Re-focused McDowell starts new season with a bang

By Will GrayNovember 16, 2015, 6:06 pm

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Given a second chance to win the OHL Classic, Graeme McDowell took dead aim and did not falter.

Describing his final approach as one of the best 5-irons he has ever hit, McDowell carved a shot from 215 yards to within 3 feet on the first playoff hole. The subsequent putt gave him a victory over Russell Knox and Jason Bohn, his first PGA Tour win in nearly three years and a much-needed highlight to end what has been an otherwise disastrous year inside the ropes.

McDowell entered this week at No. 85 in the world rankings, 70 spots below where he stood in January. His exempt status that dates back to his win at the 2010 U.S. Open was set to expire at the end of this season, and he was facing the prospect of missing the Masters for the first time since 2008.

Thanks to one final birdie, McDowell can now book trips to Kapalua and Augusta National next year, and his PGA Tour credential is good until 2018.

McDowell said his focus shifted this year to his wife and 1-year-old daughter, a welcome change but one that admittedly took a toll on his game. Without a win since the 2013 RBC Heritage, the 36-year-old found himself in the midst of a candid self-examination.

“There were multiple times during the year where I was losing belief in myself, where you’re asking yourself questions like, ‘Am I good enough anymore? Am I finished with this game? Do I have long left?’ Questions like that,” McDowell said. “When you’re out there for five and a half hours on the golf course and not playing well, these are the types of questions you ask yourself.

“I think that’s why golf is the ultimate mental sport, because you have all the time in the world to ask yourself all the crazy questions in the world.”

Those questions were all answered emphatically on Monday in Mexico, where McDowell began the final-round re-start tied for the lead with five holes to go. After a three-putt bogey on No. 16, he faced an 8-footer for par on No. 18 to remain within a shot of Knox.

The putt was center-cut the whole way.

“I thought if I had any threat of a chance, I had to make that putt,” he said.

McDowell’s watershed would not have been possible were it not for a reprieve from Knox, who bogeyed the final hole to forfeit his one-shot advantage. Eyeing back-to-back PGA Tour wins, Knox pulled his final drive into a fairway bunker and missed a 12-foot par save that would have won the tournament.

“It was unfortunate to hit a bad drive, since ultimately it cost me the tournament,” Knox said. “Because I didn’t, I don’t deserve it.”

That opened the door for McDowell, whose winning approach was keyed by advice from two fronts. First, caddie Ken Comboy talked McDowell into hitting a 5-iron, whereas his player favored a 6-iron because of adrenaline.

The second source was a bit more unexpected: Greg Norman, who sent McDowell a few swing tips via text following the third round. The Ulsterman put the advice into use Sunday, and added that he relied on it when hitting the shot that ultimately won him the tournament.

“He reminded me of some stuff,” McDowell said. “Obviously he’s one of my big heroes, both on and off the golf course, and that was nice to get a little positive reinforcement from the Shark.”

McDowell has shown signs of his old form throughout the year, but he has struggled to string four rounds together and suffered from what he described as “Sunday afternoon letdowns” at several recent events. But there was no letdown this time, as McDowell flashed the same determined look that earned him a major championship at Pebble Beach and has helped steer the Europeans to multiple Ryder Cup wins since.

McDowell missed the FedEx Cup Playoffs entirely last season, and while he was a surprise entry into the field this week, he explained that it was part of a revised plan of attack after traditionally beginning his season with the Florida swing.

“I basically lost my card this year. Thankfully, I had another year of exemption, but I couldn’t be in this position this time next year regardless,” he said. “Being at Mayakoba was a part of re-prioritizing and a re-focus.”

What he originally hoped would be a chance to earn a few extra FedEx Cup points turned into something much more meaningful. McDowell is back in the winner’s circle, back in some of the game’s elite events and trending back toward the place in the world rankings where he feels he belongs.

“There’s no doubt I doubted myself many times this year, but the last few months has been much more where I want to be,” he said. “This is big for me. I dreamed of this day coming again sometime, maybe I thought it would not be quite as soon as this. And I said to myself that I was really going to appreciate it, and I do appreciate it. This feels really nice.”

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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, 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 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 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