Punch Shot: Who will be 2016 Player of the Year?

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 1, 2016, 4:00 pm

Jordan Spieth ruled in 2015, but Jason Day wasn't too far behind. So who will emerge as the top dog in 2016? Our writers weigh in.


Rory McIlroy.

He says there is “no reason” he can’t be world No. 1 by the time the Masters rolls around, and he’s absolutely right. With seven scheduled starts before Augusta – two more than in 2015 – it’s clear that McIlroy is determined to be in top form for the year’s first major and not coast through the opening months of the season as he has in recent years.

Jordan Spieth will be adjusting to his new normal as a global superstar. Jason Day will be adjusting to his new normal as a parent of two young kids. And Rory? Well, his personal life has quieted down, and the alpha dog should be nothing if not motivated in 2016, after a frustrating and humbling year in which he lost his No. 1 ranking, his spot atop the sport’s marquee and his chance at two majors because of an ill-timed kickabout.

McIlroy is poised to reclaim his spot atop golf’s pecking order. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.


This year ended with Rory McIlroy holding up a pair of trophies in Dubai.

It was a nice image with a strong message.

McIlroy might have slipped behind Jordan Spieth and Jason Day in the Official World Golf Ranking and major championship title hauls in 2015, but he’s highly motivated to catch up. Winning the DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai left McIlroy with good feelings about making the best of his injury-interrupted year and taking some strong momentum into 2016.

You remember how McIlroy bounced back from his struggles in 2013, winning a pair of majors in ’14? He didn’t really struggle in ’15. There was the ankle injury in the important summer run, but he still won four times around the world. The swing and confidence are intact. With all the talent he possesses, it’s all you need to know about his prospects coming into the new year. He’s still the best all-around player in the game, and he’ll be looking to remind Spieth and Day of that fact.


Jordan Spieth was historic in 2015, dominant on the game’s biggest stages and otherwise unrivaled in the final PGA Tour Player of the Year voting, but in 2016 that honor will shift back to Rory McIlroy.

We’ve seen the Northern Irishman’s modus operandi before.

In 2012, McIlroy won four times on Tour, including the PGA Championship by eight strokes, and was the consensus Player of the Year; but he followed that campaign with a relatively pedestrian 2013.

McIlroy rebounded in 2014, winning three times on Tour including the Open Championship and PGA Championship to claim the Jack Nicklaus Award for the second time only to endure another lackluster season in 2015 that featured two victories but no major championships.

Although his struggles in ’15 were born from a mid-season ankle injury that forced him to miss the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, it has become a familiar ebb and flow to the 26-year-old’s career – periods of brilliant play framed by stretches of mortal performances.

McIlroy also seemed to learn a valuable lesson from his injury-induced hiatus in 2015. After winning the season-ending DP World Tour Championship on the European Tour, he lamented his missed opportunities in ’15 and talked of a renewed desire to continue his dominance.

If history is any guide, another “bounce-back” year is likely.


Hey guys, remember me?

Just little old Patrick Reed, sitting here with my four PGA Tour trophies and a game that many seem to have forgotten.

It was a year ago, after all, that Reed kick-started his 2015 campaign with a playoff win at Kapalua. But the rest of the season didn’t go according to plan, and even though he made the Tour Championship it was seen as a bit of a disappointing season for Reed, as the brunt of the discussion shifted to names like Spieth, Day, and McIlroy.

But then a funny thing happened this fall. While spanning the globe and cementing his European Tour status, Reed rekindled his game. In fact, he closed out the year with six straight top-10 finishes in OWGR-sanctioned events, highlighted by runner-up finishes at the BMW Masters and the Hero World Challenge, and cracked the top 10 in the world for the first time.

No one disputes Reed’s ability to win on a big stage, or his desire to perform under the brightest of spotlights. So don’t be surprised if this year ends with Reed winning multiple events, and not only earning a spot in that elusive top-5 category – but taking home Player of the Year honors, as well.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

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“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

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“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”

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How will players game-plan for Carnoustie?

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:31 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Thomas took a familiar slash with his driver on the 18th tee on Monday at Carnoustie and watched anxiously as his golf ball bounced and bounded down the fairway.

Unlike the two previous editions of The Open, at what is widely considered the rota’s most demanding test, a particularly warm and dry summer has left Carnoustie a parched shade of yellow and players like Thomas searching for answers.

Under the best circumstances, Carnoustie is every bit the unforgiving participant. But this week promises to be something altogether different, with players already dumbfounded by how far the ball is chasing down fairways and over greens.

Brown is beautiful here at Royal Dark & Dusty.

But then it’s also proving to be something of a unique test.

Where most practice rounds at The Open are spent trying to figure out what lines are best off tees, this is more a study of lesser evils.

