Expert picks: Players Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 8, 2012, 5:00 pm

This week the PGA Tour has a home game in Ponte Vedra Beach, as one of the best fields in golf assembles for The Players Championship, contested across the famed Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. Each week a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin; RotoWorld.com's Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' hosts Gary Williams and Erik Kuselias; and Golf Talk Central contributor Ryan Ballengee.


Jason Sobel

Group 1: Rory McIlroy: TPC Sawgrass often doesn't yield the best results from the best players. That changes this week.

Group 2: Ernie Els: These close-but-no-victory-cigar finishes may not help his resume, but they'll pad your fantasy totals.

Group 3: Ryan Palmer: Solid player on tough golf courses - especially if (or in this case, maybe when) the wind blows.

Group 4: Heath Slocum: Strong final round at Quail Hollow should have him brimming with confidence.


Jay Coffin

Group 1: Lee Westwood: Just a gut feeling that this could be his week.

Group 2: Zach Johnson: Hasn't missed a cut this year, and he hasn't missed one at The Players.

Group 3: Spencer Levin: Tied for 12th here last year and playing better now.

Group 4: Davis Love III: Hoping he feels good and feeds off good vibes here.


Win McMurry

Group 1: Hunter Mahan: The only man with two trophies to his name for 2012, Mahan will look to improve on his T-6 finish here from last year. He currently ranks fifth on Tour in greens in regulation percentage and eighth in driving accuracy, a great combination for the Stadium Course.

Group 2: Ben Crane: It's been a banner year for the Golf Boys, and now it's Crane's turn to follow in the footsteps of Watson, Fowler and Mahan by getting into the winner's circle. He's cooled off a bit from his hot start on the West Coast, but solid finishes at Augusta and Quail Hollow show that he can contend this week.

Group 3: Spencer Levin: Has yet to regain the form we saw from him earlier this year in Phoenix, but Levin does have three top-40 finishes in four starts since a W/D in Houston. He finished T-12 here last year so he has the ability to play well on this course, and I think he demonstrates that this week.

Group 4: James Driscoll: I like what I saw out of him last week at Quail Hollow, where he notched his second top-10 finish in a little over a month. I expect the good play to continue.


Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Lee Westwood: TPC Sawgrass has a tendency of rewarding great ball-strikers with suspect short games and no one in the game is hitting the ball as well as the Englishman right now. Check and check.

Group 2: Jason Day: The Australian's tie for ninth at last week's Wells Fargo Championship is a good sign he's recovered from the ankle injury that forced him to withdraw from the Masters. He finished T-6 here last year in his second Players start.

Group 3: Ryan Moore: Slowed last week by a curious ruling on Friday, there's no way he's that unlucky two weeks running, and in five Players starts he's never missed a cut.

Group 4: Tim Clark: This may be a wishful thinking pick, but the South African is slowly emerging from injury and the fairways-and-greens specialist stunned the status quo in 2010 with his victory at TPC Sawgrass.


Rob Bolton

Group 1: Luke Donald: Love Rory McIlroy any other week, but I'll stick with experience over youth at TPC Sawgrass. Donald has a pair of top-fives in nine starts at the host track. Also coming off a solo third in New Orleans two weeks ago.

Group 2: Jason Day: He's rounding back into form. Tied for ninth at Quail Hollow last week. Shared sixth place at last year's Players in what was just his second appearance.

Group 3: Chris Stroud: I'm plugging him back in despite last week's missed cut. He loves himself some TPC Sawgrass, evidenced by two top-15s in as many starts. Seven top-25s in 12 starts this year.

Group 4: Kevin Stadler: Above-average value in this group, even in what is the deepest field of the year. Three top-10s and another three top-25s this season. Shared 15th place in his debut at TPC Sawgrass in 2008.

 **Join Fantasy Expert Rob Bolton for a live golf chat Wednesday at 12:00p ET at www.rotoworld.com**


Tune in to Golf Channel this Thursday-Friday from 1-7PM ET for live coverage of The Players Championship.

