Players' opinions – and results – differ on major prep

By Will GrayApril 1, 2015, 8:21 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – To rest, or not to rest: that is the question.

The Golf Club of Houston offers players at the Shell Houston Open a sneak peek of what they will see next week at the Masters. The rough has been trimmed to a nice backyard length. The areas around the greens are mown closely, and the putting surfaces offer a glossy shine while running at 12 or higher on the Stimpmeter.

It’s a bona fide dress rehearsal, but then again, Augusta National is a test unto itself. In baseball, a rehab start in AAA only goes so far to prepare a batter before he has to step in and face Madison Bumgarner.

For 35 players, this week’s stop will serve as final preparations for the season’s first major. It’s a number that could reach 36 if this week’s winner is not otherwise exempt for the Masters, and one that was expected to be higher before 11th-hour withdrawals from Henrik Stenson (flu) and Jimmy Walker (illness).

With the field at Augusta National pushing the century mark, the vast majority of next week’s participants are getting in final prep work elsewhere. So is there merit to competing the week before one of the game’s biggest pressure-cookers, or is it better to remain outside the ropes?

It’s tough to say.

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“Some weeks you play terrible and then the next week you play amazing,” Sergio Garcia said. “Some weeks you play great and then the next week you play terrible, and some weeks you play great and then you play great.”

Garcia knows just how fickle this stretch can be. Last year he played well in Houston, taking the 36-hole lead before finishing third. He went on to miss the cut at Augusta by a shot.

“You never know what’s going to come out,” he reasoned.

Recent Masters results show an even divide in strategy. Of the 14 winners since 2001, seven have played in a tournament the week before, seven have practiced elsewhere. That includes three green jackets apiece for Tiger Woods, who has never played the week before the Masters, and Phil Mickelson, who makes it a point to play the week before majors.

Each of the last three Masters have been won by rested players, while each winner from 2008-11 had played the week prior.

A look at the recent near-misses, though, tips the scales in favor of those teeing it up this week in Houston. Louis Oosthuizen and Angel Cabrera both showed signs of progress at Shell before playoff losses at Augusta National in 2012 and 2013, respectively, while the two players who shared second last year followed the same schedule.

That includes Jordan Spieth, who bounced back from a missed cut in Houston to finish second in his maiden Masters trip. This week he headlines the field, fresh off a win last month in Tampa and a runner-up finish last week in San Antonio.

“Historically, I’ve played well the second, third week in a row on a stretch,” Spieth said. “I just seem to get some of the kinks out of the way early in the first couple weeks and not make as many mental errors.”

Last year 47 players teed it up in both events, with the results again divided: 22 missed the cut in Houston, while 23 went on to miss the cut at the Masters. Only three players managed a top-10 at both stops, led by Matt Kuchar who went P2-T5. Rory McIlroy was among that select group a year ago, as was Rickie Fowler, who next week will look for a fifth consecutive top-five result in a major.

“Playing the week before majors, I feel like can help you a lot, especially if you play well,” Fowler said. “I feel like you can go through a bit of a checklist and understand where your game is at, what you may need to work on … versus sitting at home working on the game and then kind of finding out what you have the Thursday of a major.”

The poster child for the prep-by-playing movement is Mickelson, who in 2006 won the now-defunct BellSouth Classic the week before claiming his second green jacket. He remains the only player to pull off such a double-dip since 1989.

But more and more players are following in his footsteps, including Patrick Reed. A Houston resident, Reed skipped his hometown event last year in advance of his first Masters but this week will tee it up in the Lone Star State.

“I played the week before in two of them (last year), made both of the cuts, and then the other two I did not play at all, I didn’t make a single cut,” Reed said. “So we’re going to see if that’s part of it.”

There is no shortage of theories in play this week in Houston, some of which will pan out while others will send players back to the drawing board. Is the Masters winner in this week’s field?

Only time will tell.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.