Tee shots, like at the par-4 17th hole, ask multiple questions with few answers. On his first attempt, Thomas hit 2-iron off the tee at No. 17. It cleared the Barry Burn and bounded down the middle of the fairway. Perfect, right? Not this year at Carnoustie, as Thomas’ tee shot kept rolling until it reached the same burn, which twists and turns through both the 17th and 18th fairways, at a farther intersection.

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“A hole like 17 in this wind, the trick is getting a club that will carry [the burn],” said Thomas, who played 18 holes on Monday with Tiger Woods. “If that hole gets downwind you can have a hard time carrying the burn and keeping it short of the other burn. It’s pretty bizarre.”

The sixth hole can offer a similar dilemma, with players needing to carry their tee shots 275 yards to avoid a pair of pot bunkers down the right side of the fairway. Yet just 26 yards past those pitfalls looms a second set of bunkers. Even for the game’s best, trying to weave a fairway wood or long-iron into a 26-yard window can be challenging.

“Six is a really hard hole, it really just depends on how you want to play it. If you want to take everything on and have a chance of hitting an iron into a par 5, or just kind of lay back and play it as a three-shot hole,” Thomas shrugged.

It’s difficult to quantify precisely how short the 7,400-yard layout is playing. It’s not so far players are flying the ball in the air, particularly with relatively little wind in the forecast the rest of the week, so much as it is a question of how a particular shot will run out after it’s made contact with the firm turf.

As the field began to get their first taste of the bouncy fun, one of the earliest indications something was askew came on Sunday when Padraig Harrington, who won The Open the last time it was played at Carnoustie in 2007, announced to the social world that he’d hit into the burn on the 18th hole.

“This time it was the one at the green, 457 yards away,” the Irishman tweeted. “The fairways are a tad fast.”

Most players have already resigned themselves to a steady diet of mid-irons off tees this week in an attempt to at least partially control the amount of run-out each shot will have.

Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, hadn’t played a practice round prior to his media session, but could tell what’s in store just from his abbreviated range session on Monday. “Extremely baked out,” he said.

The conditions have already led Spieth and his caddie, Micheal Greller, to conjure up a tentative game plan.

“You might wear out your 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you’re used to,” Greller told him.

But even that might not be the answer, as Tommy Fleetwood discovered on Sunday during a practice round. Fleetwood has a unique connection with Carnoustie having shot the course record (63) during last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.

The Englishman doesn’t expect his record to be in danger this week.

In fact, he explained the dramatically different conditions were evident on the third hole on Sunday.

“There’s holes that have been nothing tee shots, like the third. If you play that in the middle of September or October [when the Dunhill is played] and it’s green and soft, you could just hit a mid-iron down the fairway and knock it on with a wedge,” Fleetwood said. “Yesterday it was playing so firm, the fairways really undulate and you have bunkers on either side, it’s actually all of a sudden a tough tee shot.”

The alternative to the iron game plan off the tee would be to simply hit driver, an option at least one long-hitter is considering this week if his practice round was any indication.

On Sunday, Jon Rahm played aggressively off each tee, taking the ubiquitous fairway bunkers out of play but at the same time tempting fate with each fairway ringed by fescue rough, which is relatively tame given the dry conditions. But even that option has consequences.

“It’s kind of strange where there’s not really a number that you know you’re going to be short,” said Fleetwood, who played his Sunday practice round with Rahm. “[Rahm] hit a drive on 15 that was like 400 yards. You just can’t account for that kind of stuff.”

Whatever tactic players choose, this Open Championship promises to be a much different test than what players have become accustomed to at Carnoustie.

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Fleetwood: Carnoustie course record won't help at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 2:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tommy Fleetwood holds the competitive course record at Carnoustie, but he’s skeptical that his past experience will help him at The Open.

Last fall, in the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship, Fleetwood birdied six of his last eight holes to card a bogey-free, 9-under 63, the lowest score ever at what is widely considered to be the most difficult course in the Open rota.

No one expects a repeat this week at Carnoustie – not with the conditions this brown, firm and fast.

“It’s a completely different course,” Fleetwood said Monday. “Shots that you’ve hit have literally no relevance for a lot of it.

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“It doesn’t do any harm to have played it for a few years. It doesn’t do any harm to have a course record, but it’s a completely different challenge to what we normally face.”

Fleetwood took a much-needed two-week break after the French Open, deciding to withdraw from last week’s Scottish Open for a bit more time in his own bed. (He said it was his last full week at home until mid-October.) Since his sparkling 63 to nearly steal the U.S. Open, the Englishman said that he’d “run out of steam” but now feels energized.  

“There’s not really a good reason why I couldn’t do it (this week),” he said. “It really doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past. The only thing they could do is build your confidence and give you examples of what you can do – examples that you can end up there, and you have the game to compete.”