to treat the major like a regular Tour event,” Rose said of the pairing of this week’s WGC event and next week’s PGA Championship on the schedule. “It’s very difficult to prepare differently just because of how quickly the majors come around this time of year … Because it’s so busy, you end up falling into a very sort of normal PGA Tour routine.”

With the heart of the PGA Tour schedule unlikely to change anytime soon, players are faced with the notion of simply adjusting to a period of several high-profile events in succession. As for Dufner, a player with ties to Northeast Ohio, any changes his PGA Championship preparation must endure are a welcome trade-off for an event he circles each year on the calendar, despite the scheduling factors involved.

“You just can’t pass this event, it’s a great event,” he added. “Either way you’re going to be playing golf, whether you’re practicing or getting ready for the major, or like this week playing the course.”

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – 

Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

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Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.

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Mickelson 'displeased' with iron play; 10 back

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:18 am

All of Phil Mickelson’s offseason work on his driver has paid off through two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

His iron play? Not as sharp, and it’s the reason why he heads into the weekend 10 shots off the lead.

“I’ve been pretty pleased, overall, with the way I’ve been driving the ball, and very displeased with the way my iron game has been,” said Mickelson, who shot 68 Friday on PGA West’s Nicklaus course. He has hit only 21 of 36 greens so far this week. “Usually my iron play is a lot better than what it’s been. So I’ll go work on it and hopefully improve each round in this tournament and build a solid foundation for the upcoming West Coast events.

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“I feel like if I continue to drive the ball the way I am, and if I got my iron play back to my normal standard, I should have the results that I’ve been expecting.”

Mickelson, of course, is always bullish this time of year, but he has been able to find 10 of 14 fairways each of the past two rounds, including at narrower La Quinta Country Club, which doesn’t always fit his eye.

“This is actually the best I’ve driven it in a lot of years,” he said.

Currently in a tie for 67th, Mickelson will need a solid round on the more difficult Stadium course Saturday to ensure that he makes the 54-hole cut. He hasn’t missed a cut in his first West Coast event of the new year since 2009.