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Spieth admits '16 Masters 'kind of haunted me'

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 6:38 pm

Two years ago, Jordan Spieth arrived at Colonial Country Club and promptly exorcised some demons.

He was only a month removed from blowing the 2016 Masters, turning a five-shot lead with nine holes to play into a shocking runner-up finish behind Danny Willett. Still with lingering questions buzzing about his ability to close, he finished with a back-nine 30 on Sunday, including birdies on Nos. 16-18, to seal his first win since his Augusta National debacle.

Returning this week to the Fort Worth Invitational, Spieth was asked about the highs and lows he's already experienced in his five-year pro career and candidly pointed to the 2016 Masters as a "low point" that had a lingering effect.

"Even though it was still a tremendous week and still was a really good year in 2016, that kind of haunted me and all the questioning and everything," Spieth told reporters. "I let it tear me down a little bit. I kind of lost a little bit of my own freedom, thoughts on who I am as a person and as a golfer."


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Spieth went on to win the Australian Open in the fall of 2016, and last year he added three more victories including a third major title at Royal Birkdale. Given more than two years to reflect - and after nearly nabbing a second green jacket last month - he admitted that the trials and tribulations of 2016 had a lasting impact on how he perceives the daily grind on Tour.

"I guess to sum it up, I've just tried to really be selfish in the way that I think and focus on being as happy as I possibly can playing the game I love. Not getting caught up in the noise, good or bad," Spieth said. "Because what I hear from the outside, the highs are too high from the outside and the lows are too low from the outside from my real experience of them. So trying to stay pretty neutral and just look at the big picture things, and try and wake up every single day loving what I do."

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Spieth offers Owen advice ahead of Web.com debut

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 6:22 pm

As country music sensation Jake Owen gets set to make his Web.com Tour debut, Jordan Spieth had a few pieces of advice for his former pro-am partner.

Owen played as a 1-handicap alongside Spieth at this year's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and this week he is playing his own ball on a sponsor invite at the Nashville Open. Owen joked with a Web.com Tour reporter that Spieth "shined" him by not answering his text earlier in the week, but Spieth explained to reporters at the Fort Worth Invitational that the two have since connected.

"We texted a bit yesterday. I was just asking how things were going," Spieth said. "I kind of asked him the state of his game. He said he's been practicing a lot. He said the course is really hard. I mean, going into it with that mindset, maybe he'll kind of play more conservative."

Owen is in the field this week on the same type of unrestricted sponsor exemption that NBA superstar Steph Curry used at the Web.com's Ellie Mae Classic in August. As Owen gets set to make his debut against a field full of professionals, Spieth noted that it might be for the best that he's focused on a tournament a few hundred miles away instead of walking alongside the singer as he does each year on the Monterey Peninsula.

"Fortunately I'm not there with him, because whenever I'm his partner I'm telling him to hit driver everywhere, even though he's talented enough to play the golf course the way it needs to be played," Spieth said. "So I think he'll get some knowledge on the golf course and play it a little better than he plays Pebble Beach. He's certainly got the talent to be able to shoot a good round."

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Presidents Cup changes aim to help Int'l. side

By Rex HoggardMay 23, 2018, 6:20 pm

In March when the PGA Tour announced the captains for next year’s Presidents Cup there was an understandable monsoon of attention for one element of that press conference.

Tiger Woods being named the captain for the U.S. team that will travel to Australia late next year was just not news, it was a monumental shift in how many view the 14-time major champion.

Although he’s slowly played his way back to competitive relevance, his decision to lead the red, white and blue side was the most glaring example to date that Woods is beginning to embrace a new role as a leader and a veteran.

Newsy stuff.

In that blur of possibility, however, were a few other nuggets that largely went overlooked but may end up impacting the biennial team event much more than the two high-profile captains (Ernie Els was named the International side’s front man for 2019).

Among these subtle changes is a new rule that requires every team member to play at least one match prior to Sunday’s singles session, instead of the two-match minimum in previous years. In theory, this would allow a captain to “hide” a player who might not be at the top of his form.

