Greenbrier headed for a free-for-all finish

By Will GrayJuly 4, 2015, 11:39 pm

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – Even after the final sparkler fizzles out on the lawns near the Old White TPC, there will be plenty of fireworks still to come at The Greenbrier Classic.

A Sunday shootout looms, with a packed leaderboard set to battle it out on a course synonymous with low scores and final-round theatrics.

Eight players are separated by a single shot through 54 holes, with another 23 names within four shots of the lead. Each will wake up with realistic thoughts of hoisting the trophy, from rookies seeking a breakthrough to veterans looking for validation.

Granted, the winner will not have to slay a murderer’s row of recent champions. Of the top eight players, only three have won on the PGA Tour. The most recent of those victories was Bryce Molder’s win at the 2011 Open.

Sean O’Hair had a victory that year too, the latest of his four career wins. He holds a tenuous grip on a share of the lead, alongside Molder, Jason Bohn and S. J. Park, with one round separating him from a victory that would complete his return to the top levels of the game.

O’Hair had just turned 29 when he captured the RBC Canadian Open, seemingly set to enter a golfer’s prime with equal parts accomplishment and potential. Instead he watched his game desert him, bottoming out with a two-year stretch in 2013-14 that cost him his card.

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Equipped once again with full-time status, the 32-year-old has flourished this season, with six top-25 finishes including a playoff loss to Jordan Spieth at the Valspar Championship.

“I feel like I’ve got my best golf ahead of me. I really do,” O’Hair said. “I just felt like the last couple years when I’ve struggled, I haven’t really owned my game. I’ve tried a lot of different things, a lot of different methods, and really just got back to me hitting a lot of balls and just going back to basics and kind of, like I said, just owning it.”

O’Hair’s four victories are one more than the combined total of his seven closest competitors, but he plans to draw inspiration from an unexpected source.

“I think your failures actually help you better than your successes,” O’Hair said. “Going into tomorrow, I know what I’m probably going to feel like when I wake up in the morning. I know what I’m going to feel like when I step up on the practice tee and on the first tee, so it’s not like I haven’t been in this situation before.”

At age 42, Bohn is one of the few players near the top with more seasoning than O’Hair. He likely didn’t expect to add to his dossier of high finishes after barely scraping past the 36-hole cut. But then again, a third-round 61 can change expectations considerably.

“I just wanted to sleep in, to be honest,” said Bohn, who will play alongside O’Hair in Sunday’s final pairing. “Now I don’t have to get up early in the morning.”

Bohn has two wins, most recently the 2010 Zurich Classic, while the final member of the foursome at the top is an unheralded rookie. But Park’s record of one top-25 finish in 20 starts this season doesn’t dampen his confidence entering what could be the biggest round of his career.

“I think I’m going to really have fun tomorrow,” said Park, who was a runner-up at the Humana Challenge in January. “I’ve had this situation before, been in this position, so it’s always going to be the same. It’s going to be another round for me.”

The Greenbrier has rewarded rookies in the past, notably Scott Stallings in 2011 and Ted Potter Jr. the following year, and Park isn’t the only freshman in the mix. Justin Thomas headlines the group of players at 10 under, just one shot off the pace, eyeing a title that would cement his status as one of golf’s latest can’t-miss prospects.

“I’ve been ready to win since I was playing as an amateur,” Thomas said. “I’ve just put myself in more positions now. Just whenever it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.”

Within these West Virginia mountains, it’s often better to come from behind than to try to protect an advantage. Stuart Appleby set that tone with a final-round 59 en route to victory in 2010, with similar late heroics from Stallings, Jonas Blixt and (nearly) George McNeill in the years since.

There will be plenty of final-round roars, and perhaps even more fluctuations to the leaderboard.

“I just feel like this field every week is just so strong, and it’s really anybody’s game any given Sunday,” said O’Hair. “It’s exciting.”

“It’s becoming more and more common out here, I think,” added Molder. “If nobody decides to run off and leave everyone, then you kind of get that bunched-up feeling.”

It should prove difficult to separate from the pack during the final trip around the Old White TPC, where nearly half the field remains in the mix. The only certainty seems to be that someone will emerge with enough final-round fireworks to earn what could be a watershed victory.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x