Stallings joins elite group with third win before 30

By Will GrayJanuary 27, 2014, 2:06 am

SAN DIEGO – Scott Stallings vividly recalls the moment when he first became interested in golf.

Watching Tiger Woods cruise to victory at the 1997 Masters, a 12-year-old Stallings was amazed by the dominant performance.

“Tiger was the one that made me want to play golf,” Stallings explained. “At that moment I quit everything, every sport I was playing and said that’s what I want to go do.”

Seventeen years and two PGA Tour victories later, Stallings, 28, emerged from a crowded leaderboard Sunday at the Farmers Insurance Open to put his name next to Woods’ on the trophy that bears the trademark Torrey pine.

“Tiger’s the standard,” said Stallings, who fired a 4-under 68 to win by one shot over a quintet of players. “Having my name close to his in a great event that he’s obviously dominated is pretty awesome.”

With the scoring average finally dipping somewhat on the brutal South Course, Stallings notched seven birdies after beginning the day in a tie for sixth. His final birdie came after his approach to the par-5 18th flirted with rolling back into the greenside pond, but ultimately remained on the putting surface.

“I knew it was enough to carry,” he said. “I just didn’t realize it was going to be that close.”

Prior to that shot, however, the Sunday storyline revolved around the changing group of names near the top of the leaderboard. Ten different players held at least a share of the lead during the final round, and as many as 19 were within two shots as the leaders neared the halfway point of their round. By the time the final group reached the 15th tee, six players (including Stallings) were tied at 8 under.

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Not that any of that mattered to the eventual champ.

“I wasn’t going to look at a leaderboard,” Stallings said. “On this course, the moment you start worrying about what someone else is doing and how they’re handling themselves is the moment that this place will beat you down.”

After finding the fairway with his final tee shot, Stallings had 227 yards to the hole over water – an approach that was eerily similar to the final shot he faced last year at the Humana Challenge.

While his 6-iron at PGA West drifted left and ultimately splashed in the greenside hazard, this time his shot found its target, leading to a birdie that proved to be the difference. After the round, Stallings asserted that his collapse last year in the desert – where he squandered a five-shot lead on the final day – helped to focus him Sunday.

“I don’t think one would happen without the other,” Stallings said. “Obviously you don’t like hitting it in the water on the last hole and losing … but when you look back at it, that’s going to be something I’m going to think about every single time in that situation.”

Before Stallings was able to get both hands around the trophy, though, no shortage of players took a run at the top spot on the leaderboard.

First up was K.J. Choi, who carded the day’s low round of 66 and nearly played his way from the cut line to the winner’s circle before tying for second. Local favorite Pat Perez gave it a run, but a costly bogey at the par-3 16th ended his chances.

Next was Jason Day, still somehow in search of just his second PGA Tour win, but the Aussie was undone by a plugged lie in a bunker at the penultimate hole, and his lengthy eagle try at No. 18 slid just past.

The player who appeared poised to claim the title for much of the afternoon was not Stallings, but rather Gary Woodland, whose length off the tee proved an asset all week. Though he stayed in contention with a string of up-and-downs on the back nine, his title run came to a crashing halt at No. 17, where a drive into the hazard lining the fairway led to a double bogey.

“I tried to hit it down the right side and I just pulled it. Got a little greedy probably,” explained Woodland, who held the 54-hole lead but ultimately finished T-10. “It was just a bad golf swing.”

The last man standing, then, was Marc Leishman, who had hopes of claiming his second Tour win on Australia Day. Needing to hole his wedge approach for eagle at the final hole, he watched as the ball spun back toward the target but ultimately settled a few feet away.

“I thought it had a pretty good chance,” said Leishman, whose runner-up showing was his second such result at Torrey Pines since 2010. “It was always a fraction left, but I was hoping I had misread it.”

Having dodged that final bullet, Stallings became the sixth player under the age of 30 with three or more PGA Tour wins to his credit, joining Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Anthony Kim.

“You don’t get very many opportunities to win golf tournaments on this Tour, and I’ve been fortunate to come out ahead three times,” said Stallings, who last won at the 2012 Sanderson Farms Championship. “As a player, all you ever want is chances.”

As a result of Sunday’s triumph he’ll head back to the Masters this spring for the second time in his career. The prospect of teeing it up again at Augusta National brought a smile to his face as he recalled the performance that first drew him to the game.

“Just like pure domination,” he said of Woods’ Masters triumph in 1997. “He was going to beat them so bad they were going to end up having to like it.”

While his performance Sunday lacked the dominance Woods has often displayed, the end result was the same. Stallings made the most of his chance, fending off myriad challengers, and now will head home once more with trophy in hand.

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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.