'Good Sergio' emerges for adventurous 65 at Honda

By Will GrayFebruary 26, 2016, 12:56 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Once Sergio Garcia tapped in to complete his opening round at the Honda Classic, his stat line looked a little something like this: four birdies, one bogey, one holed approach shot, one gallery member struck, a share of the lead and a close encounter with an alligator.

In other words, another vintage performance from a player who has spent nearly two decades toeing the line between brilliant and baffling.

Garcia tamed blustery conditions on the Champion Course, relying on sound approaches and clutch putting to card a 5-under 65. The Spaniard shares the lead with Michael Thompson, an early pole position as he looks to win on the PGA Tour for just the second time since 2008.

It’s sometimes hard to believe that Garcia – El Nino, for goodness sake – is now 36 years old.

That he is nearly eight years removed from the biggest win of his career, and almost four years have passed since he last won on the PGA Tour.

But performances like Thursday’s opener rekindle memories of the swashbuckling teenager at Medinah, or the fiery assassin at so many Ryder Cups past.

It was, in essence, Good Sergio. But it was also a puzzling performance given what preceded it.

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Garcia made his first Tour start of the year last week at the Northern Trust Open, an event he nearly won a year ago. Anticipating further success on a course where he has previously thrived, he instead missed the cut.

“I didn’t come in with a lot of confidence,” Garcia said. “You are wondering a little bit, because usually my long game, it’s up there, and even when I’m not playing great I can still manage to get around it. But last week, I felt out of sorts. I felt like I didn’t feel comfortable with the swing.”

The remedy for Garcia – the key to sparking a return to Good Sergio – was simply to walk away.

“I took it quite easy,” he said. “I didn’t really touch any clubs for four days.”

Therein lies perhaps the most maddening aspect of Garcia’s game. That innate skill, the world-class game that has previously taken him to such lofty heights, seems at times to be lying just below the surface. While the combination to unlock it often proves elusive, he had little trouble finding it Thursday.

Even on a good day, though, Garcia’s game displayed a few raggedy edges. He nearly put his approach to No. 14 into the water, and he caught a spectator in the leg with his drive on No. 10, a ricochet that required him to hit a rope-hook fairway wood around a tree for his approach.

Garcia’s worst shot of the day came on No. 6, a tugged drive that found the hazard lining the fairway. Eschewing an option for a lateral drop, Garcia rolled up his pant legs and waded into water up to his shins to hit his shot, all the while checking behind him for what was laying on the opposite bank.

“I was more worried about the alligator that was on the other side of the island than getting out of the water,” Garcia said.

He successfully staved off any wildlife encounter, splashed the ball back into the fairway and saved an eventful bogey that proved to be his lone dropped shot of the day.

Garcia’s round also featured an ample amount of highlights, none better than his hole-out from 142 yards for eagle on No. 2. Playing alongside Garcia, Rickie Fowler had a hole-out of his own on No. 10 and nearly kept pace with Garcia after shooting a 66.

“I guess we have the same outlook out there hitting shots,” Fowler said. “Especially in these conditions when it’s windy, I feel like we kind of navigate our way around the course the same way.”

While it was once Fowler chasing Garcia in the world rankings, the script has been flipped in recent months. Fowler entered this week ranked No. 5 in the world, one of the fresh-faced players taking over the game one victory at a time.

Garcia started the week at No. 19, relegated to the role of a grizzled veteran chasing down players several years his junior. With age, though, comes perspective as he takes stock of the game’s current youth-friendly landscape.

“It’s always nice when you’re young and you know the scar tissue is not too thick. You play and you love it, and you don’t really care too much about everything that’s going on around,” he said. “As you get older, I think you see more things and you start worrying and trying to help in other ways than just playing golf.”

Sage words from a man who knows a thing or two about battling scar tissue, a man who remains one of the more entertaining dichotomies in golf.

While three more stern tests await this week, chalk one up for Good Sergio.

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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