The Tour also announced each captain will have four, up from two, captain’s picks and they will make those selections much later than in previous years.



Officials would understandably be reluctant to admit it, but these changes are designed to give Els and Co. a chance, any chance, to make the ’19 matches competitive.

Following last year’s boat race of the International team at Liberty National in New Jersey – a lopsided rout that nearly ended late Saturday when the U.S. team came up just a single point short of clinching the cup before the 12 singles matches – most observers agreed that something had to change.

The International team has won just one of the dozen Presidents Cups that have been played, and that was way back in 1998, and has lost the last five matches by a combined 20 points.

Giving Els and Woods more time to make their captain’s picks is a byproduct of the timing of next year’s event, which will be played in Australia in December; but giving both captains a little more flexibility with the addition of two picks should, in theory, help the International side.

The Tour also altered how the points list is compiled for the International team, with a move to a 12-month cycle that’s based on the amount of World Ranking points that are earned. The previous selection criteria used a two-year cycle.

“That was a change that was important to Ernie Els to make sure that he feels like he has his most competitive team possible,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations. “That in conjunction with having four captain’s picks instead of two, which had been the case prior to 2019, he feels that’s going to give him his best chance to bring his strongest, most competitive team to Australia.”

The 12-month cycle will start this August at the Dell Technologies Championship and end at the 2019 Tour Championship, and puts more importance on recent form although had the new selection criteria been used for the 2017 team, there would have been just one player who wouldn’t have automatically qualified for the team. That’s not exactly a wholesale makeover.

“It didn’t seem to be a dramatic change in the makeup of the team,” Pazder conceded.

Still, a change, any change, is refreshing considering the one-sided nature of the Presidents Cup the last two decades. Of course, if the circuit really wanted to shake things up they would have reduced the total number of points available from 30 to 28, which is the format used at the Ryder Cup and as a general rule that event seems to avoid prolonged bouts of competitive irrelevance.

Perhaps these most recent nip/tucks will be enough to break the International team out of a losing cycle that doesn’t help bring attention to the event or motivate players.

There’s no mystery to what makes for a compelling competition, look no further than the Ryder Cup for the secret sauce. History makes fans, and players, care about the outcome and parity makes it compelling. What history the Presidents Cup has is largely one-sided and if last year’s loss is any indication the event is no closer to parity now than it was when it was started in 1994.

Els has been a part of every International team since 1996 and if anyone can pull the side from its current funk it would be the South African, but history suggests he might need a little more help from the Tour to shift the competitive winds.

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Rahm ready to bomb and gouge around Colonial

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 3:40 pm

Faced with one of the PGA Tour's most traditional layouts, Jon Rahm has no plans to take his foot off the gas pedal.

Rahm is one of four players ranked inside the top six headlining the field at this week's Fort Worth Invitational, where the Spaniard dazzled with bookend rounds of 66 to share runner-up honors in his tournament debut a year ago. Set to make his return, Rahm explained that Colonial Country Club is similar to the narrow, tree-lined course in Spain where he first learned the game with driver in hand.


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So while many other players in the field will play for position, Rahm plans to employ the same strategy he did on his boyhood course by letting it rip off the tee and taking his chances.

"I felt like if I am going to miss the fairway, I would rather be 60 or 70 yards away than laying up and having 130, especially with this rough being unpredictable and these small greens," Rahm told reporters Wednesday. "The closer you are to the green, the easier it will be to hit the green. That's kind of the idea I have."

Rahm struggled in his most recent start at The Players, but otherwise has had a strong spring highlighted by a win in Spain and a fourth-place showing at the Masters. The 23-year-old added that he feels "a lot more comfortable" off the tee with driver in hand than a fairway wood or long iron, so expect more counterintuitive strategy this week from a player who had no trouble solving one of the Tour's oldest riddles a year ago.

"I like traditional golf courses," he said. "You know, everything that says it shouldn't be good for me, in my mind, is good for me."