McDowell returns to form on Day 1 at Firestone

By Will GrayAugust 6, 2015, 11:30 pm

AKRON, Ohio – This is a man with which we are familiar.

This is Graeme McDowell, carving his golf ball at will and walking with purpose after it. Steely-eyed and focused on the course, but quickly cracking a smile once the final putt is holed.

This is a man we once knew well, but one who hasn’t been around for quite some time. Well, he finally resurfaced during the opening round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

McDowell once again made a difficult game seem easy Thursday at Firestone Country Club, shooting a 4-under 66 to share second place, one shot behind Danny Lee. The score matched his lowest of the season on the PGA Tour and marked a rare bright spot in what has been a disappointing year for the former U.S. Open champion.

McDowell has slipped to No. 60 in the world rankings, and his best result of the season – a T-3 finish at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in November – also serves as his only top-25 finish in the last year. At No. 159 in the FedEx Cup points race, he is sandwiched between Mark Hubbard and Chez Reavie in the standings and would not currently qualify for the playoffs.

And while Firestone is not the type of track where one typically finds his game, McDowell did just that in an opening round where he needed only 22 putts.

“I like this version of me today,” McDowell said. “It’s been a rough year, no doubt about it. Definitely been some time for reflection and some questions being asked of myself. But I think we all experience these things in everything we do. It’s how you come out the other side, really.”

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The Ulsterman had missed three of his last four cuts entering this week, and said he has been facing “technical issues” all year. Difficulty flighting the ball, trouble finding the fairway and holing putts. But ultimately, he determined that his biggest struggle has been between the ears.

“Everything’s just added up in the sort of gnawing away at that confidence and belief, and we all know that this game is about confidence and belief,” he said. “You look at a run of play like Jordan (Spieth)’s got himself on, momentum and belief is everything in this game. I’ve had none of the above this year, so it’s been hard.”

While McDowell has had plenty of time to pinpoint the swing glitches that have led to his slide from the leaderboard, he is also both thoughtful and contemplative. So as rough weeks stretched into poor months and began to define his season, he started to ask himself some difficult questions.

“I think probably the hardest question was, ‘Do I still kind of want to grind and be out here? Do I still want this?’” he said. “I mean, yes. It was an easy answer, yeah, I do want it. If this all went away, I’d miss it very badly. So when you answer that question positively, then you’ve got to start kind of answering all the other questions.”

McDowell is certainly not the first or last player to fall into a downward spiral. Former Ryder Cup teammate Lee Westwood famously dropped outside the top 200 in the world before returning to form and reaching No. 1, and he empathized with McDowell’s recent plight.

“Golf’s like that, you know. Sometimes you’ve got it, and other times you haven’t. It goes in fits and starts,” Westwood said. “Graeme’s game is a bit like that. When he finds the key, he’s red-hot and world-class. And then other times, obviously he struggles like the rest of us.”

There was no struggle for McDowell during the opening round, where he birdied four of his first seven holes and never looked back. While this is not a course where he has had much past success, he did finish T-8 a year ago – “I kind of cracked this nut last year for the first time,” he said – and hopes to build upon the momentum of his opener.

McDowell has come a long way from the man who lifted the U.S. Open trophy at Pebble Beach five summers ago. Having just turned 36, he is married with a daughter, Vale, who will turn 1 later this month.

His perspective has shifted, but he hopes to soon align those newfound priorities with some on-course success.

“I want to be back to the business end of things, where it gives you the happy feelings,” he said. “When I have my little kid run out onto the 72nd green, that’s what I want. That’s what the new me wants.”

While one round a transformation does not make, for at least one afternoon the new McDowell bore a pretty strong resemblance to the guy we used to know.

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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